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Pissed at my very first director.  Rate Topic 
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 Posted: Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 07:11 am
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LadyBug
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Mana: 
I was really excited about workshoping my very first script to be produced.  It's being produced at my local community college.  

Then I met my director.  I went to her and said, "I don't know how the director/playwright relationship goes."  I gave her a clear opening to give my important information about how she wanted OUR relationship to go.  I gave her a chance to mentor me in this process.

And she kinda blew me off.  But I was still excited, and I knew that she was busy, so I waited for the first read through.

The first read through came and I think I made some major mistakes.  The actors kept pronouncing certain words wrong and when it came time where she asked if I had input, I talked about the mispronunciations.  This seemed to piss her off.  I learned later your not supposed to give the actors mixed messages.  BUT I DIDN'T LEARN THAT FROM HER.  I told her I was clueless about this process and she asked for my input, so I gave it.

After that first readthrough, I asked about workshoping the script, to which she informed me that we really weren't going to need any rewrites until they'd rehearsed some more.  And she said she would tell me if she found parts of the script that needed rewrites.  But I was invited to come and "listen" to the rehearsals.

I was incredibly disappointed.  Workshoping and rewrites are not the same thing.  One you do in a group and the other you do alone.  And I'm fairly certain, from the way she said it, that she wasn't mixing up the two.

Plus, she kept treating me like the redheaded stepchild that she was putting up with and that was pissing me off.  I'm an eager new playwright.  She's a director AND a teacher.  She should be more helpful.

Tonight I got a super short email.  She told me that she was going to delete a line.

I'm livid.

She didn't ask.  She didn't suggest that I come in so that we could talk about rewriting the line.  She didn't even give me reasons WHY she wanted to delete the line.    She just informed me that she was going to remove a line from my script.

I tried to remain civil as I replied to her email.  I know I'm new to the whole playwrighting game but I'm not naive and I'm not UNINFORMED.  I'd be pissed even if it were normal for directors to edit a playwrights script, because I was so eager to be involved in the process and she's totally blown me off.   

At this point I'm pretty certain I ended up with a jerk for a director.  And I'm really disappointed about that.   

Last edited on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 07:13 am by LadyBug

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 Posted: Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 02:44 pm
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in media res
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Mana: 
This is why I say join The Dramatists Guild of America and use one of their various contracts. You can never do it too early in your career.

Often first time playwrights are treated like you are. Welcome to that club. Now you have learned.

But you should have done some reading on your own about productions before.

But every relationship is human relationship, yes, even director/playwright. Observe, take notes, and learn for the next time.

best,

in media res

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 Posted: Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 02:49 pm
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katoagogo
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Mana: 
I don't know that she's a "jerk" so much as clueless about how to conduct a workshop of a new play. She is making the same mistakes that many directors make when dealing with new work.

Just like not all actors are good at delivering a strong performance in a workshop process, many competent directors are also flummoxed when directing a reading.

Assert yourself regarding making cuts to the script. While she may recommend cuts or additions, you are the ultimate authority over the words presented in your play.

The work with the actors you may have to just muddle thru and learn how you will approach this process differently in the future. For this year, why don't you set a goal to become involved with a festival or a theater that does create productive and supportive workshop environments? Find out about internships at places like the O'Neill, Seven Devils, The Lark, South Coast Rep, Williamstown, or some other place. There are some great places to learn this sort of thing, and it might be helpful to observe from outside of the playwright's role while you learn the ropes.

Good luck with it all. It sounds like you are learning things about your play, and you are learning things that will help you become a more effective playmaker in the future.

--Kato

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 Posted: Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 08:43 pm
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Shanahan
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Mana: 
Tell her that she's allowed to make changes to the script as soon as you're allowed to come in and change the blocking. Fair's fair.

Directors should not be cutting your work without reason, communication, and your approval. The development of a new work is a collaborative process, not one of domination and submission. You put your words into the script for a reason, and they don't come out without reason.

And while this may sit unpleasantly with some, unless you've signed a contract, you're well within your rights to tell this director that you don't feel comfortable giving her reign over your work since she doesn't respect your input as the author, and pull the script from production. You WILL find another place to have it produced.

