Monday, March 15, 2010

Collaboration II: Stage Directions Pt. 2

The responses I got to my Stage Directions post revealed to me the philosophical differences that underly the whole "how much change is too much change?" question that I posited. Here's the first comment, from Dinah:
This makes me think of a talk Sarah Ruhl gave recently, where she was asked for words of advice for actors handling her stylized, poetic language. She said that she prefers that actors speak her words "non-adverbially." That is, that the text itself is the point and contains everything that needs to be conveyed in that moment, and the actor's job is basically not to let all that "action" and "emotion" business get in the way of the words. That the actor's job is to make the words audible and understandable, but not to interpret them, because that's the audience's job. This obviously rules out the paraphrase, except when she's involved in the production.
Ruhl is very much in the same camp as David Mamet on this score. And I think there's a recent history, starting from just after Shakespeare and onward, that posits nearly the same idea, although usually not to the same extreme. To lay out the idea I will, much to my own horror and disbelief, quote something I was just reading in Jaques Derrida's Writing and Difference. (It's my damn thesis, I'm sorry).
The stage is theological for as long as it is dominated by speech, by a will to speech, by the layout of a primary logos which does not belong to the theatrical site and governs it from a distance. The stage is theological for as long as its structure, following the entirety of tradition, comports the following elements: an author-creator who, absent and from afar, is armed with a text and keeps watch over, assembles, regulates the time or the meaning of representation, letting this latter represent him as concerns what is called the content of his thoughts, his intentions, his ideas. He lets representation represent him through representatives, directors or actors, enslaved interpreters who represent characters who, primarily through what they say, more or less directly represent the thought of the 'creator'.

He continues:
There is here a confusion over terms, stemming from the fact that, for us, and according to the sense generally attributed to the word director, this man is merely an artisan, an adapter, a kind of translator eternally devoted to making a dramatic work pass from one language into another; this confusion will be possible and the director will be forced to play second fiddle to the author only so long as there is a tacit agreement that the language of words is superior to others and that the theater admits none other than one language.
Oh, the avant garde and hyperbole. Anyways, over-the-top language aside, I think this is the more interesting division. After all, why is futsing with staging and actions--and even the intentions of the lines--allowed, but paraphrasing is not? To say that the answer is because the staging probably came from the first director in Samuel French editions and not the playwright only underlines the structure laid out above--the director's work is not a form to be followed strictly.

In today's world, if we wanted to, we could videotape the first performance, and we could emulate it perfectly, down to the lights and the sets and the props. We could demand royalties on all of it, and pay each set of royalties to each designer, director, writer, and actor. After all, why shouldn't actors have their work protected from being copied?

My point is that there's a strange double standard, where actors and directors and playwrights make their own interpretation on how to say the lines, and actors and directors and playwrights get to make their own interpretation on where to say the lines, but the words themselves have a strange inflexibility, born of the perception that the words on the page are the play.

I think I've mentioned that, in producing/playwriting terms, part of what drove me to the independent theater realm is the ability to control the means of production of my own work (uh oh, Derrida and Marx in one blog post...). But I think part of what drove me away from being an actor in what is aptly termed the "industry" (cheap labor and all) was this philosophy that as an actor, you're there to fulfill someone else's play. When a company gets together to make a show, it's the company's show: and nothing, not the words, the acting, the director's vision, is worth more than the success of the production as a whole body. Leastways, that's how I hope it goes.

God, I hope I don't have to quote Derrida again to make a point for a while.

1 comment:

Ian Thal said...

As I said elsewhere, Derrida seems to be assigning the same role to the playwright as film theorists often assigned to auteur filmmakers.

I think that Derrida is so logo-centric that he loses sight of the performative aspect of theatre. How the actor speaks the text or director stages the text can radically change the meaning well beyond the actor's intentions. This is a great irony for the author of Différance that both differs and defers.

Even in shows where the author, actor, and director is a single person (I have at least one show like that) contingencies, even some strange impulse that comes from within the performer's body can alter the show from the script.