A few thoughts while I struggle through my cold. Isaac asks some questions about Devised Work, and since I am primarily someone who works in the realm of "Devised Work" I'll put forward my personal answers.
Firstly, before I approach his answers, this is what I mean by "Devised Work", although I hate the term because I think it's somewhat a misnomer.
When I work with my company on a devised work, we work as such:
- Each person works for a bit on some small moment or piece of work which they then share with the rest of the working group.
- The company responds, and we add it to a list of available moments.
Later, we synthesize these related moments and figure out what the arc and the through-line is.
It's just a different drafting process - drafting in performance. It comes with its own weaknesses, which Isaac notes -- feeling more scattershot, feeling more uneven, etc. Those are just the working hazards, in the same way that the "traditional" writing process (another term I'm not wild about) has the danger of being too talky, of being just the playwright's voice in various heads.
I don't work in this mode because I want to "get rid of" playwrights or directors -- my devised work usually has someone in those positions. But I've noticed that when I write a play at my desk, I'm writing dialogue -- and I create a dialogue focused play. When I draft practically, in a room with performers, I get the opportunity to create a different type of work.
It also helps me draft with the ideas of plenty of people. A long time ago I realized I'm not perfect, and I don't have perfect visions of my own work in my head, and I need help from other people to create full pieces. I'm not being facetious, I've worked with directors who walk into a process knowing what they want to create from beginning to end, and they Direct the show until they have what they want. When I work, I create things in the moment, to solve problems and deliver on impulses.
Note that devised work is a different drafting process; one that requires rehearsal space and other resources. A lot of devised work companies make the mistake of conflating the drafting process with the production process; they don't leave time between the creating of something and the process of making it good -- the editing and finessing process. That, I think, is what causes Isaac to wish that the "director" or the "playwright/editor" had been more present.
To me, it would be perfectly plausible to use a devised work process to create a first "script", and then to put a traditional-style director in charge of it and say, "make this good." In the traditional-style directing process, as it was communicated to me, the director and the cast operate in a mode of trying to bring a particular intention to life in the most sharply defined way possible. No reason why you can't do that with a work that has been created in an ensemble-derived environment.
To me, a bad devised work is about equivalent to a bad playwright-written play, they just tend to have different weaknesses.