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March 02, 2007

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freeman

It's seems contradictory to state that one should identify a problem, but not mention it. Albee is using his clout to call attention to the environment that younger writers find themselves in. He is identifying a problem, in order to stimulate discussion and probably promote action. That's not being a victim, that's being active.

I've never really understood the argument against "being a victim." It basically means that the person who is complaining should...not complain. If there's any behavior that truly marks a victim, it's an unwillingness to speak up for himself or herself.

Your own self-actualization about how you can go about protecting yourself in the future from certain pitfalls is fantastic and good advice for all. I just don't see how speaking up and taking action have to be mutually exclusive.

MattJ

Oh Isaac I'm so sorry about that actor. I've been there man. There's nothing more difficult, as the theatrical process is so hinged upon the amalgamation of personalities. One tends to take the responsibility upon themselves for these situations. And I suppose there is something to be said for that. But therein lies the argument for that fine line between "Producer" and "Director" which is, at least downtown, becoming very antiquated.

isaac

Freeman... I'd take a gander at my last paragraph for an answer to your comment.

Joshua James

I agree with Freeman and I don't believe your last paragraph was an answer to Freeman's comment.

I should add, I had my own theatre company and produced many plays, I've directed many plays (plays written by others) and acted in new works. I've done all those jobs, any job in the theatre that you can name, I've done it (I've even run a fog machine) and so I'm not coming out at this as some cushy writer who never leaves his office.

I would suggest writing a short and putting it in someone else's hands, someone you don't know, to get an idea of what playwright's often go thru.

I also find it ironic you hold 13p up as an example . . . my understanding is that it's a company of playwrights who commit to doing each other's work strictly according to their visions, not the director's, but what the playwright wants to see . . . don't you feel that's ironic that you hold them up as an answer to why you feel Albee is wrong?

I'm all about empowerment, and not being a victim . . . one can see that from much of my postings and work . . . but that doesn't mean we shouldn't speak out about victimization when it happens. Add to that, to chide a very famous playwright for pointing out that writers are taken advantage of, and to accuse those of us complaining about disempowerment as "playing the victim," it's very upsetting . . .

I just . . . I dunno, man, I didn't expect to get this worked up, but this has obviously struck a cord with me . . . and you must admit, you basically stated that a guy who has won three Pulizter's should just go "write a novel" if he doesn't wish to play the theatre game the way you believe it should be played - which, if he'd done so in the beginning, would have deprived us all of Three Tall Women, Virginna Wolf, Seascape . . . damn, man.

I apologize if I got worked up, but obviously it's a subject I feel strongly about, not just regarding my own work but regarding the future of this industry, I think it's damaged and primarily because few seem to trust that writers can write a play worthy of production without help or feedback or notes . . . in other words, even talented playwrights cannot be trusted to know what plays . . . I very much disagree with that.

Jaime

Just on victimization - I don't think a person makes himself or herself a victim by complaining. It's in complaining and not taking action. If you say, "This is a problem. I'm going to do something so it doesn't continue," a la 13P, that's not victimization. But if you say, "This is a problem. Bad people are making this hard on me," then you've made yourself a victim. Acted on, rather than acting.

That's all I have to contribute. This debate is something I need to take home and think about for a good long time.

freeman

Isaac -

I'll take your point. I guess we just don't agree in our assessments of his statement. What you're characterizing has bitching I would characterize as pontificating.

Either way, I think the comment is likely less calculated than is the discussion. It seems like he was being interviewed as simply made a comment that young writers aren't in a fortunate position at the bargaining table right now. In fact, he seems to lionize his own position. (Something that George rightly takes some issue with...)

To that point, I'd say it says a lot that Albee himself isn't finding a welcoming place on Broadway for his new work.

Joshua James

So someone who has been attacked and disempowered, someone who has had their rights taken away (like in Gitmo) cannot consider themselves victims simply because someone took advantage of them . . . they only made themselves a victim unless they do something?

Bullhockey . . . there's no mean guideline like that . . . if you've been victimized by someone in power (like sexual harassed on the job) you've been victimized whether you do something about it or not . . . you're basically saying anyone that complains about mistreatment is asking for it unless they do something radical . . . I so disagree . . . to the point, I should probably sit out . . . I'm getting too hot.

Jaime

I was just clarifying what I think victimization means in this argument, in terms of complaints about victimization. Victimization which, I think, is often very different from being a real victim. It's about making oneself a victim. Dodgy terminology.

Mark

I haven't weighed in on this yet, but I think, Isaac, that you have gotten yourself into a sticky wicket with this "victim" terminology. It sounds to me, as it did in your past "We're Not Victims" post, like you're saying that playwrights should stop wearing those short skirts.

I think, also, a strawman has been created with regard to people who supposedly sit around bitching but don't do anything to change things. I think by sitting on the Dramatists Guild council, exercising creative control over his own works, encouraging young playwrights and everything else Albee does, he's hardly the example of the passivity you describe.

Also, even if there were this hypothetical person who just spoke about these things and didn't take the sort of action you suggest, I would still see nothing wrong with that. Rather than complaining or pontificating, I would describe that, admiringly, as Speaking Out.

isaac

Interesting thoughts everyone, and I'll be sure to take them under advisement. One of the wonderful things about this whole blogosphere is being able to put out semi-formed ideas and have them immediately responded to. I'm not saying this as a way of dodging argument, I'm saying this as a way of simply saying that I think there's a lot of good points here that I'd like to take home and think about.

