Daily Dojo

Playwrights As The Ugly Red-Headed Stepchildren No One Wants

Laura has a follow up on her series of why she don’t do theatre any longer here called Talking to Myself, Part III and again I urge my theatre brethren to go visit and read.

Here’s her money quote:

“Any criticism of the system is often dismissed as sour grapes. That’s why the system never changes. Just because something works for the top 1% of the population doesn’t mean that it’s a good system, or that it shouldn’t be changed. Remember, any time poor people criticize our economic system, they get nailed with a “class envy” charge.

I’m not saying theater is bad. I’m not even saying theater people are bad - though I’ve certainly said that in the past. Instead, I’m saying that the system that mainstream/regionals indulge in is bad. Viva la difference.

It would be a good idea to change that system.”

I wrote about her earlier post here: Is Theatre Corrupt Or Has Somebody Just Left Something In The Fridge Too Long? and I was, quite frankly, surprised to have only one person, (thanks Travis) respond.

But then again, it makes sense, because my observations and experiences have led me to conclude that, in America, the playwright is thought to be more of a hindrance to theatre than a help, mostly unwanted and mostly a pain and they mostly don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to theatre, even though they create it.

So even among good people who love theatre and probably love playwrights, they reflexively categorize what Laura and I wrote as “sour grapes” irregardless. Because if playwrights complain, yet again, that’s what it is.

Most of the time, that’s the stereotype.

The directors, the actors, even the interns reading scripts, their views have more import than a playwright’s.

That’s what I’ve observed and experienced.

This is not sour grapes.

I’ve had a good year, myself, as a writer. I’m not complaining about my career.

And over the past thirteen years I’ve been doing this, I’ve worked with some wonderful people.

But for every talented and respected professional I’ve worked with in the theatre, be they director or actor or designer or Artistic Director, the next TEN or TWENTY of the same were pretty much unprofessional and rude, disrespectful and downright hostile.

I’ve written about it extensively before, but let’s briefly recap.

I’ve had directors not return my calls or emails during the rehearsal process.

I’ve had actors refuse to memorize lines they didn’t like.

I’ve been told by directors just out of college that I didn’t understand what it takes to stage a play, despite the fact I’ve been directing myself since they were in grade school.

I’ve had directors REFUSE my notes.

I’ve had directors change the stage directions of my play to completely change the end and refuse to set it right.

I’ve had theatre companies do public readings of my plays without asking for permission, without even telling me.

Hell, I’ve had plays produced without my knowledge.

I’ve shown up for productions and looked at the program and found that my name was not listed anywhere in the credits, not as writer, not anywhere, but the directors name was in large letters above the title of my play.

I never got the contract for my Off-Broadway show, never got paid for it. In addition, when I asked for two comps on Opening Night of my Off-Broadway debut, for my wife and my agent, I was told I couldn’t have them (usually comps are written into an Off-Broadway contract for opening night, but since we didn’t get the contract we were promised, they were not bound to give us comps. I’m lucky I didn’t have to pay to see my own show myself . . . I showed up for the show and the house was only half-full.) Finally, when the show closed and still no contract, I told my agent to forget about it, it wasn’t worth the headache.

I’ve had my plays rewritten without my permission.

This has happened often. I showed up for many shows only to find that it’d be completely rewritten without my knowledge.

On professional productions, too.

Once I got an email from a director who, the night before opening, informed me he’d made some “cuts”, one of which was the ENDING because he said, “it didn’t work for him” and that if I saw it, I’d get it.

I informed him that I’d directed the play myself in New York and it did work, and even if it “didn’t” I had a contract with his theatre to do the play I wrote, not the play he wrote. I cc’d the AD and she intervened.

I got the ending back, but other cuts stayed. He never apologized, just told me this is how it works in theatre, I don’t understand the rehearsal process. This was a young guy with an M.A. in directing who currently teaches directing in college.

I could go on and list many, many more, but I’m not gonna, not yet.

And again I say, there’s been gold in them hills, it’s true. But a whole lotta shit had to be waded through to get to it.

Mostly, I’d say the common theme of most bad experiences was when I was shut out of the creative process, when I wasn’t allowed imput on any part of the process (and by imput, I mostly mean nothing was discussed with me, they took the play and didn’t want any thoughts, any of my experiences, they simply wanted to tell me what my play was about and weren’t interested in my pesky opinion) and was mostly unwanted. The theatre, whomever it be, wanted to own the experience it was giving the audience and didn’t want the writer to take away any of that glory, even though they wrote it.

And I’d say at least seventy-five to eighty-five percent of my experiences as a playwright were bad ones, through no fault of mine.

Including the lastest one, a short play up in Maine, a five page play I wrote, one I had performed myself at one point and knew well, during the rehearsal process for the Maine show the director wanted to make cuts (on a five page play that was mostly single sentences!) and when I resisted, she informed me that I was trying to “force my playwrighting rhythms on her actor, and it wasn’t fair to him.”

Let me tell you something right now, to everyone out there who is not a playwright but who acts or directs . . . Let me tell you this in all honesty. You think you’re making it better by changing it, right?

You NEVER are. Never.

Wait, don’t interupt.


I’ve had actors insist on doing what they wanted and got nothing but crickets from the audience. I plead with them to give what I wrote a shot just once and when they do, the audience erupts - and the actor walks off, shaking their head and going “I still think MY way was better.”

LOL! Yeah, that shit happens, it does.

So I’ve had these bad experiences, and the first thing you’re thinking, as you read this, what you’re thinking if YOU ARE NOT a playwright, is damn, Josh . . . maybe it’s YOU.

That’s how it works, right? If I’m having bad theatre experiences, maybe it’s my fault, right?

I thought that for a long time.

As a result, I went out of my way to work with people, I went out of my way to make them happy and help them realize what it was they wanted to realize.

And still I’d have bad experiences. Not all, again I must say, I’ve worked with some great folks, but mostly I’ve had bad experiences. So what am I doing wrong? I’m a pretty relentless self-examiner (as my close friends will tell you) and have chewed on that hard. I’m hard on myself.

And I now know it’s not me. It’s not. Trust me. You want professional references, I can supply them. I’m a professional, I treat all people with respect, from the interns on up to directors and AD’s, and I’m committed to doing the best work I can for the audience.

Wait, you still don’t believe me, do you. You know that there are people who were unhappy with me, because I didn’t cut this line or let them do this gag, or whatever. You know I must be difficult, I have to be, it doesn’t matter how many letters of referral from pro’s I have, you think I’m difficult or else I wouldn’t be bitching about theatre . . .

Ugly Catch-22 that, for us playwrights.

As a playwright, if you make a stand, you’re branded as difficult. If a director stands up for themself, they’re thought of as committed to their vision, but a playwright is simply thought of as childish. Really, we’re thought of as infants who don’t know anything about theatre.

So I tell you it’s not because of me, these bad experiences in theatre, and you may or may not accept that. Okay. Fine.

You know what else? I know quite a few other playwrights. And many of them also have a large number of bad experiences getting their work out there in theatre.

