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March 01, 2007


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Isaac -

Edward ALBEE should just write novels?


I think he might have some reason to keep writing plays. Like being one of the greatest living American playwrights.

I would also add that in Indie Land, writers are in just as much danger of being compromised by the interests of other artists and they are in Disneyland. I've got my fair share of horror stories about disputes about rights for my first play produced in New York. And in the production of that play, there were countless battles large and small. These issues aren't exclusive to large, commerical theaters. The idea that a new play is basically a blueprint to be developed communally is pervasive throughout the American theatre.


To be fair...

I will say that the term "forces of darkness" is a bit much.


Oh, I'm not sure I want to wade into this again... and I will agree that Albee uses some unfortunate phrases (e.g., "Directors seem to feel that they are as creative as the playwright.").

But I don't agree that he's only talking about commercial theater. In one of my very first staged readings, in a 49-seat theater, I was "assigned" a director who, by Day Two of rehearsal, was already talking about her "intellectual contributions" to the play, and what that meant I "owed" her. (Direct quotes from the director in question.)

Had I been much more impressionable, I might have assumed that this is just the way it is. I might have accepted, as fact, that once I said publicly, "Hey, I have a play I'm interested in working on further, and maybe even seeing produced someday," that it was my job to "finish" the play by taking everyone's advice, writing the play they were willing to produce and/or direct and/or act in... and would have lost my play in the process.

Once more for the record: Yes, collaboration occurs, is to be valued, and in some cases that collaboration starts from Day One, when a truly ensemble-created production is the goal. And I believe that grassroots changes can make a difference -- that is, a collection of individual voices can stand for the rights of all.

But I disagree that it's just a "Broadway" or commercial-theater problem. LORT theaters often emulate Broadway and commercial theaters. Mid-sized theaters emulate LORT theaters. And my director, in my tiny 49-seat theater, for my first-ever reading, emulated them.


Oh, one more thing (I didn't read your point #4 until after I posted my first comment):

Yes, acting the victim, whether or not one has been victimized, doesn't lead to much in the way of resolution. However, crying "foul" brings attention to wrongdoing -- perhaps "cross-purposes" is a better word than "wrongdoing."

And I am 100% behind the philosophy of 13P. They've been given a great deal of publicity lately, for their stance, but they're certainly not the only kids on the block making the effort.

My philosophy: Identify the problems, do what you can to make changes... but most important of all, DO THE WORK.


OK, I think I'm hijacking this thread... sorry about that, that's what my own blog is for...

...but after writing the above, I then went to a "feedback" meeting to review a play of mine that had had a staged reading recently. It was one of those readings after which the audience response was sort of, "Huh... Let me get back to you tomorrow."

(Before I get to my conclusion, let me give you a hint: I was thrilled by that response.)

Tonight's meeting started off with a number of sentences that began with, "I wanted to hear..." Of course, in the back of my head, I 'wanted to say,' "Well then, you should write the play." But, being a mature sort, I held my tongue and sifted the chaff for some wheat.

Eventually, though, I said this: "The joy of this development process is the opportunity to fail. To take big risks, to try new things and yes, to occasionally have a reading that isn't a "success" -- at least from the audience's perspective -- or from yours. But, from my perspective, that reading gave me everything I wanted -- a chance to experiment, to write "big" and to see what worked and what didn't, where I failed my own objectives for this play and where I succeeded. In my opinion, that's the point -- and the risk -- of a staged reading. In the end, play development isn't about pleasing the audience. It's about taking chances."

Some days, I speak really good.


Just a quickee clarification that my point that he should just write novels was meant to say simply that the novel is a less collaborative art form than the theatre, and if he hates collaboration so much and talks about collaborators as interlopers who are raping his work, he should just work in novels where the only collaborator he really has to worry about is his editor.

I like Albee's plays quite a bit. Clearly, I'll probably never direct one, but I do like reading them.


Oh also, to add on... I don't think the script of the play is a blueprint to be developed communally except in circumstances where it is (which should be specific and by writer's consent). However, I do believe that *the live performance of a scrip* is developed by groups using the text as the (honored and respected) foundation.


My thought here is less that he hates collaboration as he hates a certain kind of collaboration. I find, for example, that if the writer is asked by the director for a change, and refuses to make it, he or she is often considered stubborn or uncooperative. If a writer were to sit in the rehearsal room and made requests of the director in terms of how he or she did his job, it would be considered an overstep on the part of the writer.

Essentially, collaboration doesn't mean we all have our hands on the same thing. It means we all work together. The director's job and the writer's job and the actor's job are different. Albee is referring to the idea that it is one of the jobs of other artists to question and revise the writer's work.

There are times, though, that the script IS a blueprint. I don't have any proof for this assertion...but it seems likely to me that the modern convention of a script that is written AS a blueprint is connected to the rise in directors who are trained to treat scripts that way.


