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August 20, 2008


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I think you hit the nail on the head here. I believe COLLABORATION is the soul of good theatre, and that includes the combination of a playwright's and a director's and an actor's, etc. etc. varying inputs. If a playwright doesn't want anybody else interpreting his work, he would likely be better off writing a novel. A play is meant to be just one piece of the puzzle that comes together to make a work of art. A huge piece, but not a stand-alone thing.

There is a big difference, though, as you said, between interpreting a work in a new way and CHANGING it. I had a director once who went through the script making changes both large and small: cut this line here, change the date in the text, edit the curse words, even take a character that disappears after the first act and bring them back into a later scene by just giving them some of somebody else's lines. None of which ultimately changed the meaning of anything in the play, I don't think, but they did make me bristle. The director's exact words were, "I don't believe in intellectual property. Besides, the playwright died five years ago anyway." If you signed a contract and paid royalties in order to get permission to perform it (although, given that we were also working from photocopied scripts, I wonder if we actually did have permission, yikes...), then you agreed to perform the published script. I think a director should have artistic license in almost every way, but if you agree to perform a play, unless it is a workshop, you are asking permission to perform what's written, not to adapt it yourself. If you don't want your playwright telling your actors where to walk and what to wear, then you should stick to your directorial job and not change their scripts.

[An amusing sidenote... I was once asked to participate in a reading of a play that a particular company was considering for their season. After the reading, the artistic director looked at the published script in her hand and wondered aloud whether the playwright was going to make any changes, or would be willing to, as it was obviously quite flawed. I don't know if the company ever asked the playwright to make those proposed changes, but two weeks later that very play was named a Pulitzer finalist. The company chose something else to perform that year.]


Rehearsal is the time to examine the play, take it apart, see how it functions, and determine how it can function even better. If, during a rehearsal, a director suggests a cut or change, I'll always listen to them and consider it. More often than not, they're absolutely right. I mean, that's why they're there in the first place--because they can assess the play in a way that I the writer, blinded by months/years of thinking ad nauseum about this play through its innumerable drafts, cannot.

BUT to change something in my script without my knowledge and consent is inexcusable. I own the words, everyone else is just renting them for a while.


"...changing the text when it gets difficult would lead to less interesting work."

Careful, Isaac, this comment could touch off another discussion of new play development hell. Don't get me started!

[different] patrick

I think that when two people come together in a scenario where there's mutual respect and open communication, then this whole "trend" is a non-issue.

"Are today’s new playwrights so perfect that changing a single word in a script will throw the play in an entirely different direction?"

Last night in rehearsal, we had a discussion about changing an "a" to a "the". The suggestion came from the actor (who also happens to be A playwright, but not THE playwright for the show.) And yes, the change from "a" to "the" in the script landed the joke because of the rhythm and connotative meaning of the words.

So, I think anyone who asks the above question may need to get back into a rehearsal room, preferably with a comedy, before they ask it again.


Good fences make good neighbors...and for every respectful collaboration out there...there is some jerk who doesnt believe in anyone's intellectual property rights but his or her own...

However, if a director is willing to have actors 'respectfully' ignore blocking and beats and notes they give...
if actors are willing to take notes or line readings from other actors or maybe even the lighting designer...
or if set designer deals with actors who change the furniture or move the walls...
in that sort of environment then it is perfectly acceptable for a director to change a line or two of the playwright's when it doesnt suit them.

if a director askes a playwright if a line can be changed...that is respectful...if the playwright refuses then the respectful thing to do is to honor the playwright's decision...anything else is presumptuous (at best)

Travis Bedard

re: The classics

I think that today my feeling is that lots of people mess with Shakespeare, but there are also plenty of people who try with all their might to do it as written and have for centuries, I don;t think it's too much for a playwright to ask that they at least be given a premiere that TRIES to do the play as written.

Sometimes things don't work, but let's make sure it doesn't work before we try to change it.

Jason Grote

That's pretty much a bullshit attitude that presupposes poverty on the part of the writer. I am not "grateful" to anyone who produces my work, any more than I expect a theater (or a director, actor, designer or any other collaborator) to be grateful to me for letting them produce my play (or for hiring them). Collaboration is a relationship of equals, and frankly, if a theater (or whomever) doesn't like my play as written, why would they want to produce it (or work on it) anyway?