My best friend, a great actor who’s also a talented playwright, has also shown up and found his work rewritten and changed without his permission.

I know a talented playwright who has been dissed as much as I have, even though she’s won awards, and she’s as nice as anyone you could know. She recently had a show done regionally for a festival and the director changed what she wrote, changed the meaning of the play, added sight-gags and tried to turn a witty, gripping drama into a Marx Brothers show.

After a long communication about why she thought what she wrote would work if he (the director) just gave it a chance, he finally just sighed and said, “I dunno, I guess I’m just getting bored with this play after all these weeks of rehearsal.”

Seriously. He said that. Even if it’s true, it shouldn’t have been said.

Later on, weeks and weeks after it was all over, my friend got an email from the AD of the festival on another matter and added a postscript to it, congratulating her on the award her play won.

“Award?” my friend said. “What award?”

Turned out, she’d won an award as the writer for that play. The director accepted the award for her, told the AD he’d get it to her.

Not only did he NOT send the award, he didn’t even tell her about it.

Can open. Worms everywhere.

It doesn’t stop there. I have a lot of stories. I bet, if you’re a playwright, you probably have many yourself. I bet you do.

I know playwrights with much larger names than I or my friends have who have also suffered similar slings and arrows . . . I can’t really share, but trust me when I tell you, it happens, that shit fucking happens even to big guns. It has happened to Durang, to Albee, it happens to playwrights everywhere. The difference is, with the big guns, they can throw a fit and sometimes it will make a difference.

Whenever I’ve shared some of these experiences here in the Dojo, many of good people of the theatre blogsphere (and many, many of you are very good people, it’s true) blanch at what happened and are often shocked at how badly I (and my brethern) have been treated . . . usually the advice that comes next is, “You shouldn’t work with people like that.”

I agree. The thing is, most of them are like this. That’s the truth, no lie.

Listen to me.

These bad experiences are not the exception to the norm. They are the norm, and the good experiences are the exception.

I’ve thought long and hard about why it is.

Part of it is ownership . . . the directors or the theatre gatekeepers want to OWN the experience they give to the audience, they greedily don’t want to share credit with a pesky playwright. There are a couple of small theatres we all know who have a lot of talented writers come through their door that they could discover and they don’t, instead they mount productions of plays that have been around for thirty years, they do THREE SISTERS or TRUE WEST or anything by Shakespeare . . . because then any accolades they earn are theirs and theirs alone, the writer doesn’t get any of it.

It’s true, I’m telling you.

And it’s insecurity. They don’t want to have to listen to someone else’s thoughts on the process, they don’t want to have to deal with someone else’s imagination or creativity . . . I mean, what if that person has a better idea than they do?

The best professionals I’ve worked with are very secure with their work and generous with the work of others.

So that may be part of it.

But a large part of it is the perception of the playwright here in America, the stereotype we have of the playwright as not knowing anything about theatre, which I wrote about here with Playwright As An Adult Who Can Chew Bubble Gum, Walk & Do Other Things, Too - it’s this idea that playwrights are helpless even to understand our own work, let alone anything else.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met a director (usually 22 or 23) only to have them sigh and say, “Listen, let me explain how directing works . . .” or “Let me tell you what your play really means” . . . in fact, that shit just doesn’t happen to me, it happens to the big guns.

I think Laura’s right, in the U.K. she and I both would have far different careers, they treat the role of the playwright there with much more respect.

Here, it seems that we’re mostly a burden.

We are the ugly red-headed stepchildren nobody wants.

We’ve been talking about a malaise in theatre, and there is one, it’s true.

I think the above reason for this whole post is part of it, I think that a great playwright like Laura who has to walk away from theatre in order to find respect and fulfillment as a writer has something to do with it, I think that all the award-winning playwrights who’ve been produced Off-Broadway to great acclaim and yet if they didn’t write for film or television they couldn’t pay their bills has something to do with it, I think the fact that this subject has been brought up twice by me and twice by Laura and it’s not being discussed anywhere else, yet someone leaves a bad show at intermission and that gets chewed to death on the blogs, that has something to do with it - really, I think we can have more discussion on this subject, can’t we?

I don’t know what it is or why this subject hasn’t interested many, but I do believe it’s one of the more important problems we face in this industry. Because the folks who supply the new work, the new blood, are slowly being driven away. I’ve seen it. I bet you have, too. Some by money, some by the treatment.

Perhaps it’s just something people recognize but don’t know HOW to fix (like our flawed two-party “democracy) and so it’s easy just not to talk about it.

Which is too bad. I agree with Laura, like her, I love the energy and connection of theatre, when all the cyllinders are hitting with a show, there is no experience like it.

But like her and several of my friends, I’ve been keeping my distance from it and, as of late, taking a break . . . I’d like to come back, as I recently discussed with my best friend with whom I produced several plays with (we kicked ass) . . . but if I do, it will be on my terms . . . I don’t deserved to be abused . . . no one does, not in theatre. Politics maybe, theatre, no. It’s too much work for too little money to be anything other than respected.

So it’s NOT that I’m frustrated with theatre . . . I’m frustrated by all these bad, unprofessional experiences.

I want to cut down on those specific experiences, so that means I do less theatre. Or it means I don’t do it at all.

That’s not too much to ask for, right? Professonal courtesy and respect?

And while I’ve put in a lot of time Talkin’ Smack About Theatre and sharing my real life experiences as a playwright rather than some heightened theories of theatre I got out of a book that are of no practical use, I may have to take a break from writing about theatre for awhile, until I either find the love again or move onto other arenas of the written word . . .


I welcome your discussion here on the subject matter.

In fact, I ask for it . . . playwrights, have you had similar experiences?

Directors, actors, audience members . . . is the playwright just in the way?

Are playwrights the ugly stepchildren of theatre?

33 Responses to “ Playwrights As The Ugly Red-Headed Stepchildren No One Wants”

  1. Joshua James Says:


    Nothing against red-heads, I like ‘em myself . . . My pops has red hair, as does my little brother . . . but red-haired folks get teased about it a lot (it’s allegedly really bad in the UK) and red-headed stepkids, fuggetaboutit! So it’s a metaphor, people . . .

  2. Adam Says:

    Hi Joshua,

    I think we’ve all been treated bad by theatres at various times, although because we’re talking about individual situations each time, it’s hard to really make rules about it. I think a big problem is the difference between the dramatists guild and a union which can bargain collectively. We’re mostly on our own through no fault of the Guild. Until we can bargain collectively and until there are repercussions, there isn’t a lot that we can do about individual slights. One thing you can do is to tell your fellow playwrights the names of each of these places. Black balling I think works. Let us know who you’re talking about and we’ll know who not to work with.

