Directors Who Dare
Years ago a well-known director (nameless here) told me that his was a “bullshit” profession. He pointed out that up until fairly recent times there were no directors. Playwright staged their own plays with the help of the cast.
None of this is to say directors do not and cannot make noteworthy contributions to a play. But, despite the recent glorification of directors such as Sam Mendes or John Tiffany, who make significant changes and original interpretations when plying their trade, they are not nearly as essential as the actors and the playwright.
So what exactly does a director do? The dictionary offers no help; definitions include words like “supervise,” “orchestrate” and “oversee.” Interpret is noticeably absent. Yet today many directors believe they are not merely staging a play, but co-creating it with the actors and playwright. Sometimes this illuminates the play, but at times this type of direction seems to call attention to itself rather than the play.
The Dramatists Guild takes the position that the script is sacrosanct. The playwright may insist even stage directions are copyright material and must be followed. If the director refuses to comply, the playwright has the right to withdraw the work. However, few playwrights have the clout or the economic resources to refuse production. And how about dead playwrights who can no longer defend the integrity of their own work?
When does a director step over the line of artistic decency? Some would say never. Others would repeat the line of that famous justice who said he could not define pornography but added “I know it when I see it.”
n music, when a composer writes a variation on a theme by another composer, it is considered an homage. Often such variations by a well-known composer have raised a lesser known composer out of obscurity. A good example is Beethoven’s 33 Variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli, commonly known as The Diabelli Variations. Another is Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Perhaps directors could pay homage to playwrights and at the same time exercise their own creativity by renaming the plays they work on as “Variations.” It’s just a thought, but the more I consider this proposal, the more I am eagerly looking forward to a new Shakespearean play called “Variation on Star-Crossed Lovers.”
October 12, 2015