How Far Should the Interpretive Artist Go?

In a discussion with a fellow director not long ago, the question of how far we can stretch in terms of interpretation of a playwright’s work came up. Of course, as we both freely admit, interpretive artists (directors, conductors, choreographers, actors, musicians, dancers) can’t not impose their own views on the material. The real question is how much can we impose.

It seems to me that there is a point at which the interpretive artist can impose a view that diverges from the playwright’s view to such an extent that it is no longer the work of the playwright, but rather the artist doing an original work that derived from or based on the script. At that point the artist is no longer an interpreting, but rather is creating an original, albeit derivative, work.

This position, of course, stems from my belief that the person interpreting the material owes a debt to the originator, that the production of a play or a piece of music is merely a (often asynchronous) collaboration with the playwright or composer. If the originator of the piece is not present to express his/her opinion of how the work should be interpreted, then the director or conductor is obligated to try as much as possible to create a true collaboration. Thus the research and reading and studying. Thus the necessity of dramaturgy to perhaps discover what the play or composition is really about and what the playwright intended.

And with collaboration comes the responsibility of the collaborator. In an earlier post, I described that responsibility this way: “each member of the team must be sure that he/she is consistent in terms of his/her contribution to the project and that he/she is moving in exactly the same direction as all the other artists in the project. Anything less is inappropriate, insufficient, and likely to cause the project to be far less than it might have been.” The playwright, like it or not, present or not, is a member of that creative team.

This is not meant to exclude all creative input from the director; there is still plenty of opportunity for that. Sometimes that opportunity is the interpretation or reinterpretation of a piece to make it more relevant to a modern audience. That is certainly legitimate, provided that it does not alter the meaning of the piece. My belief has always been that the goal of the director is to realize the intent of the playwright in so far as he/she is able to determine it, not to supplant that intent with his/her own.

Of course interpretation or reinterpretation is far easier when the playwright is dead; live ones have a tendency to have an opinion—that may, in fact, vary from that of the director. Recently there have been instances of at least one playwright forcing cancellation of his plays because of the director’s interpretation.

In another earlier post, I called playwrights and composers “the most vulnerable of all artists” because they must rely on others “to understand the nature of their art and pass it along to the audience.” This puts them in the position not only of being misunderstood, but of having their work “modified, and perhaps distorted.” I believe it must be up to the interpreter to insure that such distortion does not occur.

And that, to my mind, describes how far an interpretive artist should go: only as far as he/she can without modification or distortion of the originator’s meaning and intent.

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Date: Sunday, 22. March 2015 23:49
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Theatre

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