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We Have to Invest

Monday, 8. February 2016 0:56

Two stories: (1) the drama department in which I work negotiated four inexpensive workshops for acting students which cover areas not covered in depth in any of the courses we offer. The offerings were based on a poll of students. Six weeks after the workshops were posted, only two or three students had signed up for each. In exhorting the students to sign up, I asked why the lack of response when they had said earlier that they were interested. The answers varied from non-answers to “I don’t have time.” One person with a Starbucks cup sitting on her desk told me that she didn’t have the money to spare.

(2) During the same time frame, a lighting designer I know complained to me over drinks about a favor he had tried to do for some friends. The friends, who are arts promoters, had wanted to combine performance art with one of their art shows and asked if he could give them some help with the lighting for the performances. Although he has virtually no respect for performance art, he said yes, and worked up a very inexpensive system, only to find out that what they really wanted was for him to provide the lighting equipment and set-up for no charge, as well as run the controls. Like most lighting designers, he owns no equipment and certainly was not interested in a five-plus-hour gig for no pay. The friends were determined to have something, so after much back and forth, he convinced them that the best they could get for a small amount of money was a DJ package which he thought would suffice for their needs. As he worked with them to set up their newly acquired package, he discovered that what they really wanted for their $500 was a professional-level lighting system designed to provide exactly the effects they had imagined operated by an unpaid technician.

The lighting designer suggested ways to enhance the function of the inexpensive system and suggested that they play with it for a while. My strong suggestion to the students was that they reconsider their priorities since it was their future careers that these workshops were designed to help.

My takeaway from both of these stories is that there are a number of people, both students and non-students working in the arts world who are reluctant or even unwilling to invest in their art. Teachers in the arts see this attitude all the time: talented music students who will not invest time to practice; painting students who will not invest the money required to purchase good brushes; dance students to refuse to invest in proper footwear. It happens outside of school as well: photographers who can’t seem to save the money to pay for good lenses; musicians who go out to perform with junk sound systems; singers who won’t allocate the time and money to continue voice training to maintain and improve their voices. Yet all of these people expect to succeed in their chosen art, perhaps by magic or luck.

Since magic and luck are in short supply, most serious artists attempt to leverage every opportunity that could reasonably contribute to their success or allow them to better their art. They understand that art is not easy, and succeeding in the art world is less easy. And most know that in order to develop their art, in order to succeed, they have to invest, usually both time and money. And that too is not easy because time and money are also in short supply. But if we are serious about our art and sufficiently determined to improve and succeed, we will find the time and the money. We must, because in order to grow as artists we have to invest in ourselves.

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The Case for Quality

Monday, 14. December 2015 1:38

In the last post I used a quote from Penn Jillette’s Every Day is an Atheist Holiday in which Jillette says, paraphrasing Billy West, that there is only one show business, and all artists and performers are in it. In the next couple of sentences he postulates a hierarchy within this one world of arts/entertainment, noting that “a magician has to be a damn sight lower than a poet. We’re above ventriloquists, but not near poets.”

Although this would seem to suggest that there are classifications within art and some sort of hierarchy, nowhere in this book does Jillette offer any criteria for making judgements about which arts go where. He just sets forth the notion that some arts are inherently more valuable than others. As I acknowledged in the last post, “there is art that is more sophisticated than other art. There is art that encompasses what it means to be human in a much more profound way than other art. There is art that is more expensive than other art.” This would suggest that value of a work of art is not a characteristic of the art itself, but is actually assigned by critical audience members.

Taking that into account along with the notion that all arts/entertainment is one thing, we must, when we are making value judgements (rarely done without some sort of comparison or at least an implied comparison) about any art or artist, be sure that we are comparing kumquats with kumquats and not disparate kinds of things. Comparing musical theatre to legit theatre makes no more real sense than comparing stage magicians to ventriloquists.

Likewise, it should be obvious that comparing a sculpture by Praxiteles to a piece of sculpture by John Chamberlain is invalid except in a very restricted academic sense.

