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January 30, 2006

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Playgoer

Thanks for leading me to your comments here on the NYT piece. I agree that the case for the director was not really made there (especially in the Einhorn case). To me the most important statement in it was Mantello admitting he wouldn't care about copywriting his work on "Glengarry," for instance, since his work there deliberately took a back seat. (And maybe that's why I didn't like it. Ha!)

In the end you're totally right about "the Hal Prince clause." Ideally that should be the norm and not just a privilege reserved for those with Mr Prince's money and clout.

Joshua

I've worked with probably over fifty different directors, some wonderful, many not - the wonderful ones all had great contributions to the production, but none, not a one, was ever author of the play. Nor should they have been, seeing as that if I hadn't written it, they would be directing something else.

The same is true when I've directed other author's plays. I've certainly come up with dramaturgical solutions for tricky text problems for other writers, but I would never call myself co-author, nor do I believe it is reasonable to claim otherwise.

I should note that I've shut down productions of my plays when they've violated the contract by altering text.

Otherwise anyone, anywhere, could add what words they please and call it theirs, when in a sense it is not.

So sorry, much as I love great directors (and hate the bad ones) I cannot agree with you here.

The playwright is the architect of the story, the director is the general contractor who builds the performance for the audience.

They are different jobs.

Does this mean that every director who stages Midsummer Night's Dream gets to share billing with Will?

isaac

Perhaps i should clarify with a quick follow up:

1) I do not consider the text of a script the play. The play is the thing performed for the audience. The script is the foundation, the fundamental (And probably most important, although not in all circumstances) piece of that play. But the play (in the definition I'm using on this blog) is the thing performed.

2) There is a difference between a "Writer" and an "author", I'm not using the words interchangeably and I mean "author" in the same sense (I suppose) That Roland-Barthes does, or any of those deconstructionists... it's more than simply the person who writes down the words, in much the way that film director can be said to be the author of a movie she directs regardless of who wrote said movie.

3) Therefore, the playwright, while certainly the sole author of the script, is not the sole author of the play.

I understand why this might not be clear-- I'm using words that I redefined in other posts-- but the playwright is not the sole author of the performed event of a piece of theater.

So to follow up, Josh, with what you've written... no of course you're not a co-author of the *script* of the play when you direct it, but you have certainly helped coauthor the event itself. You have some sort of ownership over that event, as do all the other artists who took part in creating it. Whether that ownership extends to legal protections and $$$ is a totally separate issue.

If I were to go and recreate Peter Brook's seminal staging of "Midsummer Night's Dream" I would certainly be guilty of plagarism. He would have no legal grounds to sue me, but I would certainly have committed some for of plagarism. Whether that's a good thing or not, I'm not sure. If i were to set Midsummer in the 60's, or a post-apocalyptic MacBeth, I wouldn't be plagarizing any director's work specifically, so much as being unoriginal.

And no one should alter playwright's texts without their permission. That's just bullshit.

It's interesting that all the metaphors people bandy about for directors are not artistic. Directors are "plumbers" (NY Times) or "general contractors". Could someone please come up with an image that isn't belittling of our creative contribution? Of course directing and writing are different jobs, but they're both artistic, they're both very difficult, and they're both creative. Let's try to find one that doesn't put them in a hierarchy.

Abe Goldfarb

Isaac, I adore you. But please don't get upset about the terminology ("plumber," "contractor," etc.). Directors are now no less celebrities than actors (and their art no less central to their celebrity), while writers are still frequently invisible. It seems churlish to gripe.

Still. Brett Ratner needs a fucking slap. I'd far rather see your X-Men 3.

devilvet

Composer - Conductor

Playwright - Director

The conductor has intrepretive control, and even has rights to recording of his/her performances...but has not rights to the notes on the page and any honest comparison to their production choices to another conductors is subjective at best.

Aside from blocking...to my mind this situation sets a precedent that playwright/director situation can emulate.

OR

If a director steals, then it is from another director. Therefore, the director has the right to attempt to sue the other director, but not the playwright, the producing organization, or any other body.

Joshua

And I agree that there is nothing wrong with being a general contracter - I've done the job myself, and it's definitely a more apt description of the job - the director assembles the construction team and oversees the building of the work.

I've heard that before, that the playwright is not the author of the play, just the script - you're cribbing from the writer's guild guidlelines for screenplays, which argues that screenwriters are not the author's of the movie, just the script (though point of fact, neither directors nor screenwriters get copyright, that goes to the studios or financing partners) here in america. It's how it's been set up here to better exploit the material by not having to deal with a stubborn author - in other countries, however, screenwriters retain copyright. And I think it's wrong that we don't get it here.

I find it disturbing to think that I can lose copyright to the whim of a director (and while I am positive that you are a compassionate, caring director, you must admit that there are a lot of monsters out there masquerading as directors) and that even though I wrote a play to be performed, I'm not the author of it. I just absolutely disagree.

And again, I know and feel that great directors are worth their weight in uranium, but for the most part, my experience is that directors have far more power than playwrights, at least these days.

Most theatre groups go to directors for projects, they don't go to playwrights. Most artistic directors are directors, not playwrights. Directors are far more visible than playwrights. We know who Joe Mantello is, right? I would argue that more people know who he is than they do who Richard Greenberg is.

I think you're delving into the development / dramaturgical issue that cropped up a few years ago with RENT, in other words, how much credit should be given to those who work on a property dramaturgically with the author. That's a different subject.

Not all directors work on scripts like that, though. Some just direct the script, which is the job. And it's a fine job worthy of praise and respect, but it's not a job entitled to authorship.

And bear in mind, if someone didn't write the play, what would the play be? What would the director stage if there was no play written?

So I have to disagree with you, most politely.

joshua

I should add, I often refer to myself as a word carpenter, I don't feel that's demeaning at all . . .

Sometimes I feel like a verbal field hand, though, which may be another thing entirely.

YS

I seem to remember there was a problem between John Dexter and Peter Schafer involving Equus.

I believe the general idea was that John Dexter's original direction was used to supplement the published script of Equus. (Dexter had no issue with this at the time.) However, as anybody who has seen a high school or even professional production of Equus they will observe that there is really not much variation in how the play is performed, and it almost always seems to look very close to Dexter's original vision as written into the publication.

One could imagine that Dexter would have been upset that his vision apparently was being used in every production of Equus.

I am really hazy on the details of this conflict, but maybe others have more information about it. I could be really wrong about this. Please correct me or fill in the details, because I think it pertains to this very question.

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