From the Editor’s Perch

A DIRECTOR’s INGREDIENTS

Playwrights often talk about story as if it were an end in itself.  But indeed, a good story usually serves to show us what we are made of.  That’s why I think it works, when casting about to find a story, to look at the ingredients one has… just like going to your kitchen and seeing what ingredients are available for something to cook.  Can anything be made of that?   Oftentimes a play, which a playwright is up to his elbows in, may be lacking something as basic as flour.  Good luck baking a cake without that!  But add flour, and you immediately begin to see a story unfold about how your cake came to be.

Often though, the ingredients are already there for a good story – just not nearly enough of them.  For example, I recently directly a play which no one I spoke with (excepting the playwright, I would suppose) had much hope for.  But in working over the play with the actors, it became apparent that what was missing was hierarchy.  We added a big dollop of hierarchy and the thing was a big hit. 

How does one add hierarchy?   And did I have to force the playwright into a re-write to accomplish this?  The answer is “No” and “No”.   The hierarchy was already there, in the form of a big, bipolar security guard.  We simply added hierarchy by having him do more.  He patted a fellow down.  He intimidated with his flashlight.  He shocked with a fake severed head.  He brought the play to life!  Most people in an audience are like that husky in his dogsled traces – they need see that asshole ahead of them.  Did we need a re-write to accomplish this?  No!  People love to see actors on stage say one thing and do another.  It couldn’t be more like real life.

And people talk about story as if there were more than one (for each life).  I think it would make more sense to talk about ingredients.  Our lives are like pies, cakes, stews, steaks, salads… etc.  Our lives are made of the ingredients that have gone into us.  You can talk all you want about changing your life, making changes, re-inventing yourself… but whenever people gather – no matter how you try – if you’re a pie, then you’re going to be served when the pie is served.  If you’re a steak, you’ll find yourself in a different crowd and served at a different time.

Photo by Carl Nelson

Model:  Mr. Schn00dle

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