    But as you read recently, I am also disenchanted with the life of a playwright which is very different from what it used to be in the golden age of playwriting. When plays were literature and it was possible to make a living in theater. I’m upset with colleges training playwrights as if this is still the case. I’m upset with the lack of resources. I personally have never had to deal with overdevelopment, but I know this is a problem these days. And mostly I think that’s because there are far more talented writers than slots. And I don’t know what to do about that besides starting my own company which I don’t have the energy for. But the lack of federal arts funding is another thing. Look at any other civilized country and they support the arts and the artists and also have healthcare for everyone. We think the arts are tv, and if you watch HBO the artists are moving there, or some of them anyway. I don’t know how to discuss what you’re saying except to say these people act this way because they get away with it and it is the responsibility of each of us to make sure they don’t and to fight for our rights.

  3. Patrick Says:

    Yeah, I really don’t understand how these actors and directors that you speak of, Joshua, can STILL CONTINUE TO WORK, but they do. Well, that’s not entirely true. I understand how bad actors continue to work, because other than word-of-mouth, there are SO many actors out there that it’s difficult to maintain any sort of quality control and it’s easy to wind up with a bad egg every couple of shows. But, directors!

    I think one of the main problems is that there are so few theatre programs where aspiring directors get to work with living playwrights. They don’t understand the dynamic, and so they make their mistakes “on the job”, as it were. They get so used to working with texts from yesteryear where they can do just about anything to it (and can easily ignore that spinning sound coming from the graveyard) that it doesn’t prepare them for the dynamics of working with the playwright. At the same time, they should at least understand common decency and respectful collaboration.

    I will readily admit that I made mistakes as a director the first time I worked on a new play with a young playwright. I had my reasons at the time — budget and time-frame being the main source of those problems — but I definitely contributed to it being a bad situation, and I didn’t give the playwright the respect he deserved. But I’ve learned from — and own up to — those mistakes. I made a conscious effort to do better, and I think I have (references available upon request.) But I think it would be a huge step to let writers and directors get all of that out of their systems in the relative safety of the collegiate environment.

  4. freeman Says:

    The grass is always greener. Actors, at least the ones that I know, live in state of constant flux and frustration. Directors don’t have it much better. In theatre, anyway, writers actually get a decent shake half-the-time. That’s my estimation and experience. Nothing is perfect, of course. It sucks to see so many people having a tough time (Laura Axelrod writes in a way that sounds legitimately furious with theatre.) I guess I just don’t feel that way. I’ve had my share of unhappy experiences, but its almost entirely been positive.

    There are people who will provide others with a bad, unprofessional experience in ANY line of work. Theater is simply no exception.

  5. Paul Rekk Says:

    Ahhh! There’s so much to respond to! I’m just gonna have to bounce around and pick and choose. Bear with me, Joshua. Depending on the day, I may be wearing the director, actor, or playwright hat. I’ve also recently taken on the artistic director hat. Needless to say, I’m a touch conflicted on everything you’ve laid out here.

    I’m not going to call it ’sour grapes’. I’m not going to say it’s your fault. I’m not going to call you difficult. I’m not going to defend a majority of those who have dicked you over. I am going to say you (playwrights in general in this instance, but I’d give the same advice to actors, directors, designers, etc. in general as well) could stand to be a little less defensive and possesive.

    No, the directors or the actors should not be taking all the accolades or all of the credit. But I know you understand their desire to get what they see as their fair share, because it’s exactly the desire you just expressed. And while the director’s job is not to rewrite, it is to present. And here is where I disagree with many, many playwrights (speaking from the playwright hat) — you need to be open to allowing them to present something other than what you intended. When it comes to a matter of changing words, it gets sketchy. But changing mood, tone, emotional structure? That’s not your place to dictate. Or rather, not solely your place to dictate. Guide, suggest, offer — absolutely! Demand — nuh uh.

    It’s a point you bring up repeatedly: the implication that the playwrights don’t know what they’ve written or how it will work. Eh… you do and you don’t. It’s actually a little ironic that I read this the day after I searched long and hard for a quote by Andre Gide for my own blog:

    “Before I explain my book to others, I expect them to explain it to me. To claim to explain it first is to immediately narrow down its reach; for if we know what we intended to say, we do not know whether we said only that. - One always says more than THAT. - And what interests me most is what I put in without knowing, - that unconscious share, which I would like to call God’s share.”

    You know what you meant with a play. You know what you want people to take from one of your plays. What you do not know is the breadth of what people can and will take from a play. When a director has a different vision than you, roll with it. It reminds of a story I heard of Stephen King being interviewed after Kubrick’s film of “The Shining” had been released. A journalist asked King how he felt about Kubrick ruining his book, to which King replied, “He didn’t ruin, it’s right over there” and pointed to a bookcase nearby. Playwrights have to remember that they have the only sense of permanence in the art form. Your words will still be there after a particularly bad production. They will still be their after a particularly good production. Everything else is gone forever.

    Somewhat related, you said: “There are a couple of small theatres we all know who have a lot of talented writers come through their door that they could discover and they don’t, instead they mount productions of plays that have been around for thirty years, they do THREE SISTERS or TRUE WEST or anything by Shakespeare . . . because then any accolades they earn are theirs and theirs alone, the writer doesn’t get any of it.”

    This is one of the few points where I would call bullshit. No director is sitting around muttering to themselves about one-upping those god damn playwrights, doing shows where they and only they alone will get the credit. Your paranoia is showing there, Joshua. The slight bit of truth in that is that old works are often chosen because they allow for a sense of vision and interpretation. You can do Hamlet in Denmark or in America or in space or in drag or in the nude and no one is going to complain as long as it’s good. Can you say the same with any of your shows? It’s the Catch 22 yin to your Catch 22 yang: no matter how professional or talented the director is, if the vision he places on your show doesn’t match the vision you place on your show, he’s a tyrant. Yes, yes, I know the argument about writer’s intent. But Hamlet’s still around — no one assumes Shakespeare meant for it to be in the nude while they’re watching it performed in the nude.

    I’m just babbling now, and I’ve forgotten all of the other points that I had intended to make. Adam very astutely pointed out that the golden age of playwrighting is over. You’re right, Joshua, playwrights are getting dicked around much more than they were during the golden age. So are directors. So are actors. So are designers. The golden age of theatre is over (golden age commercially, not artistically). Stand your ground, Joshua, by all means. But realize that in many cases the people you’re working with are simply standing theirs as well. And see if there’s not some place in between that you can meet.

  6. Sean Lewis Says:

    You got me out of my blog retirement Josh (and Congrats on the baby. Beautiful. The Iowa way!)

    Sadly, sadly, I have stories too. And it’s not even a pissing contest. I don’t want stories to share. I want to be the anomaly who has been treated with respect and had plays done and is happy and sleeping well. But I’m not. Bed’s unmade for sure. Interns teling me what my play is “about,” “directors” doing the same- and you’re right, even on the blogosphere it’s treated as Sour Grapes. Why? You wanna know why? I bet you do.

    Because we don’t do shit about it.
    That’s right. We. You and me. We don’t do shit.

    Directors start theaters and I’ve worked at a bunch and I usually think “you started a theater you must really love it! You started a new work theater, wow! I’m in heaven.” But I never am- because they started the theater sot hey could direct. New plays so they could get exposure and funding- but it comes down to they wanted to direct. Makes sense.