To suggest that a straight play is better than a musical just because it is a straight play or that a sculpture by Praxiteles is superior to a sculpture by Chamberlain simply because the Praxiteles work is figurative is the worst kind of snobbery.

And while snobbery is never justified, some people genuinely believe that there is a hierarchy and some arts are more sophisticated, or more profound or just “higher” than others. Others think that there are only subdivisions: ventriloquism and stage magic and poetry and sculpture are all subgenres of the whole arts/entertainment thing, with one subgenre having much the same value as another.

But more important than whether stage magic is superior in some way to ventriloquism is whether the stage magic that is being performed is of quality. It is not a matter of subject matter or where the particular subgenre stands in the hierarchy. It’s about how good it is. There is good stage magic and not-so-good stage magic. There is good ventriloquism and not-so-good ventriloquism. There is good musical theatre and not-so-good musical theatre. There is good legitimate theatre and not-so-good legitimate theatre. There is good pornography and not-so-good pornography. There is good abstract expressionism and not-so-good abstract expressionism. There is good minimalism and not-so-good minimalism. There is good sculpture and not-so-good sculpture.

If we must make distinctions, and we seem to be inclined to do that, then properly those distinctions should not be about the level of the work in terms of subject matter or degree of sophistication or profundity, i.e. the relative “value” of the work. Rather they should be about the quality of the work—and that is a whole other discussion.

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Addicted to the Creative Process

Monday, 5. October 2015 0:13

Theatre, I often tell students, is a drug. Once you’re addicted, the only choices you have are to keep feeding your habit or go through a very painful and complex withdrawal. Those who succumb often embrace the drug and obsess over it.

This was brought home to me over the last couple of weeks in talking to two different actors about addiction-related matters. One, a method actor, was concerned about a role that he had taken might lead him to a negative mental place. So we spent a couple of hours devising ways to deal with that likelihood, arriving at what I think will be a successful procedure. His vacating the role because it might be unpleasant or even dangerous never occurred to either one of us. One does not simply say “no” to one’s addictions.

The second actor was concerned about how his artistic career decisions, i.e. which roles to go for, which graduate schools to consider might impact his partner, another actor. He said, “I know how I am. Once I start, I won’t stop.” Although momentarily in remission, he’s addicted, and while he might toy with the idea of giving it up, he’s not really serious about it. The relationship will have to accommodate his artistic needs or fail.

There are, of course, other addictions in theatre. There is the fame addiction, which, so far as I can determine has very little to do with anything artistic. There is the “applause addiction.” This is literally the need to hear applause regularly. It has caused some very talented people to break off their formal education and work in the (low or non-paying) semi-professional world instead of forgoing the applause for a time to move into the professional world with a much wider and more discerning audience.

These are not the addictions from which the two actors mentioned are suffering. These actors are addicted to the creative process. They are far less concerned with applause than they are with creating full characters out of a few words in a script and a little direction. Fame is nowhere on their radar. These are people that must do shows to satisfy their creative cravings.

Addiction to the creative process is not unique to actors. All artists seem to have it. Painters have to paint; they will paint with any kind of paint on any surface available. Writers have to write and will scribble on any sort of paper that is about. Photographers will shoot anything any time when the creative fever is on them. Dancers are always moving to whatever music can be heard and sometimes to music that no one else can hear. They’re addicted.

Some will find other things in life to be more important and will go through withdrawal to secure those things. The rest of us, however, will acknowledge our addiction to creativity, recognize that we really have no choice in the matter, and go forward. For many of us that going forward means not only acknowledging our addiction but embracing it. And that means, for some anyway, converting the addiction to an obsession (written about earlier, here and here).

Like most other addictions and obsessions, the need for the creative process will not bring happiness or satisfaction or ease. It will not bring peace of mind. Instead, it will bring a wide range of ever-changing emotions, a constant, sometimes manic, striving, and a sense of purpose. And that’s worth having.

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Quit Your Whining!

Sunday, 26. July 2015 23:33

Frequently, I hear artists complaining about the lack of support the arts receive in today’s America. Theatres, except those on Broadway and a few select others, are running at less than capacity; some run at such reduced capacity that a half-house is considered good. So we whine.

