Who’s Doing What?
I want the editors of American Theatre as well as actors and drama instructors reading the magazine to know that the letters in the Oct. ’12 issue [which commented on a review of two books about Method acting] tweaked a deep concern I have, from a playwright’s point of view, about the Method and its children, as well as about current attitudes toward the production of plays, especially new plays, like mine. Let me state a firm belief: Although I confirm that theatre is a collaborative process, as a playwright I am not creating “texts” that must be “interpreted” or elaborated upon by actors, directors, dramaturgs and tech people in order for the play to be performed. If I have done my job (and I and my fellow playwrights sometimes don’t), the intentions and nature of my characters should be evident in the dialogue, stage directions, theme and plot. An observant director should be able to clearly understand these things before mounting the play and casting the actors. (If there is any puzzlement, I am a living person who can be consulted fairly easily.)
Here’s my dirty little secret: The character has already been created in my mind, and I am hoping that the actor is not seeking just his or her intention or emotional connection or parallel experience, but primarily what I intended when I created that character and the play itself.
I also strongly feel that the role of a director or dramaturg with a new play is not to seek to “express herself” using the “medium” of my script. The initial job is to try to be as faithful as you can to it. If, in years ahead, it becomes, like a musical standard that almost everyone knows, then why not play with it to give it freshness? This is certainly true for a lot of the “dead white guy” plays in the canon—but even these plays deserve at times to be produced with great fidelity to the playwright’s vision, because that is why they have endured.
A word about learning to act, which is a different phenomenon than learning a part: As an actor, director, playwright and producer, I know it is vital for actors to be able to empathize with others in order to be able to perform a range of roles. Almost any exercise can be useful to a particular young actor in moving from artificially reading lines, to learning how to embody a character with voice, gesture and movement. No “method” is “one size fits all.”
Finally, I assume that in casting a play the director has a pretty damn good idea that the chosen actor can inhabit that part. If directors are doing their jobs, they should thoroughly understand my vision of the character and be able to ease the actors in the play toward a truly authentic performance that closely resembles the one I envisioned when I wrote it. I am always open to actors who surprise me with how they bring my characters to life in unexpected ways. But it is not the job of the actor to “invent” that character. That is work I have already done.
Celia Wren’s article “Rolling with the New-Play Surge” (Oct. ’12) was a really beautiful piece in support of the National New Play Network—it will be of great help in our attempts to draw attention and resources to the playwrights, plays and theatres our organization champions. Because of your coverage, more theatres are going to be turned on to the ideas of anti-territorialism and collaboration that NNPN encourages.
Jason Loewith, executive director
National New Play Network