    What theater in the country is run by a playwright? Primarily playwright. Where is this A.D.? That’s problem one. This is a big goal of mine to become an A.D.- it’s why myself and Canadian playwright Jennifer Fawcett started Working Group. Because we aren’t about to offer our leg to be pissed on anymore. If more playwrights were in power and demanded power our voice would have to be heard. (”I’m running for A.D. who’s with me!!!”)

    Because we don’t demand power and people will get pissed at this- but playwrights fully understand that their career and their work doesn’t exist without other people. We create fully in the hopes of collaboration, we can’t do it on our own- where as most directors believe they can just find a project as do actors- that plays and collaborators are a dime a dozen. Stupid us- we make something that depends on others and so it gets used to put us into submission (another word I hate- “the submission process”- sending my play should not be some bdsm process. It should be a sharing. Not a relenting.) And get defensive directors and all else in the sphere “that’s not me,” “stop complaining”- cause that shit’s over.

    What if playwrights in the absence of a union did it word of mouth and decided collectively to not send plays out. To produce one another. If the playwrights in certain hubs banded together and said “shit i spend $400 a year if not more on materials, etc, to send scripts out- what if I refuse to do that and we put money together and do the play ourselves?” I think some of us know actors and directors- the good and gracious- who would jump at working on a project like this.

    I’d do this. Who’s with me?
    Come on.
    Who’s with me?


  7. hpmelon Says:

    Hi. New here.

    Whilst I have heard of these horror stories from other playwrights before, they have tended to be the exception, not the rule. I not being one myself cannot offer more than that. I can, however, let you know that the theatre folk I know respect the playwright greatly. As an actor I am a believer in doing justice to an artists work. As for line reads. I do my utmost to make it work. My utmost. I will never vote to kill a line or change it unless it is truly ghastly and all attempts to make it work have failed. But it is also true that sometimes the change is better. Then again, in those cases I have normally gone to the director and/or playwright for aid, and they have agreed to make a change. It is possible, after all, that an artistic misstep was taken, and the creative process of staging the work reveals it. Possible. It is in those moments that I have to be trusted as an actor. Trusted that I can gage the performance, the arc, and flow of what I am doing. It is not too much to ask for that trust, just as it is not too much for a director or playwright to ask for it either. In the end it is all a give and take, with ever changing variables, and only respect for the art will allow for decent treatment. I am sorry for your bad experiences. They are the worst of what theatre has to offer.

    Also, I have been told my red hair is glorious.

  8. David Says:

    Hello Joshua

    I haven’t met you but I found your column linked to Matt Freeman’s blog. Thought your post was very interesting but I must say, it has not been my experience as a playwright. I’d say 75-80% of experiences good, the rest – eh – not so good. But I wanted to respond to a couple of things.

    If directors don’t respond to calls or emails during the rehearsal process, gently remind them that you can yank approval of them as director according to a Dramatists Guild contract. If you don’t have a DG contract, get one and don’t go into production without it.

    If actors refuse to memorize lines they don’t like, fire them. It’s simple. It’s also your right. There are too many fantastic actors in New York begging for work to deal with nitwits.

    If directors refuse notes – see above. If they change the play – ending, stage direction, genders of characters, whatever – pull out contract and threaten to yank the rights. I’ve found this very helpful in situations where they’ve already put money into production and PR. If they persist, contact your agent or the business dept at the DG, and have them write screaming, nasty legalistic letters. It’s their job.

    If theatre companies produce public readings or (God forbid) produce the show without your knowledge or consent, if they don’t pay you, if they do not properly credit you in the program and PR materials – again, screaming nasty scary legal letters from the agent or DG are your friend! Use them.

    Pre-production discussions are important here. That way, the director, producer, etc know what they can and cannot do. You don’t need to be Albee or Durang to make a threat. All you need is a proper contract.

    As far as being branded difficult, that’s OK too. I could name three to four directors who think I’m swell to work with, and at least two others who would swear I’m a micro-managing, difficult control freak who doesn’t understand the role of the director. I’m fine with that. (And you know what? Both of those directors? Later fired. Both theatres have produced my work since then.)

    When I’ve worked with a director before and there’s a level of trust and respect, I cut them a lot of slack. Sometimes, I will defer on decisions if it’s something they feel strongly about, and I’ve often been pleasantly surprised. I like collaborating with good people and I work hard to maintain those relationships. The rest, I can cut loose. A 5% royalty is not enough to buy all the aspirin and whiskey I’ll need.

    And I’ll tell you one thing- any snot-nosed kid with an MFA who wanted to tell me what my play meant? – well, all I can say is, that would be a very short discussion.

    A screenwriter is paid good money to walk away – a playwright is not. Playwrights hold the cards in these situations. No one is going to stand up for our rights. We have to do it ourselves. I’ve found if I keep my weapons in good working order, I very rarely have to pull them out.

  9. Joshua James Says:

    ADAM - Agree with you completely.

    PATRICK - My wife knows of major costume designers who do terrible work and treat people terribly, and yet they continue to work because people figure, hey, they worked at that theatre, so they must be good.

    One of my pro actor friends has worked on some high profile shows, and he’s astounded when other actors show up STONED or LATE or do text-messaging when the award-winning director or Pulizter-prize winning playwright is talking . . . or they don’t bother to learn their lines . . . but they get the job and don’t get fired because they had a minor supporting role on a TV show - so it happens.

    Your other points, I completely agree.


    I’m not really mad, Matthew.

    Like I said in the post, I’ve had a pretty good year, heh-heh.

    But basically you’re saying that I suffer from the grass is always greener syndrome, and that’s not simply true . . . I’ve been an actor and a director, I’ve produced my own shows (which I enjoyed) - what I simply have experienced and observed is that the majority of the time playwrights are treated badly, I have and many playwrights I know have.

    I will admit that I know one or two who haven’t been, so I accept you’ve had it good - I’m simply pointing out that many more have not.


    Respectfully I disagree with most of what you argue, and I believe it’s mostly countered within the post. No, a director doesn’t have the right to “reinterpret” what I wrote . . . not at all, in my mind. Believe me, that’s happened. And it usually ends badly, for myself and many of those I know.

    And I don’t think folks at a theatre do THREE SISTERS with the intent of “one-upping” playwrights . . . I simply think they don’t want to share any of the creative vision . . . they want the “power” so to speak, and so by doing a dead play, no playwright can complain that their text has been cut.

    Really, it feels like you are somewhat saying it’s my fault, but I could be wrong. I’m not defensive, I’m just telling you what happened and why I’m doing less theatre than I used to.

    SEAN -

    Agree buddy, and it’s why I have produced shows in the past, and may in the future. I just think that, even if I’m not producing, I’m also entitled to at least the same amount of respect the SM gets.


    Next to the Japanese, redheads are my favorite type of people, and they’re hot, too.