Older artists will tell you that this was not the case in the past, that there was a “golden age” when all seats were full and paintings flew off the wall. How long ago that was depends largely upon the age of the artist making the statement. And there was a time—within my memory—when theatres had far more audience support that we see today. That, of course, was before 200+ channel cable television and the internet. Now we have not only the competition of cable television, but of multiple web sites streaming video and games on demand 24/7.

So those who were just looking for an entertainment to fill their time now have more choices than they can consider. Why would people dress to go out and sit with other people they don’t know to see actors perform when they can sit at home in their underwear watching the best that Hollywood has to offer? In terms of entertainment, many audience members see little distinction between live theatre and streaming video, so live theatre artists whine.

What also seems to be gone are the days when buying original art was popular, if such days ever existed. Walk through any gallery; visual and plastic arts are not moving, particularly those pieces that are priced in the three-digits-plus range—at least until one gets to the multi-million dollar level. (And those auction purchases seem to be not so much about art as about conspicuous acquisition and investment.) The vast middle-ground moves very little original art, and for much the same reasons that theatre doesn’t: reproductions are everywhere. If a person is looking for decoration (and, face it, most people are) there are thousands of pre-framed lithographs of both famous and unknown work, “original oil paintings” mass-produced in “painting factories” in Asia, illustrations, internet images. So why pay for the real original vision of a living artist? The artists whine.

But whining about today’s conditions is not productive; neither is longing for the “good old days.” Those days, if they ever existed, are gone; now we have to deal with it what is.

A multimedia artist I know says that acquiring art is like making a love connection and I think she may well be right. The collector sees the art, connects with the art, wants or needs to have an on-going relationship with the art, which means, unless the art is available to view on the internet, that the collector must buy the art. So the art goes home with its new owner to continue the love relationship.

And we know there are all sorts of “love connections,” some deep and long-term and some shallow and temporary. Different aspects attract differently, and most know that we can change those to attract a different sort of interest from a different sort of person. Likewise, the artist can modify his/her output to attract a different kind of collector.

That’s one way of dealing with things. Another way is to remember why we got into art (or art got into us) in the first place. It wasn’t about money. It was likely about having something to say or having a need to create. If we remember why we do it, and recognize what the market conditions really are, we can produce our art, put it out into the world, and quit our whining.

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Art Must Be Important

Sunday, 14. June 2015 23:46

Tennessee Williams, in an interview with James Grissom, said “Of course art should be about something big. Something terribly big must be at stake. I don’t see this anymore. Our art is becoming terribly polite and apologetic, much like us. It slinks away like a sagging breast, empty of milk or promise or comfort.”

If you have read or seen the plays of Williams, you know that “something big” does not necessarily mean big in the sense of news or nations. He really means big in terms of the human condition, or big to the playwright himself or his audience. We might substitute the word important and be closer to what Williams really meant. Something really important must be at stake. Art should be about something important. Absolutely.

If something is important, it generally means that the artist feels strongly about it. And if the artist feels strongly he/she may create art that has sufficiently strength to offend someone. Sadly, society has, at least in the US, come to believe that not being offended is a right. Williams did the interview in 1982; if anything, it’s worse today—at least in some parts of the country.

If you haven’t run across this issue, you only have to look as far as your local collegiate theatre department. Those of us in educational theatre deal with this every day; for example, we worry about how the plays we select will be received, not in terms of message or in terms of artistry, but in terms of offense to certain segments of the audience. You may find that silly, but when funding relies on public monies and when administration is sensitive to community complaints, it becomes a real concern.

This also happens in the commercial sector. I recall several discussions with independent producers who are constantly self-censoring their selection of material because of concern with offending sponsors and potential donors.

And it happens in arts other than theatre, both in educational and commercial sectors. A friend who is a photographer recently had two pieces rejected by two different galleries (which had previously shown his work) as “too controversial.” There are many artists, visual and otherwise, who would love to hear that their work was too controversial; it would be validation that they were doing the right thing with their art, that their art said something, that their art was important. The downside, of course, is that the work doesn’t get shown, at least in those venues who eschew controversial work, which is the majority of venues.

