The playscript is the director’s primary tool. If you don’t know what it is in all of its parts, you will be lost. Treating it with respect is knowing your job at its most fundamental.
Do you know how to read a play? Most people don’t, but go at it by reading the words, as in any other kind of reading, and being caught up in the “story.” A director, however, reads a play in a quite different way, paying attention to all the starts and stops, the gaps, the silences, and the bare minimum of description. Furthermore, the director is aware that it is all dramatic action. As a director, all of this sparks your imagination, and what is eventually done by the acting and the design begins to emerge in the mind. The makers of these special stories were called playwrights with the understanding that a play is made, just as other craftsmen make ships (shipwright) or wheels (wheelwright). The product of the playwright or dramatist, to be sure, is not nearly so concrete, for he or she is a conscious dreammaker, as Shakespeare says, who can, with the appropriate use of basic tools, stir up minds and create imaginative flights in others—the audience.
Many people in the theatre shy away from the phrase play-analysis because they think it has a dry, academic ring that implies cold, factual, scientific examination of a playscript, a process that will kill their imaginative (subjective) responses to it. They assume that good theatre can be made only if one feels strongly enough about a playscript; good sense and some general background in theatre will carry one the rest of the way. This article does not agree at all with that point of view. Certainly, there are aspects of many plays that cannot be described easily in words, but this difficulty does not suggest that a play exists in a way that defies logical, thoughtful examination. Having the right attitude about play-analysis at the beginning is very important.
The word perception has specific meanings here because it can imply both strong feelings (the subjective flight and freedom in a director) and a basic objective awareness of how a play is made. It implies much more than a felt reaction on a first reading: “I like that play. It moves me strongly.” Perception implies that a penetrating search into a play—play-analysis—is absolutely necessary if one is to understand how a play works.
What a director finds in play-analysis will depend on how thoroughly he can take a play apart in his own mind and then put it back together again, completely comprehended. Perception is the director’s total view of a playscript after “feeling” it and then examining its structure in detail. If the director’s feelings are strong on the first reading, and he knows the job of play-analysis, he cannot help but have much greater respect and admiration for a play after analysis than before.
Play-analysis, then, is the director’s objective support for his feelings about a playscript and his imaginative responses to it. As a technique, it is tied to the idea that directing is not a totally intuitive process but is also an art-creating process in which the director, in evolving a production, brings the structural elements of a playscript to the conscious surface where they inform the choices and decision making that occur. In other words, the director becomes consciously aware of the materials in the interest of finding their strengths and weaknesses, their peaks and valleys, and their rhythms, all of which will serve as a basis for theatricalizing the playscript in the best possible way. Adequate play-analysis is no guarantee of success, but it does ensure that the director understands, as much as is humanly possible at the outset of a process, this basis for his or her own feelings and all that is yet to come.
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© F.Hodge and M.McLain