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Tuesday, June 5th, 2012
Blogs | Artistic Liberties
Creative Dynamics ~ Max Maven | Thinking In Person
I once worked on a show where the playwright attended every rehearsal in addition to the director.¬† This creates interesting dynamics. There is that bit where as the playwright, you want to let go. You’ve written the script and now you want to let the director pursue their artistic vision. (Otherwise, you could be the director.) Still, if you’re allowed in the rehearsal room, if you’re allowed to contribute, or if the script is still being worked on, its nice that your voice is heard too. The show I worked on, Odin’s Horse was quite an interesting experience. The writer loved his script and the director had her vision. And there were times when I wondered, do I write down the note the playwright just gave me or do I stick to the blocking the director told me? I kept open communication with both. I asked lots of questions. I mediated the artistic tension. And it worked. (Read about Odin’s Horse here.)
Another time I began working on a show where the writer was the director was the star actor was the producer was the artistic director of the theater company and despite hiring a technical director, lighting designer and set designer, he walked into the first production meeting with his own 3D rendering of the set and a light plot. (On top of that he was legally blind.) He also at times was the stage manager even though he hired one and I was the assistant stage manager. That made for a challenging experience. One in which I later stepped down from my role as ASM but for other unstated reasons. I think when you hire yourself as the actor/producer/playwright/director/designer, “letting go” and “collaborating” isn’t even a phrase that you consider a part of the english vocabulary. My defensive sarcasm wondered if he would later serve as the audience too as he acted each night and ran the light board. I’ll never know.
When I worked on Boneyard Prayer at Redmoon, the “playwright”, Seth Bockley was in every rehearsal. I use the term loosely, albeit he is a certified playwright, because Boneyard Prayer had four lines spoken, of which the first one was “drink” in regards to alcohol where an actor forced a puppet to loose his shit. Seth wrote every song though and how beautiful they were! That show still haunts me. In addition to the playwright being in the room, Charles Kim was in the room. He wrote all the music to Seth’s word’s. Although, it must be said that the idea of the show was conceived by Frank Maugeri, who was also the director. Director. Conceiver. Musical Writer. Playwright…. All in the room during almost every rehearsal. Add on top of that a set comprised of 800 lbs of dirt, life-size puppets and heavy subject matter where babies are buried, dug up and crosses are set to mark graves…we had some long rehearsals. And yet, the process was seamless. It was magical. Every voice was heard. A true collaborative piece of work emerged and to this date, I remain so proud of my time there. I’m honored I was in that room. Even though I was the production stage manager, and not the conceiver or writer, my voice was heard too. In addition to running the show and all that goes into my role, I recall one sound cue I built in QLabs while playing around making it into a sequence that was used for the show. Its a simple thing. It was a simple cue. However, it stands out. What could have been a challenging show where egos took priority over art, never happened. We created magic and pixie dust out of dirt, sand and peat moss.¬† I saw what happens when all parties are in the room and it works. (Read about Boneyard Prayer HERE and HERE and HERE)
Last night, we completed our second rehearsal for Max Maven | Thinking In Person. Max is the star. Max also wrote the script. It’s his baby. I had to promise not the hurt his baby when I needed to edit the script to make my own stage manager version. At first I was only sent the PDF copy but I asked nicely for a Word document. After promises were exchanged to honor his script and his work, he let me have it. In addition to the star having wrote the script, you have Sandy who is the director but on top of that Sandy is one of the producers. This creates an interesting creative dynamic in the rehearsal room. The director is¬† directing the actor. He’s altering a bit of the blocking. He’s taking a word out. He’s adding a phrase in. He likes this way better. He really hates that one line. And that’s all fine and normal. But that actor he’s directing is also the man who wrote the script. I mean, perhaps this is easier directing a Tennessee Williams play or anyone’s play, who’s especially dead and not in the room. You can take the artistic liberties you want and its your own risk. But when the playwright is in the room, such as with Odin’s Horse…but that playwright is also the star actor, such as Max, its quite interesting to observe. AND on top of that, you have the director who also has his producer hat and that’s just another layer of interesting human interactions to watch as I track blocking, keep us on schedule and sneak in an almond or two since our break isn’t scheduled for another 30 minutes.
I wondered what this would be like as we moved forward. Sandy definitely has his opinions about the direction of the show. However, Max wrote it and he’s been doing this show for years and he has his reasons for why every line, every direction and every cue exists. I wondered if I’d encounter ego, defensiveness and annoyance as the hours ticked on. Or if we’d create magic too such as with my experience on Boneyard Prayer.
To date, I can say, its been collaborative. It’s been compromise and discussion. It’s been an experience of how theater can work and no one has pulls trump cards. I haven’t heard, “BUT I WROTE THE SCRIPT!” or “We’re taking it out. Final word. I am the producer after all.” Its been more like, “I just don’t think that line works especially for New York.” And the response is like, “Ok. Perhaps this might work instead.” And when neither Sandy or Max could come up with an immediate answer, I remember Sandy turning to me, “Sheena, do you have an opinion about this?”
I wish in the moment I had a more eloquent answer. I wish the lightbulb went off for me and I had the best line ever written but I was awe struck. Not because of the talent or the magic or the Emmys or anything of the likes. I was awe struck because that’s one of the things I love most about the theater. That moment when collaboration is more important than ego. When job titles don’t matter because ideas come from anywhere. That is one of the reasons I do theater! Because when neither the playwright, the actor, the director, or the producer has an idea, they turn to the person next to them and say, “What do you think?”
Your thoughts matter. Your voice matters. I hope you have opportunities in your life where you experience true collaborative work. It is a beautiful, magical moment.