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Monday, September 17, 2012

Theresa Rebeck on directing your own work

A friend of mine, a gifted playwright who's been in the business for thirty years, was recently told by his much younger director "Oh, sorry, I'm just not used to actually having to talk to a living playwright." And then he laughed. I've heard that line before. It's a variation on a joke that theater directors trade among themselves: Playwrights are so much easier to deal with when they're dead. 
If a living playwright is in the room, who is the author of the production? The playwright or the director? For some directors, this question is simply too threatening to approach. And as the enthusiasm for new plays has shrunk among producers, someone who can give a really swanky new spin on a classic becomes a hot commodity. Star directors are born in such a climate, and the power balance between writer and director is often unclear. Even with new plays, where the voice of the playwright has been traditionally protected both contractually and by the weight of history, the director's authority often carries the day with producers and actors.  
But within this environment, writers still have no reason to suspect their own authenticity. We know that we know how to tell stories because we create them out of whole cloth every day. That aspect of our psyche is unusually (in this business) secure. We know how to tell stories, and a lot of directors, some of whom are wildly overhyped, really don't know how to tell a story, at least not from scratch. So in the face of all the bad logic out there, and in the face of my own personal disinterest in the job, I say, go ahead and direct. What are you waiting for?

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