If you are a theatre director, chances are you have directed new work at some point in your career. I think the director/playwright relationship can be glorious, inspirational, and challenging at times. I really want to work with playwrights who are collaborative, supportive, and who trust me to do my work. But what do playwright’s look for in a director? I asked 7 playwrights what they are looking for in a director and below are their responses:
Playwright #1-Luis Alfaro- A Chicano, born and raised in downtown Los Angeles, he is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and a resident artist at the Mark Taper Forum, where he is co-director of the Latino Theatre Initiative. CineFestival. He is the winner of the 1998 National Hispanic Playwriting Competition and the 1994 and 1997 Midwest PlayLabs.
“What a simple and provocative question. I recently had a director come speak to my MFA actors at USC and they asked the director what he wanted in an actor and he said – A Yes actor - someone who wants to play and discover. I want a Yes director. A collaborator that comes to the experience as open to the idea of change and as excited as I am to see a theme, language or image develop into something more surprising and cohesive than I might have imagined. The state of the theatre (and our Country) has made it difficult for artists to spend quality time on just one project. But honestly, I am looking for a director with intellectual curiosity and the time and ability to meditate on it. I want someone to dream with and to be inspired by our mutual understanding of how we can get deep and make the work live on stage. I want someone who understands subtext and believes that it as important as that which is made visible. I am looking for the relationship that can only happen on stage. I am thinking so much lately about depth and the dynamic it needs. Not only a way of thinking, but a way of moving and filling space and watching what happens when it has electricity in a play.”
Playwright #2-Mickey Birnbaum-has been produced at The Boston Court Theatre, The Road Theatre Company, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, The Perishable Theatre, to name a few. He has written several plays for the Virginia Avenue Project, which matches at-risk youth with theatre artists. He was a 2006 Inge Fellow.
“For me I want a director who's not just a traffic cop, but an active collaborator. A director who encourages development of a play even in rehearsal, but knows how to protect a playwright from the sometimes excessive desire to rewrite. A director who is an impermeable buffer zone between the playwright and the producers, who puts the needs of the play before the needs of the theater or the actors. I like directors who are, like me, manically obsessive about how each word falls, and capable of deep textual analysis. I need directors with a strong visual sense, who are willing to tackle ambitious leaps through space and time, which my plays often feature, without grumbling about it.”
Playwright #3-Tom Jacobson-MFA and playwright whose plays include Sperm (Circle X Theatre Company), The Orange Grove (Playwrights Arena), Bunbury, and Ouroboros (The Road Theatre Company). Mr. Jacobson is the co-literary manager at Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena and was a literary manager at Celebration Theatre. He is a founder of Playwrights Ink and is on the board of Cornerstone Theatre Company.
“Playwrights want: to talk through the play with the director at the very beginning to get a feeling for their concept, to be present for casting and rehearsals where they can privately convey their thoughts to the director, weigh in on designers and design elements, to get smart dramaturgical thinking from the director but feel free to make other choices. A creative partnership!”
Playwright #4-Megan Gogerty-Her music-play Love Jerry received its world premiere at Actors Express Theatre in Atlanta. A national finalist of the Alliance Theatre's Graduate Student Playwriting Competition, it was also performed as part of the mainstage season at the University of Texas at Austin, where it earned seven B. Iden Payne Award nominations including Outstanding Original Script and Outstanding Original Score, and five Austin Critic's Table Award nominations including the David Mark Cohen Award for best new play. Megan's ten-minute play Rumple Schmumple premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC as part of the National American College Theatre Festival, where she was the winner of Atlanta's Dad's Garage Theatre Company 10-Minute Play Residency Award. She earned her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin. Megan has been a Playwrights' Center Jerome Fellow and was a grateful recipient of the James A. Michener Playwriting Scholarship and the Ellsworth P. and Virginia Conkle Endowed Scholarship for Drama.
“Clarity. Help me understand what's actually happening in the play and why she's coming to those conclusions. Then I can decide if that perception is my intention. Half the time when developing new work, I don't know what I have on my hands - I've been following my instincts. And so it's helpful to get a sober, cogent, logical analysis of what's actually happening so I can make changes judiciously. The best thing a director has ever given me is perspective on my play.”
Playwright #5-Jon Bastian plays include The Heretics of Alexandra New Century Writer Award Finalist; Noah Johnson had a Whore... at South Coast Repertory, Winner of the SCR California New Plays Prize, and DramaLogue Award Winner for Outstanding Achievement in Playwriting, and a PEN West Literary Award Drama Nominee; Petty Treasons at the Audrey-Skirball Kenis Theatre and The Road Theatre nominated for three Valley Theatre League Awards; Bill & Joan, a Lois and Richard Rosenthal Playwriting Prize Finalist; and A Perfectly Natural Explanation, produced at the Rose Theatre, Theatre/Theater, and other venues. He was awarded a Fellowship to the Chesterfield Writers Film Project, sponsored by Steven Spielberg. His new play Strange Fruit is scheduled for production by the Syzygy Theatre in 2010.
“I want a director who can be a third eye, and show me things I hadn't realized I'd put in the script -- themes, thru-lines, symbolism, etc. -- and then enhance them in production. I want a director who gives the actors freedom to experiment and make different choices in rehearsal. I want a director who remembers there's a reason they call it a "play" and not a "work". It isn't Air Traffic Control. The director not only sets the tone for the production, but for the rehearsal process as well. I want a director who is a team-builder who can create a safe environment in which to experiment, as mentioned above. I want a director who does their research, or is willing to ask me questions when necessary. But you'll impress me more if you explain to the actors some obscure reference in Act II without having asked me what it meant. Especially if you're right”
Playwright #6-William Katt- A personal favorite in his theatre career perhaps was Pippin for video, directed by Bob Fosse. Well known for his work in television and film in such productions as “Carrie”, “Big Wednesday”, and “House”, among many other film and TV projects, but most noticeably his performances in “Greatest American Hero” and “The Perry Mason Specials”. He is a published musician as well as having three screenplays produced. Rachel and Julio is one of three plays currently scheduled for production - being co-produced at the Broward Center for Performing Arts. Feature film directing credits include “The Clean and Narrow”, The Rivers End” and “Pegasus”.
“a playwright wants a director to ask questions that will compel them to think in ways that they didn't think before.”
Playwright #7-Levy Lee Simon-is an award winning playwright & screenwriter. His play The Bow Wow Club made its West Coast Premiere at the Stella Adler Theatre/LA in the fall of 2006 and was featured in the North Carolina Black Theatre Festival 2007 and is the winner of the 1998/9 Lorraine Hansberry Award for, ‘Best Full Length Play’ awarded by ACTF and the Kennedy Center. For the Love of Freedom trilogy co-produced by Danny Glover’s Robey Theatre and the Greenway Arts Alliance in Los Angeles. The trilogy, Toussaint – the Soul – Rise and Revolution, Dessalines – the Heart – Blood and Liberation, Christophe – the Spirit – Passion and Glory was nominated for several NAACP and Ovation Awards including three “Best Playwright’ nominations
“First I think that the director and playwright need to be on the same page. For me I want to know that the director has read the work, has a good understanding of the playwrights' vision and is passionate about the work. Along the same lines, the director should completely understand the story, plot, characters and through lines of the characters and the play. With an original script I feel the director and playwright should agree on casting which is half the battle at least. Also, with an original script I think the director should try to deliver the playwright's vision of the play however the playwright should also be open to the director's vision. Hopefully the two are not too far apart. “
...Interviews compiled by Che'Rae Adams for NOHOARTSDISTRICT.COM March 2006
by Che'Rae Adams
Producing Artistic Director of the LAWC