I had a professor in grad school who compared playwriting to the creation of Michelangelo's masterpiece, David. Just as Michelangelo revealed the art within that block of marble, so must a writer carve his or her play from a block of time. It always struck me as a lovely image - the idea that under all the sweat and work and worry, the art was just waiting to be uncovered.
It is a rare treat as a director to get to work with a writer on a new play, especially a writer as gifted as Emily Kaye Lazzaro. To extend the David metaphor, there is no thrill quite like being invited into the studio as the hunk of marble takes form. Theatre is a field of many artists but the playwright is the only real generative creative artist - the rest of us only interpret the writer's words in our respective mediums: acting, design, or production.
In directing any play, I see my function as crafting the experience for the audience, highlighting a singular cohesive performance, incorporating the work of all the artists involved, rooted in the text of the material. In any great play, there are a thousand possible stories to tell, and its my job to tease one out, based on the actors, the venue, current events, what feels the most immediate, the most relevant, the most powerful, the most achievable (that last one's a doozy).
But when you are working on a new play, particularly the first production, I find it necessary to strike a balance between telling the story the playwright is most interested in, the story she or he sets out to write, and illuminating some of the other possibilities lurking within the text. In one famous collaboration (gone awry) one of my favorite writers, Anton Chekhov, believed his plays to be hilarious comedies while their first director, Konstantin Stanislavski, believed them to be great tragedies, which incidentally, is how they are largely remembered today.
Both stories reside in Chekhov's text, and each interpretation says as much about the men in question as it does the plays themselves. While a hundred years on, you may be just as likely to see these plays told as tragedies as on the moon, I can't help but wonder what would have happened had Stan lightened up a little. Would Tony be remembered as a great comedian, or is it because of the gravitas the great director saw that we remember him at all?
In theatre, we have the asset of many brains and bodies to make the show go on. It's exactly this collaboration of spirit that draws many a writer to a play, rather than a novel or poem, for example. Writing in itself can be a solitary gig, but theatre, for me anyway, is about mucking about in the room with a group of talented artists and seeing what story rises to the surface.
In this case, Emily and I both hope you agree, it's definitely a comedy.
A. Nora Long is the associate artistic director at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, and an artistic director of New Exhibition Room, a Boston-area fringe company that specializes in developing ensemble-based new work. In addition to her administrative role in the company, she has directed and led the creation of several projects with NXR including Shh!, an exploration on the role of censorship which attended the New York International Fringe Festival after a sold-out run in Boston; The Paper Bag Princess, an all-ages show, Midnight at the Last Night Cabaret andEEP! Show.