- Scriptwork: A Direstor’s Approach to New Play Development
Issues of ownership are ever pertinent in theatre. The question, “Who’s the author? touches on points of culture, gender, and economics and has no easy answer. The relationship between playwrights and their works’ first directors is the subject of David Kahn and Donna Breed’s Scriptwork: A Director’s Approach to New Play Development.
The book’s logic is deliberately simple. Its intention is to codify “a set of principles and methods” used in play development (xv). Kahn and Breed title each chapter with a phrase that denotes a step along the play-development pathway: choosing projects, development approach, developmental dramaturgy, unrehearsed readings, and rehearsed workshops. (They also refer to the director as “developmental director,” a term that sounds confusingly like “development director”—a theatre’s fundraising maven.) They use an outline form, bullet points, and tables to structure their presentation, claiming that the linear structure of such a framework is suited to both naturalistic and non-naturalistic writing.
During the workshop process, many variables, such as the availability of rehearsal space, time, money, and seasoned actors, can destabilize the process of collaboration. The assumption is made in this book that the playwright’s fragile peace of mind is also at stake; Kahn and Breed constantly exhort the director to act as shepherd to the playwright. They describe the first meeting as possibly the most important moment in the playwright-director relationship: the two artists should listen and compare their interpretations of the piece, and the director should let the playwright decide what kind of play it will be. They warn the director about an insidious potential enemy: the directorial ego, sometimes called the director’s vision. In this scenario, the director’s primary responsibility is not to formulate a concept with intent to stage it, but instead to reveal the script. Their best advice to the director is to “recall what initially intrigued you about the play” (41).
Scriptwork appears to have been written for the novice director, as the authors cite and explain fundamental concepts using familiar textbook terminology such as “event-chain” and “spine of play.” In trying to dispel the mystery in the development process, they offer the book’s guidelines as something like “a guide to love-making—not step-by-step instructions, but a useful list of considerations and techniques” (30). Interestingly, “in order to achieve a balanced, bias-free style” (xv) in their gender references, they also make the decision to assign the directors a feminine identity and the playwrights a masculine identity; presumably they’re comfortable with the bias embodied in such a nurturer/nurturee designation. They warn of reaching “Uglyville,” a term coined by a San Francisco company to denote that stage of the development process also known as workshop hell, the moment where a play (and the playwright, director, actors, etc.) does not need and cannot take one more minute of revision or review (92). Kahn and Breed also warn, in intermittent sections throughout the book, that the director must be clear that the workshop process is that and no more; talk of a full production is part of another conversation. The tension that arises from a misunderstanding of this tenet can be awkward at best, painful at worst.
There are a number of factual errors and disconcerting gaps in presentation that undermine the book’s effectiveness. Kahn and Breed offer a list of recommended books as one appendix, but the list seems arbitrary, not to say scanty; in addition, at least one of the author names is misspelled. Another appendix presents a series of interviews with a variety of writers, directors, and dramaturgs, such as Anne Cattaneo (whose affiliation listing is very much outdated), Oskar Eustis, Morgan Jenness, Romulus Linney, and Marshall Mason. Kahn and Breed do not say if these entries are amalgamated answers to a variety of questions put to each respondent, or whether they are stream-of-consciousness riffs on the process...