    DAVID -

    Totally get that other writers have had more good than bad experiences . . . I wonder though, if you’re not the exception rather than the norm . . .

    I have done those things, I have pulled shows . . . I would have pulled my Off-B’way show, except that it starred a friend of mine who was REALLY good in the part and it was his Off-Bway debut as well . . .

    The thing about firing actors - I don’t have that power . . . I can threaten to pull a show, but that’s a radical move - I have done it more than once, definitely (and once I was told that my show would go on anyway, and I told them I’d call a sheriff in to make sure it wouldn’t . . . this was in LA and I was in NY) . . . but if I’m not directing or producing, all I can do is let my disatisfaction known and leave it at that, unless I want to pull the show.

    Pulling the show also hurts people who haven’t done anything wrong, who have comported themselves as professionals . . . it’s tough to do . . . I’ve done it, it’s not enjoyable.

    Again, this hasn’t happened to just me (or Laura) this is sort of an industry wide thing, I feel . . .

    But your comment here:

    “When I’ve worked with a director before and there’s a level of trust and respect, I cut them a lot of slack. Sometimes, I will defer on decisions if it’s something they feel strongly about, and I’ve often been pleasantly surprised. I like collaborating with good people and I work hard to maintain those relationships. The rest, I can cut loose. A 5% royalty is not enough to buy all the aspirin and whiskey I’ll need.”

    I completely agree with . . . I do. And it’s pretty much how I’ve been operating as of late.

    I’m not posting this simply to bitch, folks . . . I’ve done that with other stuff I’ve written here . . . I am well and truly writing to share this as an example of one thing that’s possibly hurting the industry . . . I mean, I love theatre when it’s good, but I’m pretty much at the point where I could write other things for the rest of my life and be cool with that . . . like Laura, when the bad experiences outweigh the postive, you wonder if this is worth it.

    That’s all I’m doing - sharing and wondering . . . .

  10. George Hunka Says:

    If you want that power to fire actors or directors, etc., then do indeed look into the Dramatists Guild and work only with signatories to the Guild. Alternatively, produce your own work. And contrary to Sean’s comment, there are many companies that have been founded by playwrights, here and abroad, starting with Strindberg’s Intimate Theatre. (The rest include Bertolt Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble [later taken over by playwright Heiner Muller], Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric, Reza Abdoh’s Dar-a-Luz, Richard Maxwell’s New York City Players, Ken Urban’s Committee Theatre, Daniel Keene’s Keene/Taylor Theatre Project … I mean, the list goes on and on. Neither Nosedive nor 13P are the first to come up with the idea.)

    Though it may seem impractical, it’s not, particularly; $100.00 to a group like Fractured Atlas will get you on the road to fundraising under non-profit tax status. If you don’t have enough money to do it, well, neither does anybody else, ever. And so far as practicality goes, the decision to be a playwright (insofar as it is a decision and not a calling) doesn’t make much sense in the 20th century either.

    I’m very sorry you and Laura had these experiences in theatre, but if it’s left both of you with such acrimony towards other theatre artists and the system generally, maybe it would be a good idea not to work in the theatre at all. At least, don’t try to work within a system that you find hopelessly corrupt. Work in film or television, or write novels or criticism. (Though these media, too, are just as infested with professional backbiting, nepotism and disrespect for writers.) But if you decide to stay there and you find the system so hideously corrupt, work outside of it, come up with your own system. It’s been done before. But founding a company is something for more than a play-to-play professional. It’s a dedication of a life to your chosen art.

  11. Paul Rekk Says:


    Respectul disagreement is cool by me and much what I expected.

    And believe me, I’m not trying to say anything is your fault. I’m just saying that, as a playwright, some of the situations you have described would not bother me. (Granted, many the others are terribly offensive.) What that means exactly, I’m not sure, but I simply needed to put it out there. The one-sided fury in the playwright heavy blogosphere is therapeutic and not necessarily unwarranted, but it’s also seems a little inert and navel-gazing. Just trying to throw some balance in the mix.

  12. Laura Says:

    Wow, guess George hasn’t heard the news that I left theater. I don’t have acrimony towards theater artists. Oh yeah, and I now review books.

    Oh well,

  13. Joshua James Says:

    GEORGE -

    The Dramatists Guild doesn’t have any power, not really, they’re not a union. I think we’ve had this discussion. They cannot enforce their recommendations upon any company, as far as I’ve been able to find out.

    I’ve also had my own company, as per Nosedive, and had much fun producing our plays . . . it’s something we may get back to doing at some point.

    And yes, Laura has left the theatre and did so because (as she writes in her posts) she believes the system for selecting plays is corrupt, and I’d have to agree . . . furthermore, as I note in my post on this, I believe it’s the perception of the role of the playwright that is flawed, and that perception hurts the industry AS A WHOLE . . . more so than the individual . . . perhaps you disagree, that’s fine . . . but to me your perception is part of it . . . it’s more blame the writer rather than blame the process . . .

    I’m obviously a big boy and I can certainly decide to leave theatre if I feel it’s not worth my while, but the point to this diatribe is that when that happens . . . when somone like Laura or myself (or a few others I could name but will not) leave the theatre industry for others more appreciative of our talents, it’s theatre’s loss . . . it hurts theatre, I believe.

    Yeah, that’s the key issue . . . I think Laura or myself or even you, George - I don’t follow your blog but I thought you wrote a fine new play - if you George, decided theatre wasn’t worth the effort to create new work, that’s theatre loss. That’s the point.

    PAUL -

    Navel gazing is what most of the blogs on my blogroll (and on yours) is all about . . . your blog doesn’t have navel-gazing? So are you saying, because I’m talking mostly about my work and what I do, that lessens the value of what I have to say? That seems a bit of a dodge, really.

    LAURA -

    I figured folks would kinda say, “hey, you don’t like it, do something else” and to a certain extent, I can understand it . . . it’s always interesting to hear it from other playwrights, I find.

  14. Paul Rekk Says:

    No, no, no, no, no, Joshua. All I’m saying is that if the majority of the people in the conversation are playwrights (which is the case in the blogs I frequent), naturally the conversation is going to be playwright empowering. If this same conversation were being held with mostly directors, you can bet the directors would end up looking downtrodden. I’m not saying the concerns aren’t valid; I’m just trying to even the spread, if only slightly.

    I’m playing devil’s advocate, except that I mostly believe it as well. Playwrights get shat on. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a group of theatre artists that will tell you they don’t.

  15. Joshua James Says:

    Well Paul, there are at least TWO, (you and freeoman) if not THREE (George) playwrights just on this comment string alone who already maintain otherwise, it seems, so right away your last point is moot . . . the thing seems to be as my point is, which is if we get shit on, we bring it on ourselves and we don’t understand our own work, which may be true for you, it’s definitely not true for me and many others I know.

    Addressing your earlier point, Kubrick and the book SHINING. The book is in the form it’s meant to be in, which is to be read.

