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Altering a playwright's intentions

Discussion in 'Stage Management and Facility Operations' started by Spikesgirl, Apr 15, 2008.

  1. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    Re: Patrons


    Many a times I've wanted to hurl something at a columnist. Are you sure it was an accident?:mrgreen:

    Seriously, great review though. We did "Streetcar" in the same old traditional way and it would have been great if our SD had stretched a little more. Just goes to prove what you can do with some 'thinking outside of the box"

    Char5lie
     
  2. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    I'm not sure I agree. I wonder about setting Streetcar in a mental asylum, thus turning it into a "memory play" (it isn't Glass Menagerie, after all!) is a proper interpretation of Mr. William's work. I'm particularly disturbed by the "...add in a doctor watching silently from the front edge of the stage and a recurring apparition of Blanche's long-dead husband..." I wish I could see the production, as it is one of my favorite plays. [user]Van[/user], kudos to your staff for making bold choices; I'm just not sure I agree with them.

    In his Production Notes for Merrily We Roll Along, a show in which the story is revealed in reverse chronological order, Sondheim states "in no circumstance is the order of the show to be reversed or altered." Must now playwrights include the phrase "No characters are to be added or deleted, or scenic locales altered"?

    Please discuss.
     
  3. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    You got it, Big D. My argument would be that if they did not change any lines, but merely the location, I don't think it adversely effects the show. if the director is re-writing the script (and we've had a few that have tried) or alter the necessary action in any way, then you have a problem.

    As for adding characters, I have never really seen the need for it as they just take up space for the most part unless someone adds dialog to explain them. At the college where I used to work, it was common practice for the director to add actors/actresses to the cast in an attempt to boost the FTES (the money we receive from the state - it's based upon enrollement). Then we would have people milling around the set - when we did "Streetcar" they created all these characters (our walls were 2/4 frames with scrim stretched over them and painted, so that you could see outside when necessary) just to walk by on occasion. It was effective, but also distracting at times.

    Once we were going to tackle "Equus" and because of our college setting, the director voiced his intention of leaving out the nude scene. Lawyers wrote back and said the scene stays in or the rights will be pulled - we ended up doing "Agnes of God" instead.

    If the playwright states that nothing can be changed, then it can't. however, I don't think that a set design is or should be written in concrete. The university has a director that is restaging "Forum" to Aruba - now that's stretching it farther than need be, but I've seen worse...much worse.

    Char5lie
     
  4. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    OOOO I like this discussion! We had a bit of these discussions during the process of bringing this little block buster to the stage. Here's my take on it:
    I don't feel Jon changed anything. I think it should be said that not a line or character was added or removed. This is a major sticking point for many of us at Artists Rep., we do not change or alter text ever. The Dr. is not an "added character" in the original script the Dr. and the Nurse come in at the end of the play and take Blanche off to the funny farm. All Jon did was to "re-stage" the play. Now the Dr. sits in a chair watching the action, observing Blanche as she re-lives the series of events that has brought her to this place. Now I think we've all heard of doing "Hamlet in the 23rd century" and I don't think it changes the "Intent" of the playwright. I feel that what Jon has done in this particular production is pay homage to Williams legacy. Bringing in elements of the plawrights life, is a valid artistic statement, IMHO. Many may not know that Williams sister was commited to an asylum, as were a great many women in the 18 and 1900's, many for no other reason than their husbands wanted to get rid of them < re. Gas Light> Wiliams sisters committal haunted him for the rest of his life. I feel Jon has made an attempt to see how Williams must have imagined his sisters years of incarceration, constantly re-living the the memories / horror / pain / embarrasment of being carted off to the rubber room.
    Anyway, That's my two cents worth. I'm happy to discuss it further. Oh and BTW we had a bit of a discussion today about the pure Brecht-ian expiriemce of opening night, never have I been so aware of being an audience member, of being such a "willing participant" of the theatrical expirience as I was last Friday went that plate went astray. Even after 25 + years we can still learn something or get a new expirience out of this silly thing we call theatre.
     
  5. Logos

    Logos Well-Known Member

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    I feel that I have something to add to this debate as I am a playwright.

    I do not consider many of the aspects of my work totally untouchable except my intent. Lines can be altered to suit actors and the setting can be changed but if what I am saying is changed then o leap out claws extended with my favourite attack wombat at my side to defend my work.

    The setting is part of an artistic decision and if it can be justified in terms of the playwrights intent then go for it. There must be change and different focus or our industry will stagnate.

    I have only seen a couple of times where I really hated what was done and could find no justification for it.

    I saw a Romeo and Juliet in which the whole play was palced in the future and the Montagues were aliens. The director even made them speak gibberish instead of Shakespeare when they talked amongst themselves. Occasionally ego tramples all over ART.

    Van: I wasn't aware of the detail about William's sister. "Suddenly Last Summer" has just dropped into even sharper focus.
     