I think the meat of this is with the idea that we're talking about the first rehearsal period for a new play that has yet to be tested on stage. That's really when this sort of thing occurs. A new play often has material that doesn't wind up being trusted.

Now, I'm being a hypocrite here on some level: my last play was written with a fair amount of excellent dramaturgy from the director. And the play was aided immeasurably. There even came changes that he and I agreed on as the rehearsals went forward before the first production. I don't think collaboration is something that's universally impossible or even bad. I do think that there are rooms where the play isn't trusted.

Joshua James

My understanding about the forces of darkness wasn't necessarily aimed at actors and directors, but Disney and the like.

The key word is, however, that the writing of the play itself isn't collaborative . . . the staging might be, but unless you're in the room with me and we are writing it together, than it's not.

Quite often my own work, work I've spent hours on, is tossed away in a rehearsal without a thought simply because the director / actor has an impulse . . . words are changed without my permission and it's almost NEVER an improvement.

Plus, the story is based on my intent. A directors intent is to stage that story, that's why their name is listed as director. My intent is to create the story. That's why my name is listed as author.

And yes, you bet, I've been told many times that, if I want one of my plays produced, I'd have to make changes a director wants so that he could tell the story "his" way whether I wanted the story told that way or not . . . I don't see that as collaboration . . .

Like Matt, I have had great directors and we collaborated wonderfully on the process . . . but I've been burned many times by people walking under the cloak of "alleged" collaboration . . .

And I agree with someone who said before . . . if you're getting fucked by someone, and you call attention to getting fucked, that's not "playing the victim" that's called being victimized . . . I've never cared for that term you use, and it's often used here when a playwright goes on about how badly they were treated.

Me, I made my Off-Broadway debut last year . . . my piece was altered without my permission by the director (I had a choice, pull the piece, which featured a good friend of mine in a stellar performance or let it go on as it was . . . I let it go on, got good reviews for most of it and for my friend, but most of the criticisms aimed at the piece, despite its good reviews, focused on the thing that was change that was made . . . I was blamed, as the writer, for a change I did not make, in the reviews) -

In addition, I was never PAID for my work, contracts are due on opening and they just never returned my agent's calls. To this day I haven't been paid.

The choice, again, was to pull the piece that featured on of my best friends (and they knew he was my best friend) or let it go on . . . I let it go on . . . I finally told my agent to let it go, it wasn't worth it anymore.

There is even more to that story, but you get the idea . . . now then, if I complain about my work being altered without my permission and not getting paided for a professional, paid Off-B'way run, am I playing the victim?

Hell no. I've been victimized . . . and you bet, I won't let it happen again, but that doesn't mean I don't have the right to air my views about it and hopefully spare other writers the same indignity . . . and I have to say that I find your view that we are "playing the victim" rather upsetting, Isaac, truly.

Directors, actors and stage managers have a union. Writers do not.

One last note . . . Albee is a great writer, no one can reasonably argue he's not, and he's been a participant in theatre on a major level for just about fifty years, right up until today . . . Whether his language is harsh or not, I'd think his views should carry some weight, if only because of the three Pulizters he has . . . your attitude (well, obviously I'll never direct Albee) is indictative fo the problem a lot of playwrights face today . . . stand up for yourself and then get pushed away . . .

Can't you put yourself in his shoes and see it from his view for a bit?

Joshua James

Also, you stated that you didn't hear a lot of bitching from 13p about new play development, but that dismisses their slogan, which is "we don't develop plays, we do them" - which is a direct slag on new play development.


I don’t know if Albee’s quote refers only to commercial theatre. Although he says that decisions are made for “commercial reasons,” he could still be including not-for-profits, which do make artistic decisions based on revenue, in spite of their tax status. It doesn’t matter, though. The sentiment is still troublesome.

Every playwright has horror stories about meddlesome directors, overbearing directors, directors that are only interested in getting their fingers on some of the very small amount of money the play will generate over its earning lifetime. Those are bad directors. Directors also have horror stories, about playwrights that want to cast based on bedroom potential, playwrights that refuse to cut a rambling monologue because they're in love with their voice, playwrights that take the actors aside when the director’s in the john and give subversive directions. Those are bad playwrights. We all have horror stories. And we can play Who’s Suffered More all day, but it won’t get at the underlying problems of development culture.

If Albee’s argument is for playwrights to stand up for what they believe in, then bravo. But I don’t think that’s the sum of his argument. I don’t think the phrase “forces of darkness” is a harmless bit of hyperbole. I think it’s indicative of a larger mindset, one that holds actors and directors in contempt. I think the mindset is that actors and directors should shut up and do as the playwright says. Shut up and interpret accurately. If I were to state that overtly at the beginning of a rehearsal process, what sort of working atmosphere does it create? Not a good one, I think.

