Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Where do new plays come from?

This is provoked by the recent Comment in the Winter 08 edition of TDR by Rick DesRochers (TDR: The Drama Review 52:4 T200, p7-11). Although framed by an American context of non-profit regional theatres, DesRochers asks some questions which may well be pertinent to us and source for discussion on Dec 7th or online. I paraphrase and enlarge: Where does interesting new (text-based) performance work come from? How does it get nurtured? If by theatres rather than new play development organisations, is it worth the time and energy if there is no guarantee of a production? (Worth the time and energy to whom?) Might a workshop/play reading be more about ‘audition’ than the creative process, in order to please producers and so hopefully ensure a later production? How do new plays move from development to the stage?

I particularly like that first question: where do new plays come from?

DesRochers contextualises his sense of ‘the new’ with the following provocation:

“A new work of art that offends no one, neither surprises, frightens, mystifies nor startles, is not a new work at all, but a clone of the past.” Craig Lucas (2008)

Any thoughts?

Kaite O'Reilly

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Here are some very immediate responses to these questions about new plays.

Firstly, my guess is that exciting new work emerges out of a vibrant culture, therefore the tendency to emphasise the promising playwright or play misses something vital in leaving out the bigger picture. Obviously addressing the bigger picture is pretty difficult, but trying to think in terms of networks, dialogues, collaborations, exchanges, provocations etc, rather than readings and commissions of specific plays might be a useful habit (this is one reason why the demise of Writernet is so depressing).

Secondly, should we think again about these terms 'text-based' and 'non-text-based'? Not because there aren't differences between practices, but because we so easily become stuck in a theatre of two camps, which really have a great deal to say to each other and where there's a great deal of blurring between one and the other. This might make things a bit more lively, for one thing. I am not suggesting that Kaite splits theatre like this as I absolutely know she's aware of many kinds of theatre, but I doubt the labels. I've just been reading, with much pleasure, a 1982 article by Bernard Dort, 'The Liberated Performance', in which he writes: 'the question of text and performance which I raised at the beginning seems to have taken on a different emphasis. It is no longer necessary to decide which of these two elements will triumph over the other. In fact their relationship does not even need to be seen in terms of union or subordination...It is instead a contest which is being held before and for the benefit of us, the spectators...Today, with the emancipation of its various elements, [performance] is opening up to an activation of the audience, bringing to light what is undoubtedly the driving force behind the theatre - not the fact of illustrating a written text or organizing a production, but an appreciation of meaning in action. Play [le jeu] is regaining its full force.'

I suppose by quoting this you can partly place where I am coming from, but it does seem to me remarkably apposite to contemporary theatre, given its date and offers one way of thinking about theatre that moves away from 'text-based' against 'non-text-based'.

Thirdly, and lastly, I remember thinking, even when a jobbing playwright and even when living on very little money indeed, that it is always possible to get something moving. It doesn't all have to be done by organisations. Look at the work Julia Barclay is doing with her company, Apocryphal Theatre, for example. This is someone who just gets on with it and creates a scene around her. It's not easy, but it's possible. I went down unexpected routes and these days what I write is rarely possibly to identify as a play, but I do a lot of writing in proximity of performance (as Matthew Goulish might put it)and find ways of making things happen in a small degree.

I don't want to sound utopian and I don't have all or even any of the answers, but it seems to me that it is essential that we address these questions as imaginatively as possible, taking as wide a view as possible and don't fall into the trap (which I'm sure you all wouldn't) of characterising ourselves or the playwright as defenders of some last beleaguered bastion which the postmodernists are trying to destroy. They aren't. There's too much fun to be had making stuff with words and performance. If I have an answer to where new plays come from, its this, which I think might have been Brecht's answer too - from fun. From play.Fun which does not exclude the fun of thrashing things out, whether in a blog or in performance. (Did you mention a party?!)