Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chicken or the Egg

The Dramatists Guild of America made the following statement in response to this year's Tony Awards:

On Sunday night of June 15, the annual celebration and commendation of this year’s Broadway theatre season was celebrated at the Tony Awards hosted by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League. While we gratefully acknowledge the program time spent on how playwrights construct their dramatic ideas (and the mention of all four playwrights’ names), we are concerned (and have expressed our concern) that the awards for Best Book in a Musical and Best Revival of a Play were relegated to pre-televised programming. Council President John Weidman maintains, “The theatre is an art form which is driven by writers. Nothing exists before the script. So when theatre awards are given out, it’s appropriate that the writing awards should take first position. Even acknowledging the enormous time pressures on the producers of the Tony Award broadcast, Best Book of a Musical and Best Revival of a Play belong live, on the air.”

Now, I want to say first of all that I agree with their frustration. No one likes playing second fiddle when they are such an integral part of anything - especially an art form. But I would like to open discussion on their published claim that theatre is an art driven by writers. Below is a quote from the Hungarian director Arpad Schilling and his essay in the current issue of Theatre:

Theater can exist without walls, the stage, plot; without light, sound, and video effects; without costumes, sets, props; without a piece, but it cannot exist without player and observer, artist and audience. Theater does not require dialogue; the only criterion is interaction between the player and observer. Two people are therefore enough for us to talk about theater.

Thinking back to our posting about Aristotle's Elements of Theatre, how do we deal with the positions of the two camps in defining theatre. Does it require an author? Does it require a setting? How narrow or broad should we set our definition?

1 comment:

  1. I feel that theatre does require an author. Even in the cases mentioned where stories are director or actor driven, someone must decide what story is being told. It may not be through dialogue, but someone must hold the reins of the storyteller. Also, if you look at Aristotle's Six Elements- Theme, Action, Character, Language, Music and Spectacle. Four out of six of these elements rest in the hands of the playwright.

    Also, as a member of the Dramatists Guild I have to note the following. The theatre is the only commercial realm where a writer can control his or her own words. Screenwriters and TV writers may write a screenplay or teleplay, but their words are subject to change at the whim of the studio, the director, actor, etc. Only in theatre is the playwright guaranteed some protection of their craft.