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XDL, business, noises (off)

Mine Gracious Host recently referred to what he called “that most glorious of stage directions”, repeat play. I don’t know if that’s the most glorious; I have friends who would swear by exit, pursued by a bear, and I am partial to Bob sees the aliens in the mirror while shaving, which is really only particularly amusing if you know that it’s from a radio play. Still. That passing reference combined with the lively conversation about memorizing lines and my week-long silence on this Tohu Bohu has inspired me to blog a bit about stage directions, when I really should be working on my lines.

In short, I don’t like ’em.

Oh, some of them are necessary, I suppose, although my dislike is sufficiently severe that (back when YHB was writing plays for his own amusement) I left them out entirely, and it wasn’t too difficult to do. I was once told (probably in error) that the stage directions written into all the modern copies of William Shakespeare’s plays were modern, and that it’s a good idea to mark them out. I don’t know about actually marking them out, but certainly they don’t add much to the plays. The odd enter and exit are key, particularly if the other characters don’t immediately verbally acknowledge the entrance or exit, but that’s about it. Crossing left or right depends entirely on the stage setting for that particular play.

In particular, I dislike the stage directions Mr. Samuel French includes with his playing copies of scripts. From the first page of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (for which I will need some sort of short or nick- name if I am to often write about it here), interpolated into Madame the Marquise’s first line: CÉCILE who has been daydreaming, starts, not quite sure, for a second, if it’s she who’s being addressed. Now I can scarcely complain about comma placement, but really, why does Mr. French or Mr. Hampton feel the need to insert this? I call this sort of thing director’s discretion, or at any rate to be worked out between the actress and the director.

There were two moderately interesting stories about the theeyayter in the news recently, but not so recently that I still have links lying around, sorry about that. One was a story about how directors are, in some sense that isn’t clear to me at all, copyrighting their production of a play, so that other directors at other theaters who copy their directorial contributions have to get permission, and pay or give credit or whatever the whim of the original director is at the moment. There were a couple of examples, but the one that sticks in my mind was a regional production of Love! Valour! Compassion!, for which the director clearly drew inspiration (to say the least) from having seen the original New York production, directed by Joe Mantello. Mr. Mantello, if I remember correctly, sued the director (or perhaps the theater) and forced a nonmonetary settlement of some kind. It was viewed as a precedent, though.

The other news was that a theater in, and again I may be misremembering the whole thing, Italy was putting on Waiting for Godot, and due to one thing and another replaced their lead actors with lead actresses (that’s lead as in follow, not lead as in pewter). Samuel Beckett had forbidden the play to be performed with women in the leads during his life, and his estate sued to prevent the production and lost in the Italian courts. The dead playwright did not, it seems, have the moral right to dictate all the conditions of the play (although the case was made easier by the fact that Didi and Gogo remained male, so the audience experience was not held to be discernibly different).

These seemed to me to be tied together, at least in my mind, by the idea that there is an important difference between a play and a production of that play. Whether Didi and Gogo are played by men or women, whether there is a dollhouse on the stage representing the beach house, whether Cécile is daydreaming, these are aspects of the production, not the play. The play exists before and after the productions. A good play will have a good production, a great play will have many good productions, different one to another. This is complicated, of course, by what I see as the moral rights of the playwright (or at least a certain moral obligation on the part of the producers) to have his or her wishes taken into account. Still. Ultimately, if the director wants Hedda Gabler to be surrounded by robots, then that’s how it’ll be.

No, that’s not an actual production of Hedda Gabler, but rather Heddatron, a play about, in some sense, surrounding Hedda with robots. Be that as it may, I think if you parse that in the Latin declension, you’ll find that my point is still moot.

Anyway, what I was going to say is that I do not, when typing in my scenes to study, include stage directions, except (where absolutely necessary) entrances and exits. I print out the pages with loads of space to scribble in blocking and notes, and that’s enough.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


What ever happened to enter Pericles, wet?

I tried to figure out a way to put "pursued by a bear" into my entry, but it would've made the sentence too unwieldy even for me. I was secretly hoping readers would post their own favorites.

I didn't know about the Bob line; very nice. And I like the Pericles one too.

Re marking out stage directions: I was told in college that the first thing any director (or maybe it was set designer?) does is to mark out all stage directions. That really mystified me at the time. These days I understand the idea, but as someone who reads plays more often than I see them, and who never directs them at all, I like stage directions a lot. In movie scripts, too; I gather that William Goldman is famous for putting way too much detail into his directions in scripts.

Here's the Guardian article on Godot: "Beckett estate fails to stop women waiting for Godot." It sounds to me like the fact that they're playing male characters and look like men on stage was a key part of the decision; I don't know that they would've won if they'd tried to make the characters female. Also interesting is the observation that "Beckett scored the play for male voices" and the further observation that "Beckett's later plays are like sculpted images and any deviation from the author's prescribed directions in effect de-natures them." (To mix metaphors.)

I have lots more to say about this (esp. about the collaborative nature of theatre and how my views on the subject have changed in the past 20 years), but I'm out of time. Maybe I'll do any entry of my own on that at some point, or maybe I'll come back and add another comment here, but probably neither for a while yet.

PS: That Guardian link may actually be two separate pieces; the top half is bylined "Barbara McMahon in Rome" while the commentary part at the end appears to be by Michael Billington. Or something. Unclear to me.

For all that the Beckett turned into the caricature of the playwright control-freak in his later years, _Godot_ has one of my favorite unspecific stage directions:

Estragon: Use your intelligence, can't you?
Vladimir uses his intelligence.
Vladimir: I remain in the dark.

Hee re using intelligence—good stage direction.

I thought of this discussion yesterday morning when I heard about two minutes of KQED radio's morning talk show, Forum. They were interviewing someone who had directed a film (I think it was a minor local film, but I'm not sure). The director said that he had directed live theatre for years, and that that had always been an arduous process of building consensus about the show, everyone having to agree on how to do things and what the show was about and who the characters were (this is an extremely loose paraphrase; I don't remember exactly what he said beyond the consensus part). And then he directed this film, and to him as a control freak it was amazing, because everyone did exactly what he told them to.

I imagine that many theatrical experiences are not so egalitarian, and many moviemaking experiences are not so auteurist, but I thought it was an interesting comment anyway. (I think the whole show was about the auteur theory, and the director may've directed a documentary about a famous director, I'm not sure.)

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