  6. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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  7. Grog12

    Grog12 CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Here's my question Van....Do we as rank and file audience members know that Williams sister was commited? Do we need to know that for the script to be effective? The answer to both is no. Now do we need to know that for this particular production of the show to be effective? I can't answer that because I didn't see it.

    Here's another example: I did a production of Glass Menagerie last year where the actor who played Tom added a little...flamboyance to his accent when he was monolouging to pay homage to the fact Williams was gay and most people believe the "movies" Tom was staying out so late at were in fact gay clubs/bars/hangouts. Not a single person picked up on the fact.
    I lit the thing and was told this 2 months after it closed.

    When are we making choices for ourselves as members of the theatre and when are we making chocies for the audience?
     
  8. porkchop

    porkchop Well-Known Member

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    Grog great point on choices for ourselves over audiences.

    I think that some artistic liberty must be allowed. The playwright's intent must stay intact but there isn't going some changes from production to production you lose the need to designers at all instances. In this thread we're talking about changing the scenic instances, but in a production this year we used sound primarily to put an element of magic into a show were it wasn't written in, it is also arguable that you could change the whole mood of a play with lighting. This is the point of design, to fit the play with the vision of the director and the interpretation of the actors.
     
  9. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    No we don't need to know these to to enjoy this particular re-telling of this particular script.

    This is the part where the Art of our business comes into play. Did you get the fact that he was playing his part a bit fay because of previous critical review or academic speculation ? No, you didn't but perhaps some other members of the audience did. Again, one of the wonderful things about this form of art is the fact that 300 people can watch a performance and walk away with 300 different impressions of what they saw.

    Again part of the ART that we do. We get to make those choices. IMHO Theatre is not about doing exactly what the playwright might have intended, there is no way we can know exactly what the Bard meant to say when he wrote Merchant of Venice; All Jews are bad?, Peoples perception of jews in the 14 hundreds is bad ?, Money lenders in general are bad ? If it where our responsibility to simply reproduce the same artistic material over and over and over what would be the point of going to the theatre, when we could just go to a Britney Spears lip sync event and hear the studio produced version of her songs. What would be the point of re-making Dawn of the Dead if it didn't mean finding new and iventive ways of re-telling the story with a new twist, or uncovering some hidden statement not well conveyed in the original production. We keep producing High School Musical all over the country in the exact same way all over the country because people have gotten lazy they don't necessarily want to challenge their expectations as an audience member.
    These are the choices we, as Artists make. It is the sole responsibility of the Director to determine the the tone, and intent of the production of a play, it is the sole responsibility of the Audience to interpret the intent and determine whether or not the "company" got it right.
     
  10. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    ###

    How would the audience know if this was in homage to Willimas or just that the actor playing Tom was normally 'that way'? This is a character choice made by the actor to get into the character's head. It doesn't really matter to anyone except the actor. To him, it is a necessary part of the process (or so I'm told - I'm not an actor)

    Are we not at some point audience members as well as members of the theater community? And how do you make choices to suit every audience member? Each one has a personal frame of reference by which he or she is going to view the play and interpret each character. The best you can do as a SD or director is to choose what feels right to you and then to present the play as honestly as possible. You will never strike the right chord with everyone in the theater, so you do the best you can. If that means a reinterpretation of the set, that's great. Some go too far, some don't go far enough, but neither would keep me, as an audience member, from attending a show.

    Char5lie
     
  11. Grog12

    Grog12 CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    One of the proffesors on campus, who is openly gay, and is rather sensitive to such choices couldn't pick it out. I doubt anyone else did.
    Here's what I'm really striving at. I believe that choices must be based in the script. There's a lot of theatre failing right now because of "concepts". These concepts are usually based out of the directors or designers own life expierences...."I remember leaving home to go to college so I know how Tom felt and he would have worn pink!" Or..."Hey lets do an anti-bush Mother Courage!"

    The only blue print we have is the script. All the information to tell the story is there and yes by all means is open for interpreation. Too often though people aren't digging through the script or are adding personal expiernce to a perfectly good piece of literature.


    Look as a learned man of the theatre I really like Van's production don't get me wrong. Especially in this age of DVD extras its a great way to play to the audience. Also most of the questions I'm about to pose aren't really directed towards Van and the production but as a means to get others thinking about why we make choices...

    What does the doctor being on stage the whole time add to the script other than a bit of historical knowledge? Is the confrontation between Blanche and Stanley any more or less compelling with the doctor sitting there the whole time?

    When Blanche is carted off is there less of an impact becuase the doctor has been there the whole time?

    How does this affect the scenery? Do we do a typical set? or do we add a more steril feeling because we're in the hospital? What about haze?

    Are we making this choice because we want it to have more of a memory feel? Or are we making it because of Williams sister?

    How many references to doctors are there in the script?
     
  12. Logos

    Logos Well-Known Member

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    I mostly write adult theatre. There's a catologue on my website. Interestingly enough I seem to make more money (not a lot though) from my unpublished work that I promote myself, than from my published work.

