Similarly, our long new play development process that everyone gets so frustrated about is partially predicated on the notion that it is up to the script to fix everything. There's no assumption that a competent group of artists working with a playwright could shape and collaborate with the material in such a way that good art comes out of it, even if on the page it doesn't always look perfect.And my take is: yep. Exactly right. That is indeed how we work: the entire goal is "fixing" the flawed script, with the idea being that a "good" script is disaster-proof. A solid, tight script is supposed to work in all circumstances, with all casts and directors. During the development process, if you have a bad reading, a part is miscast, or the thing is misdirected, the question you always ask is "Can you still hear the play?" The script is thought of as separate from the production in a way. It exists in its own place. In a way, that's right.
Now, before you get all up in arms about me defending my own rights and trampling yours, lemme finish. In the end, the play is what lasts. It gets published. The playwright has sole control of that. When a play gets produced, the playwright and the publisher settle on the final script, the stage directions to include, the dedication, the whole thing. If the playwright doesn't want to talk to the director about it, he or she doesn't have to. And when it comes out, the playwright's name is the only name on the cover. We get our reward in eternity. Lucky us.
The play, the story and the words have to be judged in a different way than the acting and directing, because they're also less subjective, less vague. You and I can sit in the same room, watch the same performance and one of us can think it's hysterical tour-de-force and the other can think it's a over-acted mess of mugging. With the script, you can at least be specific, you can say you don't buy this turn of the plot or speech, you can point to a specific word or sentence and say that particular thing doesn't work. It's harder with staging or acting or even design. Maybe we should be so well-versed and able to speak to the intricacies of those art forms the way we are about to speak about text.
I believe wholeheartedly in the collaborative nature of theatre and the work we do and I don't believe that it's "all about the playwright," but when we're talking about mainstream playmaking, the buck stops with the playwright. We're right to recognize that.
I do think that critics lean a little too heavy on that and certainly shouldn't feel tricked or scammed by a good production. But I think, as audience members, we basically play StageGrade in our head. A so-so script, poorly directed, but featuring a kick-ass performance, we weigh them together and decide what we think about the play. Of course it takes a pretty good play to support a great performance, to allow for good directing. The play's the...you're actually going to make me say it, are you?
Isaac's probably right: our field is focused too much on the play. But there are good reasons for that. What we need to do a bit more is let the critics and the audiences think about it, but in the rehearsal hall and the offices to keep our focus on the whole megillah. It all adds up.