Snapshots from Green Victoria (tedwords) wrote,
Snapshots from Green Victoria

A court of law and a theater, I suppose, probably have very little in common, besides the high drama that usually takes place during a particularly lurid trial, or the hand waving and posturing that a good defense attorney will put on as easily as his three piece suit.

There's another area, too. Both possess two schools of thought when it comes to interpretation.

Where's the evidence? Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia considers himself an "originalist" when it comes to deliberating a legal matter: that is, it is his opinion that judges have a duty and obligation to adhere to the precise wording of the Constitution. He aggressively rejects the opposite viewpoint, which has been called the "living constitution" approach. The "living" reference is, of course, a poetic conceit, and refers to applying an evolving standard to the Constitution that in theory reflects the needs and mores of the time. Or, as Scalia puts it, sarcastically, "the Constitution means exactly what I think it ought to mean." (And before I get any comments, no, of course, I'm not a Constitutional scholar by any stretch of the imagination, so my interpretation may be way off.)

In a similar fashion, there are two schools of thought that one can take when it comes to approaching the direction of a play. The first approach was recently illustrated in a profile of Edward Albee that I read in The New Yorker . According to Albee, directors and actors do not have a right to creative expression when it comes to bringing a play to life. Instead, they are subservient, willing handmaidens, whose sole purpose is to realize the vision of the playwright. No variance is to be allowed, other than the parameters that are set down within the pages of the script.

My musical director for Oklahoma is a wholehearted fan of this approach. His goal is to conduct every show as the composer intended it to be performed. Even, sadly enough, if that composer is Frank Wildhorn, who clearly had a different approach to say, Jekyll and Hyde , depending upon the day of the week. Tony will often make a powerful argument to defend his approach, and I suppose that there's some justification for it, when one is recreating the work of an important composer, or, say, a respected playwright such as Albee.

Of course, I don't personally buy that argument, not one whit. I believe in a living theater, myself. Plays cannot exist within a Tupperware container, trapped inside a certain place and time, or mind, of the creator. As with children of Eden, they take on lives of their own. To remain believable, to engage the interest, to appeal to the audience, they must serve as a reflection of the personal dynamics occurring within the particular time and place where they are being performed. The vision of the playwright should, by necessity, serve to establish the framework for the play, but beyond that, the collective vision of the director, of the actors, of the creative personnel, must and will have a bearing on ultimate form that the show takes.

And another thing. When I'm directing, I believe that the living theater doesn't freeze on opening night, either. That's only the starting point for the journey, the launching pad, if you will. A good show will continue to evolve and grow, so that, four weeks into a run, it's almost a completely different experience. The blanks will continue to be filled in, the branches will continue to grow shoots and breathe.

This sometimes can take my actors aback. When I was producing Anne Frank many years ago, I conceived of the notion, halfway through the run, that the scene where the family is discovered in the attic was getting too static. We were producing the show in the loft of a barn, and I instructed my house staff to start knocking things down, to make noise, to bang things, at that point in the play. The audience jumped. And so did the actors, because I had neglected to prepare them for what I had planned. Deliberately so. Their reaction was more genuine that way.
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