I’ve just finished writing a play. Bells and whistles notwithstanding, the overwhelming feeling is one of apprehension. And that’s because the completion of a playscript is more of an abandonment than anything else.
As a playwright, your existence is as one part of a symbiotic theatre-making organism. You are like a donor, and the director is like the adoptive mother to your donated sperm and egg. All the DNA is yours, but they raise it and send it off into the world. The third party to this interdependent creative amalgam is the producer, who is the live-in benefactor. A rich and resourceful aunt whose home making and bread winning enable the child to thrive.
Excuse my indulgent metaphor, but the reality is that you — the playwright — are forever the birth parent. An integral but absent part of the play’s future life. The reality of playwriting is that your work is inherently unfinished and that you must accept that your sense of control over your work will be challenged. Your work will be changed. Unlike other printed texts, your work will not be published and disseminated in the exact format you created it. Your work is essentially a blueprint for making theatre. You must resign yourself to the fact that whatever performance work is made by following your blueprint, it will never be the blueprint itself, nor will it be the performance work that inhabits your imagination.
A director will read your script and create an entire world around your writing — finding real life faces and voices to embody your characters and making a physical place for them to live in, heavy with visual metaphor. The producer will find real life resources to build the set and costumes, and find a target audience, then boil your entire intention down into a single snazzy tagline. The actors will ingest your text and regurgitate some version of it that lives and breathes. The words are the same but the focus, the nuances of meaning, the character quirks are all only ever ‘inspired by’ your work.
You must trust that your work is clear enough in theme, character and plot that the director portrays on stage the meaning you wished to deliver to the audience. But you must also trust that the text will reveal things through the director and the actors that you never intended nor even noticed about your own writing. That’s the best part about playwriting — that your work — your words — take on a life of their own that no one, least of all you, could have predicted.
That’s why good playscripts are not too heavy-handed with stage directions and allow the director and actors to interpret what actions, facial expressions or inflection the dialogue might be delivered with. Anything that you are not willing to have compromised, you include as a clear directive. Everything else must be up for interpretation.
You could refine a script forever but at some point you must abandon the writing process and allow the text to be enlivened. This time, it’s been a one-and-half-year journey from inspiration to abandonment. It’s time for the little idea on my page to get up and live.
Megan Riedl is a Ballarat-based arts management professional and independent theatre producer, with a creative practice in poetry, playwriting and directing for the stage. Her newest play, The Belly Dancer is a collaboration with Jacob Honeychurch. Tripwire Theatre Inc will be producing the play in March, in Bendigo.