    You mention Becket, the estate of Samuel Becket insists that his plays are produced exactly as written. I have heard of a girls school in England who did "Waiting for Godot" with an all female cast who were stopped part way through the run by the copyright holders.
    There was a professional production of "Footfalls" that resulted in the director and actor being told that no future production of a Becket play that involved either of them would be approved. The changes they made to the script and concept were a little strange but not that far off. I believe that that restriction has now been lifted.

    So now where are we. Presumably after the 75th anniversary of Beckets death there may be a sudden onslaught of wierd productions of Becket plays. I still stand by my earlier statement that ego often swallows ART. It becomes too easy for the concept to overcome the play.
    Van I have to say that in the case of your Streetcar that it sounds great and I don't think that I would have a problem with it. I feel deeply for the actor involved in the incident mentioned in the review. It must have been gutting.
     
  13. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Your starting to sound like a bunch of actors!

    I saw the partially finished set for Streetcar a few weeks back when we held our Pacific North West C.B. Convention. Although it was not yet done, I found the padded walls and dirty floor tile nicely disturbing. I definitely got the feel that this was a particularly psychologically twisted version. I would love to see the show... although I think one should probably wear a helmet.
     
  14. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    We are thinking of handing out catchers mitts pre-show.
     
  15. Marius

    Marius Active Member

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    Just putting in my $.02, but as a TD my view on such things is almost always from a practical standpoint. One example was a production of The Rimers of Eldritch I did a few years ago. The designer wanted there to be about 20 doors on the stage that could all open by themselves to underscore the moment in the show when the town had the choice to stop lying about who raped the main character, and then close again when that choice was not made. Unfortunately budgetary constraints killed the idea, so the designer decided to make three large(12'X4') luan doors that we flew over the set. At the appropriate moment he wanted them to raise up and pivot as if they were opening. I got one of them rigged to do the move, but it never really made much sense, and would have required getting three more crew members to make the gag work. Ultimately I sat down with the designer and director and point blank asked them if they thought the audience would get what was happening. They finally conceded that all it did was confuse the audience, and we cut it. As it was the most frequent question I was asked was what were the three Hershey bars hanging over the set. The moral of the story is, IMHO, if the audience won't get it, then it probably doesn't need to be there.
     
  16. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    Ouch, Gaff, now that hurt, with or without the helmet.

    I think my whole feelings on reinterpretations of sets can boil down to one of my favorite lines from "Jurassic Park" - "Just because you can doesn't mean you should." If it is something that enchances the show, go for it - whether the audience picks up on it or not doesn't really come into play. An informed and observant audience member might, but as long as the set doesn't 'hurt' the text or the playwright's intent, then a new set can be exciting and thought provoking.

    (Logos) I mostly write adult theatre. There's a catologue on my website. Interestingly enough I seem to make more money (not a lot though) from my unpublished work that I promote myself, than from my published work.

    I will have to check out your offerings. We are always looking for new plays at the theater (I'm on the artistic committee, responsible for setting the season). It always makes me laugh when people say that they want to write for a living - I tell them to get a full time job to support their writing habit because I sure ain't retiring on what I'm making writing.

    Char5lie
     
  17. Logos

    Logos Well-Known Member

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    My writing helps increase my debt load. I insist on producing my own plays. I invariably lose money and can get no funding from the Government. I am however on the track of a private sponsor.
     
  18. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Is this so you can oversee the production values/preserve your artistic vision or for some other reason? Seems to me to be an odd stance for a playwright to take.

    How are you ever going to become a famous playwright if you are the only one allowed to produce the plays you've written?

    It's all about franchising, my friend. McDonald's, actually Ray Kroc, learned that back in the '50s.:)

    Back to topic. Would YOU allow a very minor character you've written to appear only at the end to be onstage the entire show just watching the action?
     
  19. Logos

    Logos Well-Known Member

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    I shall rephrase.

    Because no-one else will produce my plays for the first time. I do it. It gives me the opportunity to reshape and rewrite without fighting with another Director. I also pay a lot of attention to my actors and what they have to say. I have built a small ensemble of actors who understand what I am doing and help. The work then goes out to my UK publisher and/or on my web site.

    Back on topic: I would not do that myself, BUT, if the director and creative team insisted that it fit their vision and could justify it I would not withdraw the permission. To be honest, if my Publisher issued performance rights to someone it would be extremely unlikely that I would ever find out. So essentially I would have to grit my teeth and hope.

    One of my plays was recently translated into greek for a performance in Athens. I've seen a video but I don't speak greek. I have no idea what they've done to it.
     
  20. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    I know this was address to Logos, but yes, I would if that's what the designer wanted - unless it would alter the dialog or 'surprise ending' - I've written a couple plays like that, so that character couldn't be exposed until the very end or the play would make no sense.

    Tony, as for having something translated into another language - how were you with that. I did one children's play that illustrated three different styles of theater (Elizabethan, Comedia, and Bunraku) - I could see someone trying to translate the Iambic pentameter portion into something else - that would be a hoot.


    Charlie
     

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