Friday, December 19, 2008

Biting Hands...

So after a nice ol' huzzah from Isaac, I find I have some thoughts on his next post. Because I'm definitely in the Richard Nelson camp on this one. I think there's a very sharp difference between what he's describing as happens in the publishing world and what's happening in theatres. Basically, what he's describing is the rehearsal process. It's not like the publisher says to the author, "Yeah, we love your book. Here are ten things that you have to change for us to consider publishing it. Off you go." But that's what we're told in theatre. We have to make these changes before the play is even ready for the ultimate process that it's supposed to go through. And we know that if we go into rehearsal, after two years of writing, three readings, a workshop, two more reading, and we don't want to change it anymore (if we can still remember what we wanted to write in the first place), then the theatre will be unhappy with us. We'll be difficult writers and collaborators. So we're going to have to do more rewrites anyway.

That's what's so outraging. Our own work must be perfect before it's finished. It's a terrible standard and keeps plays from being produced. The worst part is, we all know it's kind of bullshit. We know that there are certain writers, ones who are hot right now or have enough pull or whatever, who don't have to go through this process. They walk in with a first draft and they're going right into rehearsal. They haven't had to submit draft upon draft, or deal with notes from three different directors, staff members and managers. Again, back to the lying endemic in our business: this process is arbitrary and unfair.

But, in a way, even if it was done differently in another art, so what? How you make plays is not how you write books. Should we be happy about something that's unfair and arbitrary because it's worse for a songwriter? We don't need for all the arts to be developed in the same way. Writing a play is, ultimately, a collaborative process. It's different that most other art forms in that way. The rules should be different.

Isaac, I still love ya.

3 comments:

Parabasis said...

I still love ya too. Let me just clarify... I was really trying to ask a provocative quesrion, not thinly mask my own opinion... Which is a complicated one. I basically feel like every writer and play has different needs and wants w/r/t their work, I think toying with them by doing workshops to "fix scripts" with no real production commitment is wrong, I think most of what Nelson highlights in his speech as wrong is wrong etc. Just having gotten to know a few novelists etc over the last year, I thought it interesting to ask.

Lindsay Price said...

And what's especially happening now is workshop hell - it's a way for theatre's to say they are working with new writers and new plays. They throw out a bone, the 'workshop' and that's supposed to make the playwright happy. But then when the workshop is done, there's no next step. No production.

The sad thing is that workshops don't finish plays. Productions finish plays. Audiences finish plays. If we can't get that, how can we finish?

Anonymous said...

i think we're shying away from the main problem here, which is that nearly all the money (from foundations etc) dedicated to new play production goes to theatres, not artists. so the theatres call all the shots (and sometimes they're sensible, sometimes not, but they're always trying to choose and shape work according to their taste, and their notions of what they can produce). what we need, really, is an institution that gives production money directly to playwrights, based only on some judgment of the quality of the script, and not on questions of how costly it might be to produce, what the audience might be, how it woudl fit in a season, whether it's a politically opportune choice for the theatre, etc. imagine what it would be like to shop your play around with 10 or 20k in production funding already attached. suddenly there's a negotiation, a matching, between writers and theatres, rather than the open field for polite bullying that exists right now...