By Isaac Butler
Quick addendum to yesterday's post:
Yesterday, I got an e-mail from one of my collaborators on Real Enemies. The e-mail was about the exciting subject of screens. Real Enemies is a multimedia piece, with multiple channels of projected images firing at once throughout the show, cued to the music. But how many screens should there be? And how big should they be? Made out of what materials? And in what configuration?
As we discussed this, a particular piece of designer argot entered the conversation that I rarely hear people outside of theatre use: it wants to be, as in, "I think it wants to be three rows of five screens."
It wants to be is one of my favorite ways of thinking, because there's something egoless about it. In much the same way that those of us who have had a lot of therapy will tell you that in any relationship (romantic or otherwise) the relationship itself is a third party with all sorts of wants, needs, and desires, the piece that we're coming together to great has its own kind of self-ness.
It's easy to see this in collaboratively realized work, or perhaps I should say overtly collaboratively realized work. For all creative work is created collaboratively. Even work that is credited to a single author, and where all tributaries flow through a single, human, point, there is collaboration. Sometimes the collaboration happens overtly. Sometimes it is direct, but hidden (as with editors in publishing). Sometimes it is indirect, through influence, or through our biographies, or through the incentives of the market. We all have collaborators, credited and un.
Treating creation as fully conscious, fully intentional, and fully individualized seriously misrepresents how it works. Yet, again, we have intent. We long to see it everywhere.
Another path out of the thicket of authorial intent, another way to both see the series of choices in a work and not feel like you beholden to authors, is to think about the work itself, and what its intent is. A piece's intent is far easier (and often more rewarding) to make a coherent argument around than an author's. We can look at the formal properties, we can look at the story choices, we can look at how characters express themselves, or how a scene is shot and scored, or what meaning attends to a chord change. The nice side effect of this is that it creates a system where all roads, even those looping out into the world, and into politics, lead back to the work itself.