In the way that many of my thoughts are half formed, such is this post.
“We lose sight of greatness partly because so much of our theater is based on fashionable showiness, as well as star names. Even an acknowledged masterpiece, in this way of thinking, needs to be pepped up with some kind of glitzy or fashionably ‘deconstructed’ staging.”-Michael Feingold Our Shrinking Repertoire
Plays have intent. After working on a handful of new plays as well as watching countless pieces written by my peers get work-shopped and fleshed out I can definitively say that plays have intent and to undermine or reevaluate that is in direct disservice to the playwright and the work they have put in. But we do it all the time. We set Shakespeare in space and Beckett in the 80s. Especially as designers we are always looking to put a new spin on old works. What’s a unique way to do Tartuffe? How can we set it in a mental hospital? We lose the core of the work. We lose the intent for the sake of being new and different. If that is what we want so badly, DO A NEW PLAY (whoa now.)
Why is it that the older a play, the longer the playwright has been dead and gone the more license we feel we can take with that script? I feel this goes beyond legality reasons. Are we simply more precious about contemporary works? Is there something safer about works that everyone is already familiar with? It’s a dynamic unique to theater. You don’t see screenplays getting revivals. Books are not adapted into newer books. But theater morphs and evolves in a way that fascinates me. Where do you draw the line? Where do you take your license?
This is not to say that life cannot be breathed into a classic but they should be enacted based on time and place and relevance. For example, the Godot that was staged in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. That is a hugely relevant and powerful revival that highlights the intent of the text in a way that is useful, not forced Plays are stories, they are tools, can we please stop trying to turn a wrench into a hammer and instead use that wrench on a newer project?