text is King. long live the King.

Sara Israel, September 14, 2010

Pardon me if my thoughts about theater are a bit theoretical right now.  I have just emerged from eight packed days participating in this year’s Directors Lab West.  Lots of panel discussions and talks, which inevitably lead to lots of discourse about “the state of theater”— which of course means lots of hand-wringing and sounding of the Armageddon sirens.

But there was enough hope to go around too, and just as importantly, enough joy.

Throughout the week, we heard from Artistic Directors, designers, performing artists, and choreographers.  Unfortunately, nowhere in the week was there the explicit opportunity to truly discuss how a director collaborates with a writer the way she or he does with all of those other talented and skilled position players.  (Apparently some years there are great playwright panels, just not this year.  Luck of the draw, I suppose.)

Although collaboration with a playwright was never really discussed, the importance of a director’s relationship with the product created by the playwright— a.k.a the text— was always implied.  Through and through.  Every single day.  The text was the leader powerful enough to step aside and let his followers do the talking.  But he was always in the room.

Interestingly— though for us playwrights, not surprisingly— when the Artistic Directors, designers, performing artists, and choreographers glowed about their greatest experiences, it all inevitably boiled down to loving the play itself.  For example, Sound Designer Extraordinaire Cricket Myers declared Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo her favorite design experience not because it provided her with a whole new sound palette (though it did) but rather because, as she put it, “It was the greatest play I’ve ever, ever read.”

The text, you see, is King.

I managed to slip in a text-related question to The Theatre @ Boston Court co-Artistic Directors Jessica Kubzansky and Michael Michetti.  I asked them:  When they read a play, how do they know if it’s right for them?  Where do they feel it?  Michael answered that he feels it in the beating of his heart; Jessica feels it in the wrenching of her gut.  I think those two answers in combination go a long way in explaining their company’s compelling programming year in and year out.

Plenty of the Directors Lab West panelists and fellow attendees perceived themselves as being about something other than text.  They passionately spoke about building a conversation with the audience, about weaving organic performance with other artists.

They might go about it a different way, but each of their approaches boils down to creating meaningful stories with compelling characters, and placing great value on developing an experience that can consistently be translated for the audience.

In other words, they create a text.

Text might not have always gotten its due during my eight days at Directors Lab West, but then again, the text is a benevolent, generous ruler.  Sometimes, like this past week, he sits back and lets his minions have at it.  But eventually, inevitably, he dons his regal robes and steps out onto his balcony, ready to stake his rightful claim.

Text is King.  Long live the King.

7 Comments

  • By Mia, September 14, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

    It’s funny – I don’t often think about the text directly when I’m watching a play, but that’s always what sticks with me when it’s over. I suppose that’s the secret to a really excellent script – one that’s so subtle you don’t even realize you’re being moved by it until it’s over and certain lines keep repeating themselves over and over in your mind. Like a great radio piece – you don’t even realize how sound is being used, but you know you like it. Great post.

  • By Trev, September 14, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

    True that. Every other theatrical element will rise up to meet smart language, every time.

  • By Jami, September 14, 2010 @ 3:41 pm

    Sara! Great post. It fills me with joy to hear it said over and over again that text IS King.

  • By Cindy Marie Jenkins, September 14, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

    If there was ever a doubt that text is king, your last two paragraphs should prove it!

  • By Nancy Beverly, September 15, 2010 @ 12:03 pm

    Related sort’ve: we’ll need some directors for a short plays weekend my writers group (Fierece Backbone) is doing November… how best to contact folks at Directors Lab West?

  • By Sara Israel, September 17, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

    Thanks, y’all!

    Nancy: Directors Lab West is a yearly seminar/workshop experience for directors of a variety of experiences from around the country and beyond. My understanding is that they don’t function as clearinghouse for hiring directors, per se. But if you go to their website you might be able to find someone to chat with about it!

  • By lara olsen, September 22, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

    Text is king in tv, too…oh, wait. I love theater for respecting the written word. If only it paid better. 🙂

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