    My plays are written to be performed as plays . . . now if someone purchases one and turns it into a movie, I can rightfully turn to the play and say, “there’s the play” - in other words, it’s been adapted into a form other than it was originally meant.

    but to use this to undermine the idea that a playwright might not understand the process of bringing a play to stage (in other words, we don’t know what actors and directors do, what the audience does, etc) or what our own purpose for the play we wrote is, well . . . that’s again a dodge - it’s fine that you don’t want to know what YOUR plays are and are dependent upon someone else to tell you . . . I am not that way, nor are any of the playwrights I know and admire that way . . .

    that’s not to say that there are not shared discoveries when breaking in a new work, there are . . . but the purpose of the piece comes from the playwright, in my experience.

  16. Paul Rekk Says:

    Fair enough, Joshua. I see what you are saying. You have strong points and equally strong feelings, and regardless of how I feel about them, I really do hope, whatever the outcome of your current period of questioning your dedication to theatre, that you have more good experiences than bad from it. And you are right, others have since jumped on and said that have had a positive overall experience as well since I made my initial post. The last thing I want to do is argue that you deserve treatment that you feel is unfair, because that’s just silly.

    But for the record, I know what my plays mean for me and me alone. If they mean something different for someone else, that’s their prerogative.

  17. Joshua James Says:

    Fair enough, but you wouldn’t want anyone to change your plays to mean something completely different than your intention, would you?

    You wouldn’t want them completely rewritten without your permission, simply because a director felt something different than you about your work, would you?

    You wouldn’t . . . but it happens, and that’s what we’re discussing.

  18. blogless joe Says:

    i feel for you, joshua. i really do. and i understand why you are reluctant to name names and risk being branded as “difficult.” however, i think in *not* naming names, you are actually being complicit in that you are allowing these abuses to continue without consequence. given the description of some of your experiences, it seems clear that some of these cases are extreme violations of professional courtesy. every single individual working in the theater is entitled to said courtesy, and violations of such indicate a lack of professionalism of the theater company in question.

    (here i am specifically referring to egregious violations of professional conduct (e.g., violation of a contract; altering a script without your permission). not being able to direct your own work, while perhaps frustrating to you, is NOT, in my opinion, a violation of such. )

    consider, for example, (bear with me here) the honor system of ebay, a system which requires a certain amount of blind trust. there, an individual’s reputation has a direct impact upon his/her ability to conduct future business, and bad behavior produces direct consequences. cumulatively, individuals are held collectively accountable for their actions. a bad buyer/seller with multiple complaints directly inhibits his/her ability to continue such behavior.

    when you do not name names, you are enabling such bad behavior (violations of professional conduct) to continue… if your grievance is truly legitimate and if your case is indeed valid, it will be clear that it is not you who is being “difficult” but the theater company in question who is at fault. moreover, you provide an invaluable professional courtesy to all your fellow playwrights… it seems to me that a dodgy theater company will find it difficult to continue such bad behavior when playwrights actually hold them accountable for it (rather than protecting them for fear of being labeled “difficult”).

    granted, there are always two (or more) sides to every story, so in the interest of fairness/openness, the company in question should be given the opportunity to respond publicly to/address your grievances (if they wish)… again, if the playwright really has a legitimate beef, it will be clear this is the case. conversely, if it is actually the playwright who is in fact, actually being unreasonable, that will also be evident.

    also consider, for example, the relatively recent case in which the director took the playwright to court for alleged violation of his copyright. googling the case reveals: 1) that the playwright extensively documented (supplemented by court documents) the entire course of the case; 2) that this director had also been issued a cease and desist order by an entirely different playwright years earlier; and 3) the director’s own take on the case.

    while i fully acknowledge not knowing the definitive “truth” of the matter, i do think there is sufficient grounds for concern, and the aggrieved playwright makes a very compelling case. (IMO, it would be extremely foolish for any playwright *not* to address those concerns if s/he was remotely considering upon embarking upon any kind of collaborative relationship with said director.)

    the playwright in question did all playwrights a professional courtesy by expressing her (IMO very legitimate) grievance and held the director accountable for his behavior by not keeping silent (for fear of being labeled “difficult.”)

  19. Joshua James Says:

    Well it may be that at some point I shall . . . the point of this isn’t to burn people, necessarily . . . if it were ONLY one company, then I wouldn’t feel any compunction, I’d name it outright (tho’ it not hard to find out the Off-Bway company, it’s in my bio) . . . the thing is, as I mention, it’s a thing that’s complicit throughout the industry, you know?

    And my view is by sharing my stories without naming names, people may recognize themselves within and maybe alter their behavoir . . .

    Not all that do these transgressions are bad people . . . so the purpose is really to get a discussion going on behavoirs which hurt playwrights and, as such, damage the industry . . . I don’t think there’s any conspriracy, pers se . . . many just don’t know the best way to work with a playwright . . . many look down upon the playwright, though they may not know it or think they do, and by sharing these stories and not naming names, it gives the opportunity tor all to recognize.

    Now if it comes to civil matters of court, that’s a different story alltogether . . . the playwright you mention certainly did the right thing.

    I also keep a journal as well.

  20. playwrights-articles.info » Blog Archive » Playwrights As The Ugly Red-Headed Stepchildren No One Wants To … Says:

    […] Original post by Joshua James […]

  21. Patrick G. Says:

    Very interesting post, Joshua (and following discussion). It stinks that your experience has been so overwhelmingly negative. I’ve certainly had my share of bad directors (one of those stories that I blogged about over the summer got people ready to string the guy up), one of whom I no longer speak to, because the relationship was so abusive and manipulative, but I’ve also had some great experiences. This is especially true when I’ve worked with directors with whom I worked on developmental workshops or collaborative projects. I was going to say, “Oh, most of the time I’ve had good experiences with directors,” because I approach things with a pretty positive attitude, but I looked over my vita (just to double-check on myself), and the truth is that there weren’t as many totally positive experiences (esp. regarding directors) as I’d thought. Maybe half. Maybe less.

    Still, a lot of that comes with the territory, and difficult directors have been around for quite a while. For me, it’s the economic side of playwright that’s really driven me farther from playwriting. That and the schedule. It’s one thing to write novels and have a family, because the schedule isn’t too jarring. But to be involved in rehearsals and productions and try to raise kids is awfully tough, especially if you don’t have anything to bring home to stick in the piggy bank when you’re done.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about what you and Laura have written and I’m glad that you’ve both been willing to air your thoughts. The issue of the selection process being corrupt is one that’s especially interesting.

  22. Patrick Says:

    “The Dramatists Guild doesn’t have any power, not really, they’re not a union. I think we’ve had this discussion. They cannot enforce their recommendations upon any company, as far as I’ve been able to find out.”

