by Robin Byrd
The collaboration part of theater should not to come at the expense of the playwright’s voice and/or intentions. Is that a true statement?
I have been thinking about this — how intent/vision plays a big part in the end results of play production. But, whose vision should win out – if there is such a thing as winning in this case. Should it be a battle to get the story you wrote told, should you have to pick which part you will let go for the sake of someone else’s vision? Getting it to the stage is a big deal, getting collaborators who see the play as you do is an even bigger deal. I think the collective vision should be the playwright’s vision, first and foremost, and all other visions should move that vision forward, not stifle it, change it, ignore it but add to the layers of it. Tied up in all that intent, is a playwright’s voice which is life…blood, the culmination of many journeys, a song whose rhythm is pain and joy, a sound flung up to heaven echoing back at us…
I wonder about these things. What if after all one’s striving over the perfect line, it is missed in delivery or rearranged or deemed non-important; I hope my intent as a playwright is not lost…and I hope collaborator choices bring something wonderful to the piece and do not take away from my intent or my voice. I hope they ask me questions… while I am a living playwright. But, most of all, I hope that I speak up if and when I need to, whether or not it is expected or welcomed to make my intentions known.
Intent. What is the playwright’s intent? That question is asked in literary settings when studying fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama; it is also asked in acting class during scene study. It is a question that I strive to answer in all my work. It is the thing that makes a story stay with you…
Some interesting articles I found about intentions:
Pulitzer Winner Bruce Norris Retracts Rights to German Troupe’s Clybourne Park Over “Blackface” Casting
Playwright Katori Hall Expresses Rage Over “Revisionist Casting” of Mountaintop With White Dr. Martin Luther King
Playwright David Mamet Halts Play over Gender-Bending Casting
Heated exchanges at La Jolla Playhouse over multicultural casting [Updated]
Mike Lew – Playwright on Casting Actors of Color
‘For Colored Girls’ Movie: Ntozake Shange’s ‘No Madea’ Rule
I think about these things because I want to make sure that all of my work is filled with my voice and my intent without confusion and I don’t want to have to worry about it once the piece takes wings.
So, Yes; it is true that the collaboration part of theater should not to come at the expense of the playwright’s voice and/or intentions… What do you think?
As a storyteller, when I create the worlds for my stories, I must believe them to be real worlds. If I believe it, the audience will believe it. If I believe it, my characters will know I believe it and they will talk; they will tell me their secrets and show me their hearts. We can sit a spell and work it out on the page. We can see what the end will be… We can find a way of telling the truth about things considered intangible/ethereal/surreal/too terrible to speak of/so hush-hush, the revealing can blow the mind. As a storyteller, I have to be open to conversations with the truth – whatever that truth is… I have to be brave enough to share it… and let the chips fall where they may…
The singer, Brandy. I watched an interview with Brandy “Behind the Music” where she mentioned one of her albums that didn’t do too well. She said she was supposed to be “sexy” then she revealed, “I didn’t believe it. And, if I didn’t believe it why would you?” I remember that album of which she spoke and I remember thinking, “What is she doing? Why doesn’t she just be herself and sing?” I did not buy that album – her voice was different – her sound was off. And, I love me some Brandy; I think that her gift is phenomenal. I love the deep colors in her voice – how one can feel the graininess of the “Shekinah Glory” in the tone, and hear the octaves rising and falling like a breeze on a warm day, telling stories in flats and sharps like nobody’s business. I’ve been missing that sound until recently when Brandy teamed with Monica on a song “It All Belongs To Me”. Hearing the first notes, it’s easy to see, “She’s back!” You can best be sure she is not trying to be sexy, she just is and that voice…she is definitely telling a story that she believes and that makes me want to hear it…
As artists/storytellers/writers/painters/sculptors/singers/dancers, we must stay true to our authentic selves striving always to the perfecting of the gift as we translate it through our vessels. We must strive to stay on course and learn to get back on course should we ever lose our way. I am convinced that sometimes the best part of the story is how it is filtered through the artist. If we don’t believe in ourselves and what we have to say and how we say it, is it fair to expect anyone else to believe in us? We are different for a reason, unalike to serve a purpose, not-the-same because being the same was never the point. It’s the collective sound of harmony in the many voices of a choir that makes it a choir, the collective sound of the woodwind, brass, string and percussion instruments that make up an orchestra and that collectiveness facilitates a symphony; and it’s the collective sound of a people that make its culture. If we are listening, we know that all the parts are needed to give a true reflection of the sound of our times. We must continue to believe and act accordingly.
Believing involves more than the worlds we are trying to create, it also involves the world we are in – the here and now – and the pieces that inevitably we leave behind.
At what point did you know that you were a playwright? When was the first time you said, “I’m a playwright” or “I write plays” and it sounded right. Was there some other career you were headed toward; where did you detour? Or, were you always on track?
Did you study playwriting or learn by trial and error? When did you find out that you were good at writing plays? Was it by osmosis or did you get an “A” on a writing assignment or some serious clapping at the end of one of your plays? What was the play?
When did you determine your voice as a writer? Did it catch you by surprise? What were you writing?
When did you know that life without writing was not an option…?
“It’s the sound, the sound, the sound. I dance the sound.” Luigi
On purpose or by accident, there are things we do to the page when writing that are filled with the inner pieces and parts of us, all the subtle nuances of our voice. Learning to trust what is inside is a continual journey as we are always growing and must adjust and bend and stretch to that point that feels right…or not. Sometimes, it just sounds right and is hard to get that sound out of our heads until we get it down on the page. It surfaces like magma on occasion, uncharacteristically us. Do we keep it or discard it? Do we edit it or let it be free? Part of being true to the work, to me, is letting it speak…however, barbaric, refined, agnatic or matrilineal it is. It’s the pieces and parts of things that make the whole so interesting.
Once, while trying to write a play about a woman, the woman refused to speak. She would show up, press her lips together tightly and not say a mumbling word. After a few weeks of this, I tried to trick her by backing into her story. I wanted to find out her secret and why she wasn’t talking. I did her bio, assembled her family, I did their bios, then started writing the backstory. Since the woman wasn’t talking I thought perhaps her grandmother, Mama Lee, would. Mama Lee did speak but only to inform me she was looking at her son, Huron, and that I should look too, if I wanted to know about that sound I was hearing in the background – that chanting… So, I peeped and the sound started coming in louder and clearer…till those first words… It had begun – I was writing a play…Dream Catcher. This play I had never planned to write was teaching me so much about writing… I started settling with that play – settling into my voice. Dream Catcher showed me that as I evolve as a person and writer, how I approach the work also evolves and I don’t have to apologize for the backstory becoming a play. I don’t have to apologize for the subject matter, the characters or the setting. I don’t have to apologize for the spirits. I learned that my tendency to include spirits/memory is not a fluke nor is it a set thing. I learned not to apologize for my style. I learned that not only do I write from the voices that I hear but I write from the sound, the cadence. If Jazz is the cultural cadence then let me dance my dance to its rhythms, to its sounds… Let me have my phrasings and improvisations. Let me birth my pinks and greens and Blues… Let me have my language – my musical conversation – on the page and hopefully, on the stage…
I am still listening for the woman; she shows up every now and then to remind me that she’s gonna tell her story…eventually. In the meantime, I am learning to embrace my whole voice…every wonderful colorful octave…in pitch or not…