During the late 80's and early 90's, the Directing head of Columbia University's Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theatre Studies had this open philosophy concerning the direction of new plays on the graduate school level:
"Directors must place their thumbprints in the eye of each production they direct."
That directing style was hammered into the Columbia graduate directing students to the ultimate detriment of the graduate Playwrights.
Beware that "director's thumbprint" philosophy is not unique to Columbia.
That harbinger against serving the playwright's intent in favor of the director's thumb led to the creation of The United Stage.
(Note: The United Stage was not, is not and shall not be associated or sponsored by Columbia University and vice-versa.)
Internationally renowned directors (some were hired to teach directing at Columbia) subscribe to that "thumbprint philosophy" as well. That ideal is even pursued by directors working on new plays!
The United Stage believes Playwrights must NOT allow their plays to be manipulated by directors who seek to place their footprints in the sands of time at the expense of the Play's original intent, desire and structure.
(Note: There are directors who are quite willing to collaborate and work with Playwrights and to assist in the full realization of the vision of the play without taking the "thumbprint attack" to skew new plays. We welcome that aesthetic as Citizens of The United Stage.)
I can't believe my eyes! I found a united collective voice that gave me the incentive to at least try to direct one of my plays in the near future. I'm a newcomer and a late bloomer in this art, I've been a professional musician, songwriter since young age. I do write in Spanish (native language) and that is a liability in the States.
Most regional Spanish theater in my area (Miami) do outrageous adaptations of classical plays like Street Car Named Desire among other more recent ones. Since the living author has no control over their productions and in most cases don't even know their work is been "tampered with," these actor-director-producers rewrite plays at will, sometimes impregnating them with a twisted vision, almost a sick intent.
I said to a friend once that the director of La Casa de Bernarda Alba (a García Lorca's classic drama of matriarch domination) hated the audience. The term "provocative" was taken to the extreme. This same group invited a renown Mexican playwright-Emilio Carballido to the opening of his play, a press conference, cocktail reception party -- "the works." After the opening night performance the humiliated writer went back stage to the director and expressed to his executioner "everything was wrong."
Yes, most of them directors, as a norm, misunderstand / misinterpret / rewrite others' plays, sometimes I think they are "pen-imagination enviers."
The United Stage Replies:
We appreciate your insight and the depth of the detail of your experience, Roberto. Your example proves unfortunate, frightening, and unfortunately, quite common. We wish you luck in your endeavor to direct your own work and we hope you will update us again soon with the delights of the enhanced aesthetic freedom you will enjoy as you bring your characters to life on stage from the page.
B. Petti Pens...
I'm a New York based playwright who has seen your site in passing (without much interest) -- until I had my first experience with an Off-Broadway theater. I have written four plays and directed the premiers of three of them at community theaters in the Orange/Duchess County where I live. When a New York City house decided to pick up one of my plays I was thrilled. That didn't last long. The director was untalented at both directing and acting (she cast herself), and utterly misrepresented what I had written. Thank God a review of the show distinguished the writing from the directing--otherwise the only record of my New York premier would have ensured that I never had another.
I have nothing against directors. Having directed numerous times, I know the level of commitment and energy one must possess to do it well. But I also think that, just as in a well written play, the best thing you can do is get out the characters' way. Some directors have a problem doing that, and there is nothing more maddening to a playwright than watching a character you gave voice to squelched or lessened by irresponsible direction.
If I could give any advice to fellow playwrights, it would be this: speak up. Be a pain in the neck. Fight for what you believe in your heart to be wrong. I didn't say enough to the aforementioned director because I felt it was not my place as a writer. I was wrong. But when she wanted to extend the play's run with her own money, I refused to allow an inferior version of my play to continue. In retrospect I should have pulled the play before it hit the stage. Now I know better.
Few of us are going to get rich off of our pursuits. All we have, really, is our integrity and the integrity of our work. Defend it.
The United Stage Replies: Your instinct to pull your play before it premiered and made a historical record as your vision on stage was right and we honor your honesty to confess that gut feeling you ignored after the fact. We must not allow our works to be ill-defined by those who not not share our vision no matter what pieces of fame or fortune are proffered and promised, for once we render our soul beyond the instinct of the work, we have taken the first step to losing the spirit in the rest of our creations thereafter.
D. J. Mange Writes
Someone once, wisely said,..."no (person) is an island"...how I understand now that I've found USA! My name is D. J. Mange. I have been writing / producing / directing / designing / constructing / stage managing and whatever else needed doing... my own plays for YEARS!
