By: Erik Harrison, sometime pompous windbag and Director of Speak.
Who makes a play?
The most obvious and most obviously wrong answer is that actors make a play. The best actors can elevate an unwatchable mess into something worth an audience’s time, and the worst can (and do!) turn Shakespeare into a pompous, interminable slog. But they don’t make the play – they don’t decide what they say, what they wear, where they stand, or even who they are – if they did, they wouldn’t spend so much time auditioning.
So not the actors then – the playwright? The person who wrote all the words down? A strong choice. Playwrights just feel like artists in the classic sense. Sitting in a dark room, forging people and places and plots out of raw nothing. Yes, this must be who makes a play.
Only that’s bullshit. If the script were the play then we wouldn’t perform them, we’d just print them and read them and be done with it. And if that’s what a writer wanted, they could write novels.
I’m directing one of the four pieces you’ll see in Fourplay (title self explanatory). It would be really tempting to say that the director makes a play out of the raw materials of actors and words, transmuting them to a final product you can see and enjoy. The director is the visionary – they have to be. Without a director setting the course, a play will try to go in every direction at once, and thus go nowhere. That vision must support the script, it must be implemented by the actors, and it must combine the art of dozens of people into one unified thing, but that vision must come from the director.
Only that’s horse shit too, because in the trenches, your “vision” is “How do I get you to the other side of the stage before the pie gets thrown, otherwise someone in the audience is going to wipe custard off their face fuck fuck fuck we open in a week!” That’s not art, it’s ballistics, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done voluntarily and it could never be done if I set myself up as some kind of Master Artist.
We want a Creator. When we sit in a darkened room and are moved, we want one person to raise up and praise but the plain fact is that there isn’t one. The theater, at its best, is way too cool to have been made by a human being. It is instead created by a constantly collaborating and sometimes warring gestalt of minds operating in a trance state created by the shamanic rites of caffeine and sleep deprivation.
When it’s over a fugue state will descend and the writers and directors, the actors and designers, the producers and technicians will all forget how much that sucked. A fog will roll over our minds and leave only the moment when an all the moving parts worked together in a furious dance that climaxed in applause from an audience.
Because that’s who really makes a play – the audience. Actors, writers, and directors cannot make a play. They can only rehearse one. It isn’t until someone watches it and laughs or cries or groans or sneers or screams for joy at the top of their lungs that a play happens.
The shows are written. The actors are ready. The directors are at wits end.
We’re just waiting on you.
Tickets to Fourplay can by bought here and it would be much appreciated because solvency is the quintessential dream of tax time.