So we self-censor; a multimedia artist told me recently that she modifies her content based on whether she is making the work to sell or for herself. Williams would not have approved; he railed against self-censorship in the same interview: “When did we become so small and so apologetic? Why do we apologize for our humanity? Love what you love, and make no apologies. This is your identity. The most horrendous suspensions of freedom are self-imposed. We imprison ourselves daily, hourly.”

Admittedly, it’s much safer to make trivial, non-controversial art, but perhaps safe is not the best choice, at least if we think even a little like Williams. We need to quit making polite, apologetic art and instead have the courage make our art about something important.

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The Modern Audience: Two Approaches

Monday, 1. June 2015 0:05

Much has been written about the place of live theatre in the contemporary world. Part of what is interesting about that topic is the artist-audience connection in the 21st century. Two things have brought this to mind recently. The first was an article in The Telegraph about award-winning playwright and screenwriter Sir Tom Stoppard. In the article, Stoppard complained that he had to rewrite a scene in his newest play, The Hard Problem, three times “making a particular allusion more and more obvious each time.” He says that over the last 40 years the audience’s knowledge of Shakespearean drama (to which Stoppard makes constant references) has steadily declined to the point that such knowledge is almost non-existent. For Stoppard this is a devastating turn of events.

The second incident was Kneehigh’s recent production of Tristan & Yseult as part of the Alley Theatre’s 2014-15 season. This production was arguably the best piece of theatre to have been presented in the Houston area for a number of years, yet many potential audience members chose not to attend. Some that I talked to said they had planned to skip the production simply because of the title; some because of the description: a tale of an ancient Cornish love triangle, the same love triangle that appears with different names in the literature of many different cultures and countries, classic and archetypal in every way.

Like Stoppard, most artists give meaning to their work through reference and allusion both consciously and subconsciously, and most assume that their audiences will “get it.” If they don’t, a large part of the complexity of the work will be lost, and even though the work may be engaging, even entertaining, it will not be perceived in its complete fullness, with all the overtones and undertones.

What happens when the audience does not have the classical education to understand the references and allusions in the production? Stoppard’s choice is to rewrite and dumb it down.

Tristan & Yseult, on the other hand, was in no way dumbed-down. Audiences did not have to have a classic education to understand and appreciate the show. Such an education enriched the experience, but was completely unnecessary, because the creative team moved past verbal allusions and, incorporating broad references to both historical and modern western culture, employing not only acting, but music, dance, and elements of circus. This group brought a very old mythic, archetypal story to a very new audience with all the meaning and immediacy that is possible. In fact, Theatermania said that the show was “a sensory feast. Each design detail is integral to the story, and brilliantly put to use by Rice and her cast. By the end you’ll be willing to follow them anywhere, be it Cornwall, Ireland, or beyond. The performances are incredibly committed. Kneehigh is the gold standard of theatrical rigor, fortified by a heavy dose of fun.”

While we might take issue with an educational system that leaves an audience ignorant of Shakespeare and other classics, the fact is that today’s audiences lack that background. This lack of classic education and inability to grasp allusions and references is not something that impacts only dramatic arts. Serious visual and plastic artists must deal with it as well.

And there are choices in how we, as artists, deal with it. We can, like Stoppard, rewrite and dumb-down things until the audience “gets it,” or, like Kneehigh, find new ways to present material that connects today’s audience directly to meaning, regardless of how classical or archetypal that might be.

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The Case for Craft

Monday, 4. May 2015 0:44

Every day it seems that there is at least one article in my news feed about creativity; some days there is more than one. And since we in the US are an entrepreneurial society, I find my email full of announcements for this or that seminar or webinar or workshop in creativity—for a small fee. (There’s probably a future post in this.)

Let me be clear: I am certainly not opposed to creativity. I have blogged about it many times and probably will again. But what I’m not seeing in all this talk about creativity is any discussion of craft. In fact, there seem to be very few discussions about craft and the mastery of craft at all. The message is almost that creativity and self-expression are all there is to making art. This, as many of us know, is not the case. If the prospective artist does not have a mastery of the medium, then all the creativity and self-expression in the world are essentially useless.

