Ahead of Write Direction on 8 November, John Caine MBE writes about the the nature of the relationship between director and playwright and tells us more about the workshop which "considers the script as the basis of the production, and the ways in which a text can be read, interpreted and presented."
Why Write Direction – and Who is It For?
In his book The Play Produced, first published in 1933, John Fernald wrote, “the fact that an author can write a good play does not mean that he can express it in terms of theatre.” Fernald was a long-serving Principal of RADA and his views on theatre were taken seriously. In those days, the ‘producer’ fulfilled the function we now refer to as ‘director.’ (In 1933, Fernald, like the majority of men involved in the theatre, did not consider the possibility of a woman being an author, much less a ‘producer’).
Fernald and his RADA students at that time would not recognise today’s theatre. We now regard ‘producers’ simply as the ‘enablers’; the people who organize and finance a production. Now, directors are more often – too often, perhaps – seen as those who are responsible for everything that happens on the stage. The influence and power of directors has grown enormously during my life in theatre, sometimes to the extent that, in an attempt to present a play ‘in a new light,’ the text and context can become “distorted.” Referring to this tendency in a discussion with Judi Dench earlier this year, the theatre critic Michael Billington talked about the increasing tendency of directors to try to improve the “accessibility” of a play. “Contemporary directors,” according to Billington, “approach Shakespeare, for example, as if the audience is going to be bored and they have to find ways to popularise the plays.” Billington went on to highlight what he called “directorial choices,” in some modern productions of Shakespeare, such as “the encouragement of pantomime-style audience interaction.”
What about the writer? In many ways, a script is an unusual document. Within itself it contains questions as well as the answers to those questions. Is Willy Loman the hero his wife believes him to be, or the delusional failure described by his sons – and are his sons themselves failures, or the heroes painted by their father? And how much should the playwright be involved in the production of the play?
In John Fernald’s view, not much. Fernald wrote, “to the argument that the proper person (to direct the play) is the author, it may be answered that the author – even when he is competent – is seldom available for the purpose.” It is true, to some extent, that the lack of physical availability of the author may be a factor. A director of All My Sons or A Taste of Honey, for example, cannot expect to get any practical assistance in interpretation from the authors of those plays.
During my workshop “Write Direction,” we will consider and explore the nature of the relationship between playwright and director. What are the director’s responsibilities to the writer? What should a writer expect from the director in terms of interpretation, and how much of an opportunity should there be for ‘collaboration’? In my own experience as a writer, I have worked with directors who have welcomed my involvement and others who have been less than welcoming, regarding the involvement of the writer as an unnecessary distraction
Of course, there are no hard-and-fast rules. I believe that, whenever possible, the writer should be involved – whether pre-production, or off-set, perhaps helping actors to discover motives for unusual aspects of their character, pointing directors towards an implied back-story, or simply by being available for advice.
“Write Direction” is a practical workshop for directors and writers both experienced and inexperienced. It is an opportunity to explore their responsibilities to each other and to the actors and other creative involved in a production.
There will be opportunities to take part in some of the practical work that forms an integral part of the workshop.
Having written plays for stage, radio & television, and directed classic and contemporary work in traditional and modern settings, I believe “Write Direction” will offer inspiration as well as practical help and advice for writers, directors, and actors.
Write Direction is open to Actor and Industry members and runs on Friday 8 November from 14.30 - 17.30. Click here to find out more about the workshop as well as booking details.
About John Caine MBE, FRSA
John is an award-winning author and has written plays for stage, radio, and television. He is also an experienced theatre director and has directed plays featuring Ben Kingsley, Bernard Hill, George Costigan, and the late Malcolm Tierney. He was appointed MBE for his services to theatre.
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