If you're contractually bound then it's time to grow a set of nads and fire back at this director. As Kato says, assert yourself. While it's therapeutic to vent here and get our support, it's more practical to get up in this director's face and defend your words, your work.

Two cents, firmly banked,
..js..

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 Posted: Sun Jan 6th, 2008 05:12 pm
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Paddy
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Mana: 
Shanahan pretty much said it.

I like the blocking comment - smile.

Paddy

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 Posted: Sat Jan 19th, 2008 05:58 pm
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lostsocks
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Mana: 
My director announced that he wanted a song in my last play.

"no, it i doesn't need one"
"yes but musicals sell better"
"there is no call for a song in this play"
"well I'm going to put one in"
"it'll be a short play then"
"what?"
"I'll consider it breach of contract and revoke your rights to perform any part that I have written... which will be everything but the song"
"Well if we want to succeed we need a song, so you have no choice"
"That is an incorrect statement, I just made a choice, and there will be no song in this play..."

Oh he got very cross, delivered me all manner of insults, said I was deliberately trying to sabotage it, so I remained calm (which frustrated him more) and said he did not have to perform my play, but if he did, there would be no song in it.
He caved. You need to stand up to these people, be firm, calm and unfazed by bullying.
And yes, joining the Guilds helps since their is a wealth of support and advice you can draw upon.

A play is your intellectual property. If they change things without permission it is exactly the same as if they walked into your home and started redecorating your living room and putting in their own furniture.

You mustn't tolerate an ounce of it

Last edited on Sat Jan 19th, 2008 06:01 pm by lostsocks

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 Posted: Sat Jan 19th, 2008 10:31 pm
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Edd
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Mana: 
I've never really had that problem.  Directors have suggested cuts and/or additions.  I listened and we compromised.  However, I wish they'd come to my home, redecorate and bring new furniture.

~Edd

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 Posted: Sat Jan 19th, 2008 11:35 pm
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lostsocks
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Mana: 
lol there are cuts and editions, and there is "your play is now a musical"

For me it's about consultation, ultimately I expect the last word on any major changes, I'm not unyielding beyond reason if it is a pragmatic matter, but if it's just the director trying to re-write the play, I'm not going to budge.

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 Posted: Mon Jan 21st, 2008 09:42 pm
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EJT
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Mana: 
I also liked Shanahan's comment about the blocking.

A couple of years ago, a short play of mine was being done in New York.  Being in Michigan myself, I had very little contact with the director.  None, really, since I didn't have a phone number or email address for him.  That is until the day before it opened, when he called me to tell me that my little PG-rated show now had a sex scene in it.  I really didn't know what to say.  To his credit, he did ask me if I thought it was okay.  You know, the day before they opened, when the actors had already been rehearsing it that way for weeks.  I told him that while I do try to have an open mind about a director's interpretation, I could not see any reason why there needed to be sex added to it.  It was fine on its own.  The fact that he somehow managed to add it without changing any dialogue didn't help his case much.  I was more stunned than angry at first, but after a while of thinking it over (along with being contacted by the producer was absolutely livid about it) I made sure the director knew that my "I don't see it" of my first reaction was a definite "hell no!"  Since then I try not to be stunned by such things, so I can have a straight yes or no answer for them right away.

By contrast, when Working Stiffs was produced this past fall, the director asked me about any and every change she thought should be made.  Some of them I agreed with, others we compromised on, and a rare few I just wouldn't have.  That one was quite a bit better; no fights, just a well-developed production.

So stand up for yourself!  (Better than I initially did in my first story)

Oh, and lostsocks, I hope you also told that director that one song does not make a show a "musical."  It's a play with a song in it.  Well, unless they sing it over and over and over...

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 Posted: Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 10:00 am
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Swann1719
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Mana: 
Interesting dialogue.  Umm, I hate to be the devil's advocate but as an audience member and as a friend to a couple theatre directors, I think a lot of directors take huge liberties in adding songs (I saw a version of Streetcar in Washington a few years ago with an almost non-stop Stevie Wonder soundtrack) editing sections and changing lines.  I am of the view that directors have a vision of the play necessarily different from the playwright's and that they are the ones directing the actors in accordance to their vision - you have given them a script, but they are allowed to make choices in making it come alive. 

