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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How to Handle a Playwright (Director's Edition)

After reading Isaac posting about Horton Foote and how to handle the text; it behooves me to bemuse you by ruminating on the nature of the handling of wordplay. Or words in plays. Or a play on words. Horton Foote need not be heeded. The man wrote the screenplay for To Kill A Mockingbird. It was nothing like the book.

Here are excerpts from my upcoming tome...


You've poured over hundreds off scripts. You've read each sentence with a care that you do not give to your own lover's body. You understand the interlocking structure of each narrative. You have fed on the imagination of other artists. You are a director, and after years of intensive and careful search, you have finally found a new, wonderful, but inevitably flawed script. The writer of this script is alive, which causes you consternation. How to speak to this misanthropic bull? How to draw out the best impulses of a charlatan who stumbled upon an acceptable narrative purely by chance?

A few simple rules.


When a playwright is sitting across from you, cross-eyed and drooling, grateful to be even spoken to by a competent professional who actually uses three-ring binders, it is important to frame the discussion in advantageous terms. Do not refer to the play. Refer to the "text." The playwright should not be given the false assumption that they have created anything more than the words. Words are nothing. They are just the bones on which to hang the glorious meat of blocking and sound effects. Worse, they have given the actors reason to speak. For this, if nothing else, they should be struck with copies of The Empty Space.

Someday, at last, we will be able to call them "textwrights."


The playwright should be often reminded, sometimes with subliminal suggestions placed in iPods, that the theater is 'collaborative.' By spending hours alone in front of a computer, or with a legal pad, or at a bar with a fucking quill, they have missed the point entirely. A play is not a "text" but a serious of often circular conversations from a variety of points of view. The text must be passed through several hands, given careful consideration, a fresh look, an outside perspective. The playwright hands over this warm, fresh "text." It is best served cold, like vichyssoise.

This does not apply when you, as the director, stand in front of the room and speak on the meaning of the play; and the design; and the precious, beautiful, handcrafted, organic blocking. That is law, you whores! Law. You actually went to school for this! After you're done filling their heads with wisdom, the animals can collaborate in the confines of their cages!


Really, you could have chosen any play. They should be washing your car just for giving them notes. If you wanted five playwrights to form a couch with their bodies so you could watch a DVD, goddamn it, they'd better get to it. Otherwise, how are they ever going to know how to fix the second act?


At times, a well-meaning textwriter may show up, hair mussed, clothes on backwards, and want to speak to you about the 'merits' of what they have bothered to cook up from leftovers. To make this simper heartworm leave your sight, compliment some small part of what he or she has written. Do not speak well of the script in general, because it will make this lucky jerk feel entitled. Acceptable phrases include:

"I like this speech. It really tells us what the character wants."
"This whole section really works."
"At least it ends on a high note."
"One thing I like about your writing is that you know where to put an Act Break."
"I noticed how they repeat themselves. Good work."


Do not ask the playwright what the line means. He or she will babble forth some self-justifying nonsense you already don't agree with.

Do not ask a rhetorical question. You will receive a blank stare.

Do not firmly say that the line must be changed for the integrity of the piece. Integrity is a word like "unquestionably;" it means its exact opposite immediately.

Do not ask the playwright to think up something new if they'd like or to maybe reconsider the line. Playwrights are lazy and some don't even have both legs. They will forget and then where will you be? Nowhere, that's where.

Do not challenge the playwright's understanding of his or her own work. That is like challenging an orange to juice itself.

Do...change it yourself. Simple. The playwright not notice unless you call attention to it. Playwrights are all high, drunk or blind.


I am grateful that listened to me. God knows I don't deserve it.


TD said...


I especially love "textwright," but maybe that's because I just finished reading 1984.

Kyle said...

You're fired. Collect your things and leave the building at once.

Freeman said...



devilvet said...

Huzzah! However, I would like to talk to you about changes to the text of this post that would help it to become the blog post it wants/ought to be rather than the blog post that it actually is.

RVCBard said...

Oh, man.

Auteur directors would really hate me. I tend to eschew dialogue in my plays.

Then again, they might love the fact that they can do the dialogue themselves and completely change the rest, since stage directions don't matter anyway.

*rolls eyes*

jengordonthomas said...

too funny. thanks for that!