This article about Paula Vogel in today’s New York Times reminded me of a bad landing I once had at the Burbank airport. Bumpy, breathless, frightening, annoying, and ultimately , I was just grateful I got through it. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit. (Or “embroidering” as we like to say in my family).
I thought it was wonderful that this successful playwright was such a champion of big ideas/actions/visuals for plays. But then, this is Paula Vogel. Who”… led the playwriting program at Brown University, and since 2008 she has been head of playwriting at Yale. ” So when she says ” Why are we in theater if we’re not forming something collaboratively?” – it has a bit more punch, than say, when I say advise my cats in the office. “No, put your claws in and really shred that paper napkin in the third act.”
And then I thought – wait a minute. These weren’t just playwrights at this boot camp. These were: “playwrights for a day, many of whom were donors to Second Stage. (Invitations were extended to those who had given $3,500 or more to that nonprofit theater company.)” Oh. So they had to come up with $3,500 as a fundraiser to participate in this exercise. That’s when the reading of the article became a little bumpy for me. ($3,500! $3,500? Really? Oh. But it’s not really for playwrights – its for donors.) So it wasn’t really a boot camp for playwrights. It was a boot camp for donors.
And here’s the part of the article that made me annoyed, frightened and breathless, not necessarily in that order:
“Ms. Vogel explained that silence can be a stage direction of enormous power, not only to heighten tension among characters but also to provide a cathartic moment for audiences. She encouraged her writers, in their scripts, to consider leaving half a page blank to underscore the importance of wordlessness to directors and actors.
Such a heavy authorial hand drew heated complaints, however, from Nicholas Gray, a young theater director who had been invited by an associate. Mr. Gray railed against lengthy stage directions, saying he crossed them out in scripts before he would begin rehearsals with his actors.
“It’s the playwright being tyrannical over all of the other artists who will ever work on the play,” Mr. Gray said, adding that even “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” would not escape his pen.”
Well, at least I know that some young theater director, like the Mr. Nicholas Gray, wouldn’t hesitate to cross out any stage directions in a script of mine. Even if my name was Eugene O’Neill.