WEIGHTLESS images and Development vs. Production

4 Nov

Mark Turek has just posted some beautiful images of the show on Flickr—

you can see them here.

IN the second week of the run, I’m reflecting on how vital productions are for playwrights. It’s very curious: you wouldn’t sell a car without road-testing it under real conditions. You wouldn’t give a builder a license without letting them actually put bricks together and work in the field. You wouldn’t consider a composer trained if they’d only worked from the written page. Cooks don’t just memorize recipes. Actors don’t learn their craft without an audience.

As Mark Twain put it, a man who picks a cat up by the tail learns something he can learn no other way. This is not a new thought, I’ll admit (and a sore spot in contemporary American theatre with many rumblings on “death by development” from playwrights). But seeing this play in space and time, with actors designers and director giving it their all (and doing a great job)– I now know how I want to revise it.

I’ve seen it maybe 8 times (including previews) and have a sense of it as a living organism. Certain things only become clear on stage. I’ve learned a lot about this play from readings, revision, dramaturgical comment, actors’ questions etc. But the energy that moves through a room when there is a play AND AN AUDIENCE tells a writer things that nothing else can. (Let’s be clear: an AUDIENCE is a group of people who go out to see a play because they want to be entertained. They are not one of those deathly target groups brought in by theatres to critique a reading in terms of its clarity, worthiness etc. A reading which might “work” on chairs but turns out to be overwritten for precisely the live event of performance it is denied.)

So, the gifts of production, and especially a really joyous collaborative process like I’ve had with Vanessa Gilbert (director) and Perishable…. I now know where the really fiery alive moments are, where the flat spots are, where the acceleration has to hit—and also what unexpected elements are really funny or tender or… It’s true that a lot of this can be figured out on the page and in readings, but until you road-test a play, you don’t know.

And one final bizarre thing. The theatres that take most of the risks to do these plays in their raw, energetic, still-forming shape are overwhelmingly those with the kind of budgets where the director paints the floor and washes the costume, there’s no lobby and if someone boils a kettle upstairs, the lighting rig blows a fuse. The big houses which need to raise millions of dollars to stay open are doing A Christmas Carol and development, development, development (read: consumer testing).


One Response to “WEIGHTLESS images and Development vs. Production”

  1. Rick Massimo November 5, 2007 at 10:22 pm #

    Hooray for the show!

    Perhaps more to the point, the theatres that do the safe stuff and keep new plays in the development corral until they go away get all the grant money, even though they pack the people in.

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