This is an issue in a number of arts, but is more pronounced in some. For example, there are a number of photographers who use only “canned” effects to achieve their final images. These are likely the same photographers who neglect to learn all of the dials and settings on their cameras. After all, both cameras and software are very smart and can do most of the work so the photographer actually needs to learn very little. However, while images created that way might be technically quite good (exposure, shutter speed, color), they may be very much lacking. Julian Calverley in an interview about professional photographers shooting with iPhones, notes “Just because you own a nice camera, doesn’t mean you can take a great shot. Composition, lighting and understanding a subject are things that will always remain.” Calverley also notes that the photographer needs an eye for a good shot and lots of skills to make that shot possible. Craft.

In another field, actors who achieve some measure of success early on often rely on whatever skills they may have developed or show an extraordinary devotion to one particular school of acting. The result is that their acting quickly goes stale because they are essentially one-trick ponies who demonstrate little inclination to develop their craft in different directions, or sometimes even to try to improve at all. If you talk to seasoned actors, men and women who make their living on the stage or in front of a camera, you will hear them discuss their “tool kit.” If you explore the metaphor further, you discover that those actors have gathered techniques from a variety of schools and sources and use ideas from the entire spectrum of available theory, including personal invention. Moreover, you will find that those actors continue to train, experiment, and hone their craft.

In an earlier post, I posited that great art requires great craft. The gist of that argument was that mastery of craft underlies all great—or even good—art. This is really obvious in arts such as music and ballet, where it is simply understood from the outset that the artist must master his/her instrument before anything approaching art can occur. Artists in other fields where a wrong note or a missed step are not so apparent should take heed. The necessity for mastery of craft is no less necessary—if that artist wants to excel.

We must learn not only to use our tools but to master our craft in every sense of the word, then work to maintain that mastery. Only then can we give full expression to our creativity and perhaps make lasting, meaningful art.

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Gaming the System, Part 2

Monday, 20. April 2015 1:00

Last year I posted and article called “Gaming the System” which began with the notion that if one studied a given juried show sufficiently, one might be able to develop a recipe for acceptance. So I decided to try it, and found that it might not be as easy to do as to say. In the past I have done somewhat similar things such as picking pieces for juried shows based on knowledge of the juror. This time it didn’t work. However, my lack of success taught me several lessons:

  1. Hubris never goes unpunished. This is something I should have known from reading the Greek tragedies or just from living, but it is a lesson that we often forget, particularly when things are going well, and we have a string of successes. We think we have it all figured out. We don’t. And is well to be reminded of this from time to time.
  2. There are always variables that we do not take into consideration. In this case, one (and maybe two) of the jurors was different from the years prior. This means that the flavor and focus of the show became unpredictable. Not everything can be anticipated.
  3. Likewise, there are always details that we miss or misinterpret; sometimes those little things matter more than we know.
  4. Risking failure is good for us, and if there are no occasional failures, there is no real risk. And this was, at least by my standards, a spectacular failure. There was a significant investment of both time and money, and while, in my estimation, the resultant images were very good, they do not really fit with the rest of my portfolio, so I am not really sure what, if anything, I might do with them. So, yes, this project could definitely be considered a failure.
  5. The biggest lesson that I learned, however, was that even if I know the parameters required, I cannot make art that does not at least try to match my personal aesthetic. It became apparent as early as the planning stage for this project that I am not able to create art to satisfy requirements completely outside myself. Even knowing the recipe, I had to make the pieces my own, had to make the say what I really thought. Probably this is something I should have known about myself before, but I did not, and least consciously. Then I had to reconcile my new learning concerning my aesthetic and the fact that I often direct plays that are aimed at a particular type of audience or prepared for a particular venue. The difference is that once the play is selected for whatever reason, what I do with it during the rehearsal process is to shape it in accordance with my own personal aesthetic. Again, this is something that should have been obvious, but, for some reason, was not.
  6. Evidently, I do not have what it takes to game the system in the way that Dan Colen, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst seem to. This may not be a terrible thing.