You may not agree with those choices.  If you don't want those choices to be made, then write novels or something else that is not inherently a collective work. 

I have never had a director whose choices I disagreed with except once when I thought the actor was interpreting the character invalidly (overacting like crazy)  but the director chose not to step in and "correct " them.  In the end I had to live with it.  I was not the director.

I think that the Director is obligated to listen to your reaction to her choices (and let you --within reason - see those choices being made).

I also think that looking very closely at these disputes and trying to talk them out non-judgmentally can be VERY illuminating about the play - the one word here or one line there is actually a clue, somehow indicative of a larger truth about the play.  

As hard as it is, I have learned things from directors about my own work

A Hollywood screenwriter once told me it is a million times worse for screenwriters than playwrights - at least there is still an imprimatur of authority on a play script and generally, people follow the script and do not treat it as a few background suggestions. 

Not that I feel too sorry for Hollywood Screenwriters who are in Hollywood instead of freezing in Cambridge like

Your friendly neighbourhood Swann

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 Posted: Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 04:27 pm
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LadyBug
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Mana: 
Here's what I've decided about this situation.

This is my very first production and the ultimate power I have is to say "you can't do my play" and I wasn't going to say that.  I want to have this production on my CV, even if the way it ends up on my CV kinda sucks. 

The biggest problem I really had with this director is the way she went about things.  I was eager and exited about being involved and she kinda shat on that.  She changed things without consulting me and then when she did consult me it was to inform me of the changes, as compared to seeking me out for my input.  In later emails, when I was trying to do rewrites for her, I continued to struggle with the fact that she wasn't looking to collaborate on changes.  She just wanted to tell me what she wanted and I was supposed to comply. 

Playwrighting is my main passion but I'm interested in other forms of scriptwriting.  And scriptwriting is ultimately a collaborative process.  I need to get comfortable with the idea that my work will not be performed exactly as I see it in my head.  This is a goal I set for myself because I want the chance to have my work produced regardless of the final product.  Even if I don’t like the way my words go out into the world, it’s still some version of my words going out into the world, and that’s important to me.    

Now that I've had this experience, I think the lesson I've learned it to be proactive about setting up a relationship with my director.  I let this director set the tone of things and the tone she set really didn’t work for me.    

If I had gone up to this director and said, "I'm eager to workshop this piece with you so that we can work together at editing out and kinks that might exist in my script.  But, if you want me to back off and let you do your thing without my input, I'd like to know that now."  Maybe things would have been different.   My expectations certainly would have been different, if I took that approach. 

From the input I've received on this wonderful board, I now know that some directors don't know how to workshop a play.  I now know that some directors are people that have a hard time collaborating.  And I'm reminded that directors are just people. 

The problem with people in life is that they aren't always clear on their need and wants, so even if I am upfront with a director, there is always the possibility that my relationship with a new director will suck.  And there isn't anything I can do about that except move onto the next project. 
 

Last edited on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 04:27 pm by LadyBug

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 Posted: Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 05:04 pm
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lostsocks
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Mana: 
I tend to differentiate between interpreting a play, and changing a play.

If the director didn't want to be bound by what is in the script, they shouldn't have entered an industry that requires them to use another's intellectual property.

I'm open to directors doing their own thing, and on the whole I don't interfere, however I think there is a clear line between a director doing their job, and a director taking liberties they don't and should not have.

If a director has "his own vision" he knows where the pen and paper is stored.
Otherwise what is the point of writing at all?
I create my plays with a specific message and outlook. If a director wants to make a pro-socialist play capitalist for example, he can just find another playwright, but he won't do it with my work.

I appreciate compromise is required, I just think there are clearly defined black and white limits, these go in both directions.

There are things as a writer I see myself as having no right to meddle with too.
For me, cooperation is everyone doing their own job, not everyone trying to do everyone elses

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