A ten-minute play of mine is being produced right now. It’s not going too well. Not well at all. My director is incredibly young and, what’s worse, incredibly bad. Not just bad as a director, but bad in the room, bad in dealing with actors, bad in dealing with me and giving notes. Just plain bad. The situation is so bad, that, not only have I resigned wholly from the process (the play could use some rewrites), but I’m seriously considering pulling the play. That’s not something that I prefer to do, but this situation seems to require more.
This young man asked an actor at the auditions (which were sloppily run, at best, also a producer problem) where he’d “stolen” a character from. In the one rehearsal I attended, he wasted time, asked the actors to do ridiculous things for no discernible reason and gave nonsensical notes that seemed to indicate line readings. Not to mention that our main character was not present. This was a train wreck of a rehearsal.
And then to top it off, he sent me a long, wordy e-mail of suggested rewrites. Not just notes, or thoughts, but actual rewrite suggestions. Part of my frustration with him is when we had a brief discussion of rewrites (in the middle of the rehearsal), he indicated his thoughts on how the ending of the play should be re-worked. I disagreed, and tried to explain why I had (mostly) the ending I wanted and what I was looking for, in terms of rewriting and workshopping, was that I wanted to support it better. His e-mail was, in essence, a four paragraph reiteration of his original idea, explaining that he’d thought about it and the “right” way to end to the play was his way. Plus, he quoted Harold Pinter.
This isn’t just a rant about a bad director. I’ve had them before, I’ll have them again. It’s not even a rant about a young director. He may turn out to be a fine director down the line. But that’s exactly the point: How will this young man learn to be a better director?
He’s at a fairly well-known school already. He has presumably been working with directors, both his professors and his fellow students. He may have even taken a class or a workshop. He’s not un-bright (well, that may be stretching it). So…what happens now?
This is part of the problem, and big part of it. Theatre is a collaborative art. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that making theatre is the most collaborative of arts. It can only happen, even in this day and age of technological advances, with a group of people working toward a common goal with a common language and understanding. This doesn’t happen magically. It is taught.
Except our theatre programs don’t teach it. Actors learn to act and do whatever is necessary for them to achieve the best performance possible. Directors are taught to direct, to bring their vision to the stage, by whatever means necessary. Playwrights are taught to write their play and then defend it from predatory actors and directors by any means necessary. How does this help plays? How does this help theatre grow?
My young director is a bit of a bonehead, but somehow no one is taking him to task for being a bonehead. How does this help? And I lay this at my own feet as well. A serious conversation is needed, but I’m unwilling to do it. In part because, well, why invest in this kid. But partly because, as the playwright in this position, it doesn’t feel like it’s my job. (There's another post on powerlessness when things go wrong, but that's for another day.) But whose job is it?
So…how do we fix it? Well, we start by teaching collaboration. A class on collaboration should be a part of all college and grad school level curricula. And not just a “throw the kids in the pool and see what happens” kind of thing. I had that in my deeply dysfunctional grad school, a weekly, three-hour workshop that taught playwrights, directors and actors to fear their professors and classmates, that taught timidity and safety. Instead there should be classes on how collaboration works, on techniques and skills used in collaboration, on how theatre is made by many hands and voices.
We need to make better artists. Better equipped artists. We have to get them young.