Monday, November 28, 2011

Geeking out on Play Development -- 17th Century France

Some paraphrasing from a text by Samuel Chappuzeau, writing around 1673 about 'Reading and Casting a New Play.'

Some of his advice for an unknown playwright:
  • Find an actor who you think is smart to read it and let them decide whether to put it forward to a company. Since actors know best whether a play will work or not, "...better than all the authors and critics together."
  • If the actor says it's no good - give up.
  • If the actor says its good then name a time and a place to assemble and then, "the playwright, without introductory remarks (which the players do not like), reads their play with all the emphasis they are capable of giving."
  • During act breaks the actors listening will discuss where it's boring, too long, lacking zest, crude, too broad - whatever.
  • After the whole play has been read by the playwright, then the actors discuss if the plot has been developed well, and particularly if the denouement works. (Chappuzeau points out that this is the part where most playwrights falter - same in 1673 as it is today.)
  • Then if they decide to do it, they cast it. The play should be cast well - since, "A play well cast succeeds better, and it is in the common interest of the playwright and the company, and even of the spectator, that each player act the part which fits him best."
So, back in 17th century France, when the actors ran the theaters (and the court provided the patronage), this is how it would be decided if your play made it to the stage or not.

Pretty straightforward. All the development lies in the hands of the actors who will ultimately be the ones casting, rehearsing, performing and profiting (or not) from the play.

It's interesting to think about how financial and artistic interests are linked here - and how financial and artistic concerns are linked in new play development today.

How are the institutions and individuals who drive new play development directly impacted? Should they be? Or is the remove better for the playwright? Is it better for the play? Is it better for the American Theatre?

- Kristen Palmer

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