August 11, 2010

Trust The Play: TheatreGuru Speaks

Thank you for climbing to the top of this high, craggy mountain to come and see me in my lonely cave, my child. Sit and rest yourself. Have a Snickers bar.

Now, what seems to be the trouble?

I see.

I understand. The theatre is struggling these days. It has been for quite a long time. Once theatre was the sole means of telling a story through acting. Then came cinema, radio, television, VCR/DVD/Tivo, the internet, etc. So if we are to commit to the theatre, we have to discover what it offers that these other media do not.

Quite right. Live performance. Direct connection and interaction with the audience. Every night a slightly different experience.

Nonetheless, we must not overlook the primary obligation of making theatre: to tell the story. The playwright wrote a story, and it's your job to deliver that story to the audience through good acting and efficient staging. Any additional distractive elements should be avoided.

These distractions can come in many different forms. Maybe you feel the need to inject a political statement onto the play. Some vaguely-defined directorial or design concept. A re-interpretation. In the recent past, I've seen Oscar Wilde done with all the men played by women and vice versa. The Scottish Play done entirely in the nude. One of my favorite plays, Overmeyer's On The Verge, done by a local Major Regional Theatre on a catwalk spanning a chasm (why?). And Chekhov's Cherry Orchard done... well, actually, I don't know what the fuck that one was all about... and I was in it.

What it boils down to is one thing, my child... you might want to write this down: trust the play.

Trust that the play itself, as written, contains all the elements required to be interesting: a good plot, interesting characters, conflicts, humor, tragedy, whatever. You chose to do it - unless you owe the playwright a favor - so the play must therefore have some redeemable qualities and you are aware of them. So trust them.

Bend your choices around the play, not the play around your choices.

That doesn't mean play it safe. Risk big, but risk in the service of the script.

Thank you. Take a Snickers for the road.