Mar 31, 2011

Who Wears the Pants?

If theater is supposedly a writer's medium, why are writers more materially empowered in television than in theater? Provocative questions from the Magic Theatre's Jayne Benjulian here:
...playwrights who demand to be equal partners with their directors...are known as “difficult.” Now that I have met several of these writers and know their work, I challenge that assumption. “Difficult” in this context means a playwright questions the authority of the director about specific choices. Here is what playwright Bill Cain would call “the cognitive dissonance of theater”: On the one hand, the playwright is told that theater is uniquely a writer’s medium; on the other, he is told to sit in the back and shut up because the actors may be confused by conversation with both the playwright and the director. Theresa Rebeck reminds us in her book Fire Free Zone, “in the rehearsal hall, the playwright is often asked not to speak directly to the actors because that could ‘confuse’ them—in other words, it might undermine the director’s authority.” That caution rests on a supposition, Cain says, that actors should not be confused. Might confusion serve as a productive force early in rehearsals? Might actors be more engaged in the process of the play’s meaning? Typically, the playwright makes comments in sanctioned moments during rehearsals or to the director during breaks or over drinks at night, and then, the playwright goes back to his hotel to rewrite, sends fresh scenes in the early hours of the morning (and for fast, overnight rewrites, the playwright receives kudos), and so on and so forth with infinite variations on the process.
RTWT, as we say.

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