THE ROLE OF THE PLAYWRIGHT – WHAT IS IT?

By Diane Grant

I recently read this: “Until you start standing up for your work, you can’t expect anyone else to.” It seems obvious but it’s a very tricky statement.

The director is the King or Queen of the rehearsal room and as such has the primary responsibility of bringing the play to life. He or she is involved in all stages of the process, including set design and pre-production and the finished performances. That’s a given.

I’ve directed and know this. I love directing and always get such joy out of working with actors on their feet. I love watching the play evolve, the characters grow, their relationships deepen. I’m energized by the passionate discussions about what things mean and the discoveries that come from them. When everything comes together and the tempo and tone are right, it is hugely satisfying.

What I don’t really know is how the playwright’s role differs. If you are a playwright, privileged to have a production of one of your own plays in a theater in your own community, what is your role in rehearsal? Are you “allowed” to attend rehearsals? If you are in attendance, how do you behave? What is the relationship of the playwright to the director and actors?

Most of the time, producers, directors, and playwrights don’t know the answers to those questions.

The best answers I’ve seen are in the contract from The Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights (written in consultation with The Dramatists Guild) that has the following provisions:

The author hereby agrees to:
2.2.1 Perform such services as may be necessary in making revisions of the PLAY;
2.2.2 Assist in the selection of the cast and consult with, assist, and advise the THEATRE, director, scenic, lighting, costume, sound designers, choreographer and/or dance director, stage combat/fight choreographer, and conductor, if any, regarding any problem arising out of the production of the PLAY (if the AUTHOR is available).
2.2.3 Attend rehearsals of the PLAY, as well as previews, and the Official Press Opening, provided he/she is in residence or is available to do so, and provided that, however, the AUTHOR may be excluded from such attendance on showing reasonable cause.

I would also like a provision that stipulates the necessity of initial collaborative discussions between producers, directors and playwright. During that time, if it becomes obvious that the producers’ and/or the director’s interpretation of the tone, style and meaning of the play differ from the playwright’s, the differences can be worked out before the rehearsal process begins.

Without this contract, I’ve gone into productions thinking that I didn’t have a voice. Past experiences convinced me I didn’t. Directors listened to nothing I said. My role was to rewrite and clarify bits of dialogue and stage directions and nothing more. I was shut out often enough that I stopped raising my voice and hand and sat in rehearsals, submerged and silent. In some instances, I developed an almost reactive formation in which I acted against my own instincts and just let things happen.

The ALAP contract provides guidelines for everyone involved and gives playwrights the right to be an equal part of the team. I will not do another production without that contract in hand.

It’s the beginning of standing up for your own work.

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