    Let me preface this with the fact that I work at the Dramatists Guild (though I’m certainly not speaking on their behalf in this capacity). But I would be interested to hear why you believe the Guild has no actual power, considering it’s run by a council that reads like a who’s who of great dramatists. I wouldn’t want to get on their bad side. But perhaps that’s an email conversation…

    You’re right that the Dramatists Guild can’t force companies to follow their recommendations if a playwright doesn’t bother to use a contract. All of the offenses you’ve listed in your post above are outlined and addressed in a standard DG contract. If a theatre company or a director or ANYONE involved in the production infringes on those rights, then they’ve broken the contract and you (with the assistance of the DG) can proceed to court, pull the production, instigate mediation, what have you. It’s what the Guild was created for. But if a writer decides not to protect themselves and their work with a contract, then no, there’s not a lot you or they can do about it.

    It’s tough sometimes to walk into a situation where friends and/or acquaintances are going to produce your work and ask them — first thing — to sign a formal contract. Some people think it implies a lack of trust and gets things started on a bad foot. But people have to get over that if they don’t want to be taken advantage of as you have. And I would think that anyone who actually wants to create a professional environment, when faced with signing a contract with a playwright in order to work with them, would be more than happy to do so as a gesture of trust. And if they don’t, then run the other way.

    The power of an organization like the DG — or ANY guild or union — is completely contingent on its members standing together. If a playwright decides not to plant their feet after several bad experiences, that’s their prerogative. But it’s also a refusal to join those who DO stand up against these offenses, and forcing them to stand alone.

    Just my personal thoughts on the subject.

  23. Joshua James Says:


    I hear you, and for sure some bad experiences come along with the ride of being a writer (in any field) . . . again, for me it has to do with the percieved role of the playwright here, as opposed to the UK . . . I really think most people in theatre are good (believe it or not) but that the flaw falls in where the playwright comes to in the processs.


    Yeah, it might be better to do this via email before we get into too specific detail . . . For the record, I’d love for the Guild to have the power of the union, I would . . . I was a member for awhile, and it felt the opposite, though the guild people were certainly nice, and on the recent bad contract experience, a couple of the other writers on that project were current members and it helped them not at all . . . which lead me to believe my statement that the guild is lacking the abilities of a union . . .

    You’re right in all you say, however . . . though I don’t know of a single circumstance I’ve heard of where the guild has stepped in and done what you say with the people I know, either locally or regionally, or myself . . . but I’m not Yoda, I freely admit that I don’t know everything on this matter . . . I would surely be happy to be wrong in this instance, if the DG has more power than I thought and you and George were right on this matter.

    One thing I’d note, sig companies for the WGA have to use WGA contracts . . . that doesn’t seem to be the case with DG sigs (I didn’t even know DG had sigs) . . . once a writer works for a WGA sig company, they have to join, in a sense . . . it seems that DG sigs it’s sorta up to the playwright, and my experience is usually the contract comes pretty late in the game, and involves the agent, not the guild, when I’ve had contracts (I’ve had off-bdway contracts for shows, signed, etc, tho’ the shows ulitimately didn’t make it there) and rarely does the DG come up.

    Again, this is just my experience and what I’ve seen . . . it’s been a few years since I was a member, so things could have definitely changed (I believe in evolution) . . .

  24. Laura Says:

    What’s that playwrights-articles.info blog? Is that an aggregate?

  25. Joshua James Says:

    Hmm, I’m not sure what that is . . . I kept the link up only because it didn’t go to porn . . . heh.

    A little CLARIFICATION is in order here, folks, regarding this post.

    Number One: I am not angry.

    I can understand how, when someone reads this, a person may think I’m angry . . . but well and truly, I am not.

    I may have been angry during a couple of the above episodes, but not today, no way. I’m a happy guy.

    I’ve been very fortunate, as a playwright, I’ve worked hard for it, it’s true, but I’m also very lucky to have gotten what I’ve gotten . . . I know talented playwrights who can’t seem to catch a break and so I appreciate how lucky I have been. Since I started doing this, I have productions every year - I wouldn’t be the writer I am if not for theatre.

    If I had to name an emotion to this, it would be sadness. When I read what Laura has posted on the subject (and for the record, I don’t think she’s angry either) I got sad because I recognized so much truth in what she wrote about the experience. And sad because it’s THEATRE’S loss that she isn’t really pursuing the craft any longer.

    Mayhap there will be a playwright or two who rubs their hands and goes “fine, less competition for me!” It could be, but I am not one of them. I would like more good playwrights to work in this field and less bad ones. It makes us all a little less that she ain’t in our game any longer, I believe.


    While the majority of the experiences I’ve had in theatre have been negative ones, the majority of the THEATRE PEOPLE I’ve met along the way have all been wonderful people.

    It’s true . . . Theatre people are among some of the coolest you’d ever know, and the nicest . . . Like Laura, I don’t hate theatre and I don’t hate theatre people . . . Even some of the bad treatment I’ve gotten as a playwright has come at the hands of nice people . . . the young director who cut up my play the night before opening, a year later I had drinks with him when I was in his town and we had a fine conversation . . . he’s a nice guy, I think, who just wrongly believes that he can cut up any play however he pleases.

    I strongly disagree with his view, but I would never say he was a bad person.

    The people doing theatre are not all Snidely Whiplash’s, twirling their mustaches and cackling evilly (okay, there may be one or two of those people lurking around) they’re all nice folks who just seem to either be uncomfortable working with a playwight or not to understand the role of a playwright.

    That’s one reason for posting, as I mention earlier . . . these are good people and maybe they can recognize themselves within these storie and later on, correct it.

    I got into theatre because the people involved are cool, I like it . . . I like the theatre, I love doing it, and that adds to the sadness of me doing less of it because the experience’s are more negative than positive these days.

    I really and truly believe it has to do with the idea that playwrights are infants not understanding what a director does, what a cast does, what an audience can do, or even what their own play means . . . I’m not sure why we’ve been, in a sense, disenfranchised from our craft so often, but I can only say that I see it happening and I think it’s something worth talking about, I do.


    I’ve not listed all the experiences I’ve had that were good and great shows, I know . . . that’s something I should do at some point, I guess . . .

    The other thing I havent’ done is list all the times I have walked away, or have done what has been prescribed above. There are many times where I’ve pulled a show, walked away from a company, got into a legal snafu, I’ve done those things when treated badly - and when I’ve been treated badly by a bad person, I never work with them again.

    I’m on record for standing up for myself quite often, actually . . . and still I get a lot of these experiences and I see friends get those experiences . . .

    A lot of these bad experiences I’ve gotten in the above examples came at the hands of good people who, previously, treated me well . . .

    So to sum up, I agree with Laura that the process of selecting plays is corrupt quite often . . . and I also believe, myself, that the U.S. perception of the role of the playwright in the theatre process is flawed . . . I’m not quite sure what to do about either, but it’d help if we all recognize such . . .

  26. Tony Says:

    Hey Joshua, I’ve meant to respond to this, but was swamped this week (by the way Tony Jr. was a tiger this year for halloween too.)

    It seems I’ve had a vastly different experience than you. Maybe it is not being in NYC (though not being there I can only guess) I think simple math would say that a certain percentage of the population are douchebags, and the more people around, the more douchebags.