It started, when at age 22 (as an under graduate Theatre student) I realized that most (though not all) directors I met were dolts! OF COURSE I HAD TO DIRECT MY OWN PLAYS...how else would they be complete!!!??? (That was 1975)!
I'm thrilled there are others (who share my feelings) out there and I finally have a sounding board! YES! We are accused of inflated egos! We are criticized, belittled, discouraged... because those with compartmentalized talents are scared as hell that we might actually eliminate a need for them!
When, in truth... it's really a delight to find kindred spirits who just want to direct... who understand that a director's REAL art is to interpret the playwright's vision... that is no small task and admirable when well managed!! I've written some 20 plays and physically directed / produced / designed... (all of the above...) 95% of them... it's exhausting! Yes... gratifying... but draining as well!
I'm the one, by the way, who STARTED that Unicorn Theatre (K.C., Mo.) National Playwriting Contest (as well as the Missouri Playwriting Contest), when, as Producing Director of that company I was motivated to create outlets for playwrights! I left that organization for the very reasons stated on the USA web page having to do with others (of lesser talents) trying to dictate...and / or direct those who create the real works of art! God, I can't believe I have this outlet finally! I could go on and on, but I need to further organize my thoughts! I'm DELIGHTED to become a Citizen of United Stage! The United Stage Replies: Your message was both bloodcurdling and we-inspiring at the same instant -- the marks of a truly great writer (G)! We salute your continued pursuit of bringing the Playwright's Plight and Might directly to the forefront of your passion and imagination. As long as we stick together now and give budding playwrights their inborn rights and responsibilities as the play builders of tomorrow (before they are ruined by the current "system" of putting up new work), we can begin to reverse the perverse thinking and cruelty of behavior that is thrust upon us by those seeking greatness from the sweat of our brows and from the platform of our strong shoulders. Someone once said "I don't know the secret to success, but I know the secret to failure is trying to please everybody." Too often in the theatre today, trying to "please everyone" in the spirit of "collaboration" brings the ruination of the play and the Playwright. If a Playwright doesn't stand up for their vision and direction of what they've bled to birth -- then what do they stand for? Too often today, the sad answer to that madding question is: "Nothing."
Playwright Y. Perris...
Finally, someone that understands. As a playwright, I realized that I would have to establish my own production company in order to produce and direct my plays as they were meant to be produced and directed. Some feel it's an ego trip...
I simply feel it is dedication to my craft and loyalty to the characters I create. By producing and directing, I am able to select the right actor for the perfect part. As a producer, I am sensitive to the fact that a playwright reserves the right to direct his or her work; therefore, my production company - JP Productions - supports that right whole heartedly! I am honored to join.
The United Stage Replies:
It's thrilling for us that you are already not only directing your own plays, but producing them as well! Producing is important, because when plays start to move up the production chain from Regional theatre to Broadway, the Producer begins to pack more power than the Playwright because it's "their money" that is making the production happen. By producing your own work and keeping not only creative control, but financial control as well over your productions, you are truly ensuring that your hopes and dreams will appear wholly on the stage unstrangled by temperamental directors and stingy producers. Our collective hats are off to you. Keep in touch!
T. Pace Checks In
Hello, Citizens -- I am a playwright completely in sympathy with your philosophy. I have seen my plays rewritten by directors who barely have the talent to read Dick And Jane.
In one instance a director completely cut an important end of scene line because he did not like the way the audience reacted despite my assurances that it was just the reaction I have been looking for. On the one occasion I lost my temper, a second year student actor refused to do a line as written because he did not think his character would say such a thing. (This play had just been cited as one of the finalists in the Unicorn Theatre's National Playwriting Competition) I threw the typewriter sitting on the stage at his feet and told him to write his own F***ing play and leave mine alone.
I am also a pretty good actor myself. I have had six plays produced with various levels of experience with directors. My first two directors were a joy to work with. Neither would change a word or concept of either play. Considering that the second play was entered in a Community Theatre Competition in California, I felt pretty good about it.
Without exception, both plays were greatly received by audience and critics alike. But when directors tampered with the work, sometimes the same pieces that have a successful track record, what comes out appears to be something like the illegitimate offspring of Richard Donner & Mel Brooks, and these are serious dramas.
I did direct one show with two one act plays of mine... companion pieces. One play was a smash, the other died because the wife of a local director who played a major role in the play, decided late in the production that she could not work for a playwright-director. Later I started my own dinner theater company in Alaska's Matanuska Valley and I am directing light comedies, but nothing of my own. I think I am still gun shy. Within the next few months I will be migrating to Tucson, AZ, where I will be at least on the fringe of the mainstream and I WILL be directing my own plays. But first I am going to New York to produce a Showcase of my skills as actor and writer.