I often complain about actors asking me questions that they should be solving themselves. I think Chekhov has the advantage in being dead, so he doesn’t have to answer why Trigorin does what he does. But because some questions are foolish, because some requests for cuts are silly, because some directors and actors are bad or at least misguided, it doesn’t follow that all their thoughts, questions and concerns are bad, or that they stand for the “forces of darkness.” They might even be useful. Somebody might have a good idea, which I’m not going to turn down because it wasn’t mine. In the end, I can always say No, as Albee concludes, but why is that a victory over Satan?

George Hunka

Anyone who has read what Albee has had to say about Alan Schneider and Uta Hagen knows the deep respect he maintains for both talented directors and talented performers. The force of darkness that Albee seems to find troublesome (at least) is ego, self-importance. One could remonstrate that Albee's placing the playwright at the center of the creative process in scripted theatre is an act of ego, of self-importance itself. But the justification for this is that the text that the writer creates is Square One, the Original Creative Act of the scripted theater, and therefore has primacy of importance.

There is a difference between the creative interpretation that directors and actors bring to a text and the writer's creative act itself. The writer's creation is spun from his or her own unconscious; the writer and director approach a text, a creation by another, not their own. They must remain true to that, find within themselves what the text suggests to them and work instinctively from there. No one would think to say that a chamber ensemble, faced with a composer's score, could change notes, tempi, dynamics of a composition: that would verge on desecration. (Things like, say, the 24-hour Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, described here:


seem more stunts than interpretations.) Where is the necessary artistic discipline in that?

It's a matter of coaxing a play's theatricality from the text rather than imposing an additional vision atop a playwright's.

A.C. Douglas

Isaac wrote:

"Just a quickee clarification that my point that he should just write novels was meant to say simply that the novel is a less collaborative art form than the theatre, and if he hates collaboration so much and talks about collaborators as interlopers who are raping his work, he should just work in novels where the only collaborator he really has to worry about is his editor."

Collaboration isn't the problem. Not with Albee, not with any playwright. The problem resides *entirely* with all involved, and the director most of all, not understanding their proper role vis-a-vis the playwright and his book. Once all those involved understand -- intellectually, and at a gut level -- that their *only* proper role is as faithful servant vis-a-vis the playwright and his book, the problems Albee rightly complains about dissolve to insignificance.

See how that works?


George Hunka

And a correction: in my second graf, "the writer and director approach ..." should read "the performer and director approach ..." Sorry for the confusion.



Yes, self-importance is bad. I see nothing in the quote that specifies self-importance as the “forces of darkness.” The examples he gives appear to be actors that would change his text and directors that would cast against his wishes. Those are both bad things to do, but I fail to see how it makes directors and actors that may have a thought -- one that might be inspired by the text and not their own ego -- as “the forces of darkness.” (Just to reiterate, I’m talking first production here, not revivals).

I don’t agree with the music analogy. Composers are working in a medium that is much more deliberate and specific than playwrights, and therefore much more difficult to veer from. The fact that there are three interpretations on this thread of what “forces of darkness” means shows how messy fidelity to words can get.

Look at the premiere of Love! Valour! Compassion! Joe Montello did not draw the opening staging from any stage direction in the script. It was a creative act used to approach the text, with the utmost love valour etc. Apparently McNally liked it. If he hadn’t, or if it had been roundly critiqued as a stinker, he could have argued that the director was not being an interpreter but an interloper.

The line between interloper and loyal servant of the text is fuzzy in theatre. It often depends on how much the playwright likes the idea, and the subsequent artistic success or failure of the idea. Playwrights get burned, but I don’t think that it’s useful to paint actors and directors as the enemy. If that is what Albee meant by "forces of darkness," which as I said seems to be up for grabs.



How is writing a play NOT an individual act? If you mean that other people influence the playwright, sure, but at the end of the day the playwright is still alone in the room making decisions about the script.

A.C. Douglas

Dan wrote:

"Playwrights get burned, but I don’t think that it’s useful to paint actors and directors as the enemy. If that is what Albee meant by "forces of darkness," which as I said seems to be up for grabs."

The meaning of Albee's "forces of darkness" was crystal-clear and unambiguous, and his words perfectly chosen (no surprise there).

Albee was saying that within the context of the theater, the "forces of darkness" are anything and everything that impede the clear realization on stage of the *playwright's* vision as embodied in his text.

There's nothing the least bit ambiguous or fuzzy about that, or that it's what Albee meant by the phrase.



ACD wrote:

"Albee was saying that within the context of the theater, the "forces of darkness" are anything and everything that impede the clear realization on stage of the *playwright's* vision as embodied in his text."

Make that four interpretations.


I saw a production of Zoo Story that Albee also directed, and it was horrible. Of course it was at the Lincoln Center Library, but that video didnt lie. Good thing the forces of evil step in to screw up one of his productions once in a while. Otherwise he'd have loads of crappily directed, brilliantly written plays.

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