(For an explanation of this blog series, please refer to Reason #1 post.)
This reason is sensitive. To this day, I am still trying to shake off the psychological damage that I did to myself when I realized that plays must have actors, and sometimes those actors may not want to be in my plays. I will explain this experience in relation to the aforementioned play in Number 1, entitled “Psychic Pizza”. This was my first real production of a full-length play, so I realize now that it was a major learning process all together.
I was assigned a graduate director to the play who was flexible about my development process as a playwright and very complimentary of the work itself. She was encouraging about rewrites and stated the challenges that she encountered during the production and with the script to me in a very productive way. I am thankful for that. The play was cast at the beginning of the semester with mainly undergraduate and first-year graduate actors. The director casted the play beautifully and I was excited to begin the rehearsal process. I was under the impression that all actors wanted to be in plays and thought any performance opportunity in such a competitive program would be positive and rewarding. I was also under the impression that all actors appreciated and understood that I was also learning too and that we were “all in this together”. I was wrong. The director pulled me aside after the first rehearsal and shared with me that one of the first-year graduate actors did not want to continue to be in the play. She didn’t give me her reasoning, but I immediately took it personal and was devastated that someone was didn’t want to perform in the play because it was bad. I didn’t care if they opposed the play’s themes, I just didn’t want anyone to think I was a bad writer. Even though that actor was made to continue her work with the play, and performed it beautifully, I carried around a lot of fear and resentment for actors after this event. I later learned that particular actor was growing too. It wasn’t necessarily that she didn’t want to perform in my play, but she didn’t want to perform in a “new play by an unknown playwright” at all. She auditioned only because it was required. She was also learning as well. She had not fully appreciated the value of participating in the new play development process as an actor, and how it would help her grow in her own artistic journey. She wanted a main stage role that would look good on the resume. I can’t blame her because she was learning about the art of theatre as well. She approached me after the production was over and said how much she enjoyed working on this play. She also said that she did like it and was excited to see where it went next.
What I learned from this was that because I knew about her dissatisfaction with being in the production, I began to let her into my own development as a writer. Because it was a learning process, we were allowed to make changes throughout rehearsals under the supervision of the director. So, I let her dig into the character and make it her own. She made suggestions (some very good) and I changed things in the script according to her suggestions. I thought it made a great end result because she felt an ownership in the play as well. This was amazing for teaching me about new play development and the value of bringing actors in the process to help realize the characters. This would change the whole trajectory of my career. I had to understand that theatre was collaborative and just because I wrote the play doesn’t mean it’s mine and can’t benefit from some tweaking and reimangining from the actors that are playing the roles that I created.
Am I saying that one should let actors completely change the script while in development to fit their liking? Absolutely not. I am saying that I learned to consider that when I am writing, eventually these words will have to come out of someone else’s mouth. Someone else will have to take what I wrote and make it their own in order to “become” these people in the script. I learned to consider the actors when I write. I learned to create roles that actors wanted to play because they were challenging and beneficial to them as theatre artists as well. I learned that after I write the script, it is no longer “mine”. It becomes a whole team of people’s art as well. Theatre is the only art form that has to be collaborative. It requires the genius of everyone, and eventually also the audience. I also learned that as collaborative artists, we must respect each other’s development process. The actor and myself did not respect each other in the beginning, but by the end we were on the exact same page.
I am not going to say that this event still does not haunt me today. When I write a play, I always think…”what if actors do not want to be in the play?” But, I attempt to turn that thinking around to a more positive question of “how can I as a playwright create a script that will allow an actor to interpret this role and make it their own?” I want to make plays that actors want to perform. There is nothing wrong with that. Unless you are performing your own one-person show, above everything else, actors are necessary for the play to be realized. That’s kind of the whole point.
Playwrights, love the actors! Take them to coffee. If the script is in development and things can be tweaked, listen to the actors with an objective and open mind. Take their feedback as valuable even if you don’t use it all. Let them ask questions and allow them to realize the role for themselves. Invite them into the process. From my experience onward, I have been fortunate to work with actors that were very instrumental to the final realization of the plays. I am thankful to know now that in the end, it’s not about performing “my play”, but it’s about creating art together. When a playwright can let their work go enough to allow actors to bring their own abilities into the roles, it is like watching magic happen in front of your very eyes.
THEATRE IS COLLABORATIVE AND THAT IS A BEAUTIFUL THING.