That said, best idea wins, and I've included many rewrites and suggestions that have come from collaborators and artistic directors. But if I don't think they're good ideas, I just don't do them, and notably, I've never listened to any suggestion that would fundamentally change the play I set out to write. It also bears saying that I'd rather not have a production than have a lousy production, and I'm not the only playwright who feels this way.

This isn't about me being a diva, or defending the primacy of the playwright - I had a blast last year working with Radiohole, a company that doesn't even believe in categories like "writer" or "director." And I think directors et. al should have this attitude, too -- mutual respect is something to be expected, and absolutely no one should ever feel indebted to a collaborator (or producer, or agent, or anyone else). In my experience, any time anyone ever treated me like they were doing a favor, they were most definitely not -- it was invariably a pose that covered how little they were actually bringing to the table. Usually, if someone is really that put out by helping you, they just won't help you, and people who are genuinely helping you are also helping themselves.


Oh Jason, it's good to have you back.

Just in case the point of the above post (Which i wrote at around 4:30AM this morning) wasn't clear... I believe in a kind of mutual gratitude and humility towards ones collaborators, not treating anyone like they're doing you a favor or anything (that would be stupid and lead to bad weak spined behavior), I'm just grateful to be at a place in my life where I'm working with awesome artists. And second i have no problem with other artists having input into rewrites of a play (assuming their input is wanted) my problem is with unauthorized alteration of scripts.

Jason Grote

Hi Isaac,

Just to be clear, I wasn't criticizing *your* position on it, but that of the original blogger on whose post you're commenting. I thought you were very clear.




Lots of fun today!



Hey dude! Wasn't actually criticizing your thoughts so much as having a bit of fun with the general attitude. Not directed at you so much as at the idea that Horton Foote put forth that playwrights should be "grateful." There comes a point when we go back over the "how to handle the text thing" that just brought out the "Ok Ok Ok" joker in me.


I think playwrights have become more possessive because it's so hard to get a show up. Every show better be good. (in this case the way it's written) Because a bad show will lead to no one doing that show anymore, so the playwrights hold on tighter--or they often do anyway. Thing are hard right now. they might be easier for Horton foote.


Hi Isaac,

Just to clarify a couple things for the few minutes I have an actual keyboard in front of me:

The words used in my post, especially in the final paragraph, are my own. Specific words or phrases in my post should not be attributed to Mr. Foote, as I had only my memory of the interviews to go from. I had no recording or transcript. I do not recall Mr. Foote using the word "grateful" to describe his feelings on being produced. Perhaps a better word would be "thankful." Regardless, those that seem to think I meant it in a groveling, "oh-thank-you-so-much-for-producing-my-play, can-I-please-sit-at-your-feet-for-I-am-merely-a-lowly-playwright" miss the point: Be thankful, happy, relieved, whatever, that your work is being produced (just as every director, designer, actor, and stagehand should be happy when they get hired). Then move on. If you are able to assist in the transition of the piece from page to stage, so much the better. But don't get a holier than thou attitude about it.

Isaac, you may indeed need to give up your $12.47 (I'd spot you if you were short). I do recall Mr. Foote being non-plussed at a spoken word, or sentence, being changed. Now, one thing that Mr. Foote tries to do (that most other playwrights do not usually have the opportunity to do), is to attend the rehearsals and techs for his productions. If the director thinks a line should be changed, Mr. Foote can offer suggestions for a replacement, or consider the director's proposed words. But, in the end, he considers it the director's call.

Again, without having the verbatim, only my memory: I recall him essentially implying that if the director changed the text for the worse, that was the director's problem.

One other thing, about my "Are today’s new playwrights so perfect that changing a single word in a script will throw the play in an entirely different direction?" question: every situation is obviously different. My intent was to call out those that see no difference in a minor line change to facilitate flow, or blocking restrictions, with an actual change to the entire point of the scene. Yes, sometimes changing one word or a line can change the entire dichotomy of a moment. But good directors understand that, and refrain from it.

When I get more time, I'll post a follow-up on my site. (of all the times to be going out of a festival and into 2 back-to-back musicals...)

But in general, for those reading my original post: Horton Foote did not post it. I did. If you have a problem with what I said, criticize me, not Mr. Foote.

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