A brief bio: I am in my fifties and have been writing for thirty years. Being in Alaska most of that time, I do not have much of a network to draw on so most of my work has gone unproduced, although my plays have been done in Los Angeles, Anchorage, Oakland, and Laguna Beach, among other communities.
In the near future, I will submit plays and synopses to you. I have completed ten plays, two screenplays - both unproduced, one opera (Rock-gospel-soul) a few commercials some short stories and a few articles for the local newspapers.
I would like to see a "Whadya think?" category which encourages other citizens to critique raw work as opposed to just reading it. I think this should be a separate category because I might submit one play and not give a damn what anybody thinks but have others for which I would kill to get feedback. Please include me as an aggressive citizen of your universe.
The United Stage Replies:
We're thrilled you found us! You have a home here with us. It is just the sort of frustration you report as a Playwright that drove the creation of The United Stage. Together we can take back the stage and place the responsibility for its life directly where it belongs: in the Playwright's hands.
E. Gottfried Writes from Israel
I'm a Playwright and screenwriter in Israel. I wrote and directed all four of my plays. I agree with the United Stage that the most natural way to create a consistent piece is to have an author who is totally responsible of his work.
The first time a play of mine was produced, I directed it because I "didn't find the right director to do it" and then, after I realized that my stage instincts were right, I kept doing it because I found that nobody could do it better than me; not because I'm great, because It's my work. It's like a musician that performs his own songs: Even if he hasn't the perfect voice, he'll still be the best performer of his music as a singer. Directors who are not writers are commonly sinners. There are three major sins (with their variations):
The one who treats the play as it was "the word of God" and don't dare to change a word, even if they don't understand the writer's intentions and keep in garbage that needs to be thrown away.
The one who doesn't care about the writer's work and changes everything he doesn't understand. This is the "frustrated writer that directs." He can't write a word but he thinks he's the best re-writer. (feels that creatio ex creatio is like creatio ex nihilo).
The one who always wants to "interpret" the author. He has to emphasize his view even if it's contradictory with the play. Only a Playwright who also directs his work knows what's critical and what's secondary. A play is a work in process. For me, the work doesn't end when I type the words "final curtain" on the word processor, it ends after the premiere. Some people say that when a Playwright directs, there's a partner missing for the creative dialogue. That's not necessarily true. The same dialogue can be performed between the Playwright and the actors. The play always changes during rehearsals...
When the Playwright directs... it changes in the write direction. Therefore, I'd like to support The United Stage from this side of the ocean on the issue you represent.
The United Stage Replies:
We're glad you found us! Number 2 in your list rings home loudly here. Everyone thinks that since they can write a grocery list, they can write a play. We know it's harder than that. We know that, as Playwrights, we must design the lights, costumes, choose the actors, and set the tone of the piece right on the page before anyone else gets involved.
The natural extension of that written imagination is to self-direct our plays and realize them live and in the complete on stage. We're honored to have your interest from Israel and your involvement transforms us immediately into "The United Stage"... a neutral place for all that isn't bound by country, politics or nationalism. We thank you for writing.
The United Stage's purpose is to force playwrights into taking responsibility for the entire vision of their plays by demanding they direct what they write in the initial production of their work.
Good Playwrights see the play in their minds already... they set the lights... colors... sets... sounds and actors all within the pages of their scripts.
The difficult part of that process is that it only begins once the play is written.
To completely realize the play, the Playwright must take the written page and translate that vision into being on a live stage. It's a great challenge and a great joy to bring the written word to life!
Here's how your Citizenship works for you and anyone can join who supports our cause of purpose:
1. If you are a Playwright who has directed your work, let us know!
2. If you are a Playwright directing your own play, let us know that, too, and what obstacles you've faced.
3. Submit your bio, resume and any other supporting materials that will help us celebrate you!
4. If you are a Playwright who wants to direct, but cannot because you're told "Playwrights write, Directors direct", we will be your repository for moral support and inspiration. We will help you construct an argument for self-direction and we shall bring the weight of the other Citizens to bear in a sustained, proactive action supporting your cause. Usually the best solution to this problem is to start your own theatre, because then you and you alone, call the shots.
5. Please realize that The United Stage's prime concern is with first time productions and Playwrights directing their own work. It's accepted, and understood, a Playwright can't direct every instance of his/her/their play in the world, but since many of those subsequent productions will be based upon that initial production... it's vital that the birth production be self-directed.
6. We believe the Play(wright's) the thing.