Rob Kendt lays down a gauntlet of sorts, linking together my own thoughts on intellectual property and authorial intent with Edward Albee's cantankerous musings here. So let's talk about Edward Albee's now-blogosphere-minted quote, shall we? In case you're just joining us now, Albee had this to say in the L.A. Weekly:
"We have no paucity of good young playwrights, and good older playwrights; we don't have the happiest environment for them to work in. Like in the art world and in literature, the theater's just as trendy, as dangerous and corrupt. The big problem is the assumption that writing a play is a collaborative act. It isn't. It's a creative act, and then other people come in. The interpretation should be for the accuracy of what the playwright wrote. Playwrights are expected to have their text changed by actors they never wanted. Directors seem to feel they are as creative as the playwright. Most of these changes are for commercial reasons. I know a lot about it because I'm on the council of the Dramatists Guild, but of course the pressures are on all of us. I'm in the lucky position where I just say, 'Go fuck yourself; if you don't want to do the play I wrote, do another play.' The forces of darkness would back down if everybody said that."
Yeah... alright. I frankly find this quote fairly easy to dismiss, and I think it reveals a lot more about Albee than anything else. Let me try to explain why:
(1) He's pretty clearly talking about commercial theatre. That's not a world I deal with really, or that most people I know deal with. He is then extracting his experience with commercial theatre, and claiming it is universal. To me, this shows how out of touch he is. Not that everything's okay in Indie Land, but I don't think it's the same problem he's talking about.
(2) He refers to actors and directors as "forces of darkness". What's the point of that? I'm sorry that we fail to create the ideal show he has in his head, but if that's really his attitude, he should just write novels. Writing might be an "individual act," as he puts it (it's not, for now let's give him that) but putting on a play certainly isn't. It's a collaborative one. His confusion of the act of writing with the act of doing a play is odd tos ay the least.
(3) He's picking on the wrong people. Let's look at this for a moment as a labor dispute. Because that's what it really is. So let's look at it (just for a moment) from a somewhat... well... Marxist perspective. What you have are various components, various types of labor fighting with each other-- actors, directors, writers-- instead of banding together in solidarity to demand certain things of producers and theatrical institutions. The problem isn't directors, the problem is new play development programs. Directors can be your ally. The problem isn't dramaturgs, the problem is the institution of resident dramaturgy. Dramaturgs can be your ally.
(4) Victim Mentality. I'm tired of theater people talking like victims. We're not victims. Or we are, but so is everyone else so what the heck does it matter? Let's talk about what we're creating. Let's talk about being the change we want to see. Look at something like 13P. I don't hear a lot of bitching from them about new play development. They've simply set out to do what they can to change it and create the circumstances for themselves to be creative. Yes, we need to criticize the existing system to talk about how we want to change it. But there's a difference between that kind of criticism and the kind of Insistence on Victimhood that we find so often when we talk about things, whether it be politics or theater. (Contrast all this with what the Dramatist's Guild is doing to end the fraud of submission fees, or what New Dramatists is doing to try to influence New Play Development and you get the idea)