Anyway, carry on everybody. Just wanted to say I'm not avoiding the conversation. I'm reading it with genuine interest.

freeman

I'd like to second Mark's emotion.

Also, Isaac, I'm glad you aren't taking any of this as personal attack. You're being provacative, and that's stimulating a lot of useful discussion.

isaac

Thanks, Matt. Yeah. I guess I did take the more provocative of the points I made in the previous post and expand on it. I could've written some lovey-dovey thing about trusting your collaborators instead.

Hey, it's all a conversation. And hopefully we can all learn from it.

I have a few questions here:
(1) Do playwrights really think of themselves as rape victims or prisoners at Gitmo? (has it gotten that bad?) Or was that argumentative hyperbole? I just want to check in on how the community really feels about all of this.

(2) Painting with a broad brush here for just one moment, I've noticed that most playwrights who blog about process or about the rehearsal room talk more about the disasterous collaborations than the really fruitful ones. Matt, you yourself talked about this in the comment to the last post. Why do you think that is? Is there as much to be gained from a discussion of what worked than a discussion of what didn't? If so, why? If not, why not?

thanks in advance everyone. this has been a great and eyeopening conversation.

freeman

I'd say that's not a truthful characterization. I rarely speak in public about my bad collaborations (not on the blogs per se) and speak often about my very fruitful collaborations with Kyle Ancowitz, who has been working closely with me over the last few years and who contributes invaluably to my work. Gary Schraeder, who directed THE AMERICANS, also did a fantastic job of bringing the play to life and respecting me as a playwright. Even while I was acting in the play. I've had some wonderful experiences, and I talk about them.

Personally, I was speaking to the question at hand, which is the difficult position many writers can and do find themselves in. The worst case scenario for me wasn't even the worst: It all came together well at the end. But to this day, the director of that project and I have still wound up sparring over rights and intellectual property. It wasn't a few months ago I wound up having to dig out an old contract that was made between us to protect myself. During the process, he was very respectful of the play, but was in a very tough place emotionally (the play was rehearsing during 9/2001) and the whole thing wasn't pretty.

I can't speak for other commentators, but I can say that I certainly don't feel within the "community" (which is a loose affiliation of individuals who work by themselves, at best) there's a sense that we're being tortured or abused. I think that there is a consensus, though, that playwrights have to be dilligent about their property and very protective of the integrity of their voices. There are countless ways for it to be compromised, and there is an expectation that a playwright negotiate with other artists as a matter of course.

Joshua James

I'm back and much calmer . . .

1) - is it "rape" when someone takes a piece of work you've put time and sweat in and tears it apart?

No . . . physical rape is a terrible crime, and obviously not on the same plane (I was speaking about victimization in the larger context, etc) - tho certainly writers have spoken at length about the "rape" of their material . . . I've heard that, as I'm sure others have . . . it's not quite the same.

But . . . harassment, victimization, happens when someone has power over someone else and uses it unlawfully . . . certainly that's happened to me as a writer . . . I've had my plays performed without my permission, cut without my permission, there's been much of that . . . like my Off-bway experience, I had no alternative in terms of voice, I either had to accept cuts to my play or pull it . . . I had no voice or power to change it if I wanted the play done.

It's not rape and I would not describe it as rape, and I would never describe how my work has been savaged as rape (my work has been savaged, however) but certainly I was taken advantage of and had no rights, in a sense, to the finished product. It ain't Gitmo, no . . . but it ain't right, either.

B) I would say that you hear more director horror stories because there are more of them. In my post in the Dojo about Directors (called LET ME EXPLAIN MY CONCEPT FOR YOUR PLAY) I contrast a bad experience with a great collaborative experience with one of my favorite directors, Nick Corley, and speak at length why . . . so they are out there, great directors.

But like writers and scripts (if one has ever worked as a reader for a theatre) most are bad . . . the good ones really make you appreciate them.

Brian Silliman

I have had plays of mine get ruined by directors, and I have had plays that were made ten times better by directors.

I don't consider myself "victimized" because it was I that chose these people to work with in the first place. The bad directors never held a gun to my temples and threatened to shoot if they weren't allowed to implant and scortch their artistic visions through.

I think Albee is being a tad over the top. As he himself says, he is in a position now where he doesn't have to deal with these problems. He's popular enough (and his plays are good enough) where he can afford it.

The fact of the matter is that without the collaboration of a cast and director (of whatever talents) a play doesn't exist anywhere besides the printed page and our own heads. Mine don't, in any case.

Producers on the other hand? You're usually screwed. Dangle some money in front of my face and keep chanting "HBO may be interested" and I'd be tempted to cut any character, story element, or theme....before I was even aware of what I was doing.

David

OK, I just wrote and deleted a huge response, because I realized it could be summed up in a few Powerpoint bullets.

(Yes, this is me, actually being brief for once.)

-- Do the work.
-- Identify the problems (in the work and the system).
-- Acknowledge the problems (in the work and the system).
-- Create solutions.
-- Attempt solutions.
-- Empower artists.
-- Do the work.
-- Lather, rinse, repeat.

By the way, sorry about using the word "empowerment." The sentiment is important, but the word has been overused. And, man, do I hate oversimplification -- it goes against my nature. But maybe this list is just simplification.

David

Oh, just saw this:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/03/theater/03feud.html?ex=1330578000&en=0ee2b045d9947681&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

Guess we're not the only ones having this discussion.

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