So my grand experiment in gaming the system resulted in six valuable lessons. Even though the project was a failure, these lessons make it—to my mind—a worthwhile endeavor, an endeavor worth writing about. As a result of this experience, I will do exactly what I have encouraged other artists to do: continue to risk, sometimes fail, learn from the failure, move on.

Category:Aesthetics, Creativity, Originality | Comment (0) | Autor:

Focus, Energy, Concentration, and Presence

Monday, 6. April 2015 0:24

The difference between Broadway actors and student actors is often not talent—at least not completely. It is the energy, focus, presence, and ability to exist in the moment for the length of the show and the length of the run. These are things that are difficult to teach and difficult to learn, at least to judge by what we see in the classroom—and on stage. However, I recently saw an outstanding example of these qualities in an actor, and that caused me to rethink.

What happened was that I accepted an invitation to a final dress rehearsal of a children’s musical. The cast was made up of acting instructors, mostly members on Actor’s Equity, one child lead, and an ensemble made up of selected students. Never having seen a children’s show by this particular organization, I had no idea what to expect, nor did I know who was involved, since there were no programs at this rehearsal. I was pleasantly surprised. Production values were excellent; I had seen some of the adult performers work before and was not disappointed in this production. The ensemble consisted of 15-20 kids of varying ages; all had wireless microphones, indicating to me that they were not just background, but were expected to really sing and be heard. And they acquitted themselves well. The identical precision that one sees in a seasoned ensemble was missing, of course, but what replaced it was a youthful energy and individual interpretation of direction and choreography that revealed a great deal about each actor’s mindset and level of development (a blog for another time, perhaps).

What really struck me was a single member of the ensemble. This was a young woman of about 14 (her age was later confirmed). When the ensemble was singing and dancing, she most often occupied a position immediately left of whichever principal was featured in the number. She did not need the propitious positioning to be noticed. It is difficult to remember any performer who exhibited more focus, energy, concentration, and presence than this teenager. I later learned that several other audience members had a similar response.

In every number, she was fully engaged, focused, and performing with an energy that is seldom equaled. And she did it number after number. So rare is this type of performance that I found myself waiting for her next stage appearance and concentrating on her more than the principals. If there was music playing, she was channeling it with her whole body whether she was singing or not. When there was no music, she slipped convincingly into whatever character she was playing at the time.

Some would say that the director should have asked her to tone it down. I have to disagree. Given that she was working with professionals, the director should have asked those professionals to step up their game. This was not a case of “the kid was cute;” this was a case of the kid was superlative.

Why take the time to write about an ensemble member I do not know in a children’s show that has already closed? Because what she did was exactly what we who teach want actors to do: exist in the moment, completely focused on the role, hitting the stage with outstanding presence, and performing with unflagging, almost preternatural energy.

A more important question is why this teenager exhibited these characteristics and other same-aged members of the ensemble with the same teachers did not. My guess is that she not only listened to her teachers, but somehow had the internal mental and emotional mechanisms to put it all together.

That is the part that nobody I know knows exactly how to teach. We all say essentially the same things about concentration, focus, energy, presence, mindfulness and the necessity of these qualities. We provide exercises and methodologies. But only one in 50 (if that many) will put it all together. Those are the ones who get the work. Those are the ones who, when they are on stage, we must watch.

These are difficult qualities to instill in students. One wonders if we just haven’t yet figured out how to teach our students how put it all together, or if it is inborn and we just help develop it. My suspicion is that it is a combination of several factors: the instructor’s ability to clearly explain these difficult concepts coupled with the students’ ability to absorb information and the individual student’s mental, emotional, spiritual makeup, plus all those other factors, unique to each student, that determine the level of the student’s commitment and his/her willingness to implement new ideas.

Whether I have an acting class or not, this subject occupies my thoughts frequently. If you have any related thoughts you would like to share, I would certainly appreciate hearing them.

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How Far Should the Interpretive Artist Go?

Sunday, 22. March 2015 23:49

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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