    I have been fortunate enough to have been in the drivers seat of my career for the most point, so I have a fairly different experience. I also work in many different areas, so I don’t have to rely on others to work. It is true that many companies are founded so the founders and members can work. Though it is not represented in most mission statements, many of which are simply blah blah bullshit I wanna work so give me money, that’s the reality. And if someone is doing the work to get the money to produce or paying for it themselves, who can blame them. No one is stopping playwrights from producing their own work either.

    I do chaff at the insinuating common among many playwrights that they create and they alone create theatre. Playwrights are not the end all be all of theatre. The truth is that theatre can happen without playwrights, without directors, without designers. Only actors and audience are absolutely needed. (And I do write, direct, design, and act so I see from many perspectives.)

    Almost every playwright will get pissed at this, but–in truth a play is just a theatrical blue print. Read, it can be literature, but for theatre it is a blueprint. And just like a building, fucking up the blueprint can cause the building to collapse or be awful. Hacking up a play can have the same results as hacking up a building, just before it collapses. But on the other hand, playwrights are unique in asserting they are the final word. A novelist or journalist or other writers benefit from a good editor (and don’t question the need for an editor), just as many playwrights benefit from a good director. And yes sometimes plays are not perfect as written.

    That being said, I personally go out of my way to help enable playwrights as much as I can. And sometimes that means being honest that the play as written is not very good. Or it’s good but it doesn’t speak to me, or it’s not right for this company. (Not every companies mission is BS.) I think often directors will be given a play to do, but they want to do a different play, so instead of passing, they want to work and they try to change the one their given into one they want to do. Which really says more about the incompetence of the director than anything.

    But really many playwrights bring bad experiences onto themselves, or at least enable them. When more writers are involved in the process of producing, as opposed to blindly sending out submissions, things will change. When more writers work with running companies, and with lit depts, things will change.

    It sucks, but until more writers put themselves in the drivers seat, unfortunately, I don’t see a whole lot changing. But then again there’s nothing stopping writers from producing. It’s tough, but actors and directors do it all the time, and it shows in how many companies are run.

  27. Joshua James Says:

    Hey Tony,

    for the record, I don’t maintain that playwrights and playwrights alone create theatre (I’m a Bogart guy, after all) but I do maintain that playwrights alone create the intent of their specific play . . .

    THREE SISTERS is recognizably THREE SISTERS regardless of who directs it, who is cast in it . . . it only becomes NOT THREE SISTERS when the script is altered in a way not intended by Checkov . . .

    Everyone benefits from good editors, everyone benefits from good actors and good directors, good SM and good ushers . . . not disputing that . . . that’s their job and it’s always good to have someone who does their job professionally.

    The playwright’s job, or role, comes in creating an authorial intent for a theatre audience.

    That’s my take.

    Now about this:

    “But really many playwrights bring bad experiences onto themselves, or at least enable them. ”

    I don’t know what you’re basing this on, but it certainly isn’t anything I brought on myself, nor have I enabled it. You state that anything bad that happens to you is also your fault as well, right?

    I can understand philosophically, but I think reality is slightly different . . . So I respectfully disagree.

    “When more writers are involved in the process of producing, as opposed to blindly sending out submissions, things will change.”

    I agree absolutely.

    ” When more writers work with running companies, and with lit depts, things will change.”

    Again, I agree, but we are again faced with the perception, the flawed perception, that playwrights are capable of doing such . . . obviously they are (13p, for example) but my main argument has been that too many folks, nice people all, believe playwrights not capable of understanding “theatre” or the process of making such.

  28. Tony Says:

    “You state that anything bad that happens to you is also your fault as well, right?”

    No, and I did not intend to imply that either. But when we leave ourselves completely at the mercy of others, we exponentially increase the chances of being taken advantage of or mistreated. Unfortunately, for most in the arts, that is the norm. But there seems to be a continual cycle. No one wants to call out companies that do this for fear of reprisals, which is understandable. But that also allows companies that choose to screw people over to continue doing so. I don’t know if there is an easy answer for that.

  29. Joshua James Says:

    I agree, but part of that cycle is telling people that, if they’re mistreated by others, it’s THEIR fault . . . which is, respectfully, what your statement - “But really many playwrights bring bad experiences onto themselves, or at least enable them.” means . . . not to pick a fight with you over it, but it’s the centerpiece of why this subject is so difficult to discuss . . . there seems to be little sympathy for playwrights who’ve been screwed . . . and it’s a bit mystifying to me . . . don’t we at least deserve empathy equal to actors, directors, designers and producers?

    For some reason, what I observe anyway, we don’t get that - partly because a lot of theatre can be done without live playwrights, via dead texts . . . so we’re seen as removed from the creative process our peers engage in - and when we try to be an active part of that process, we’re often denied imput and participation . . . not everyone does this, as I’m careful to note in my post, but the majority do . . .

    I’ve actually heard more than one director say they prefer dead texts because then they can do what they want to with it without anyone complaining about what’s being done with the words.

    And yes, directors are free to work with whatever material turns them on, but I dare to say that this attitude is prevalent throughout the industry, that playwrights are often unwelcome at the table of theatre collaboration and because of THIS reason, so many of us have bad experiences . . . it’s not because of US, not solely . . .

    There’s not an easy answer to it, I would agree with you on that - but the simple one would be communicating the value of of the playwright’s role in the dramatic process, I think.

    We are as important as any other, is my take, and the theatre is less without us actively involved.

  30. hpmelon Says:

    For you…


  31. Joshua James Says:

    Nice article . . . but it says more to me that not everyone is equipped to direct - Shepard and Carol Churchill both direct their plays, and do so quite well.

    And even though Jane may not be present for most of her rehearsals (actually, when I’m not directing, it’s what I prefer as well) when she’s not in charge, she’s clearly involved in the process, right?

  32. Scott Walters Says:

    I teach directing, and I am very, very strong about one thing: the director is there to serve the script. If a director said to me, as a playwright, that the ending “doesn’t work for me,” I would respond: the play doesn’t work for you, you work for the play. Period. If I decide to do a play, I decide to do all of it, not just the parts I “like.” If an actor says “My character wouldn’t say/do that,” I would say, “Then you’ve created the wrong character — go back and change it to what the playwright wrote.” If a director wants to write, they should do it themselves, and not on other playwright’s work. Same with actors. You’re damn right the playwright is forcing his rhythms on the actors — that’s what good playwrights do, and that’s what good actors should want. Directors are interpreters, not creative artists. If they want to create, there is a long tradition of devised theatre. But if they want to do a play that’s been written, then they should do that play. My play analysis book, cleverly entitled “Introduction to Play Analysis,” takes a rigid stance on this issue. All of which is to say: I ought to be directing your plays, Joshua — now wouldn’t that be something! *L* But seriously, universities have got to get over teaching directors that the theatre is about them, and that everything else is simply resources. Nonsense. The flowchart has the playwright at the top, and everyone works for them.

  33. Joshua James Says:

    Thanks Scott, I appreciate your comments.

    That’s a nice line, “the play isn’t supposed to work for you, you work for the play” I may have to borrow that, heh.

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