Design for the Stage: First Steps

By Darwin Reid Payne | Go to book overview

§3 The Designer and the Playwright

When the English playwright David Storey was being interviewed by a reporter of the New York Times concerning his new play Home, his answer to a familiar question that many playwrights are asked was this:

REPORTER (to Storey): What do you say to people who ask what your play is really all about?

STOREY: No idea.

While this may seem a flippant reply to such a question, even a paradoxical one, more than one playwright has answered just such questions in much this way. Do they really not know what they are doing or what they have done, or is there something else, a deeper more profound meaning that touches on the nature of playwriting itself behind the words of this reply? What does such an answer mean, moreover, to the designer attempting to understand the purpose and scheme underlying the playwright's creation? Should he, for instance, always take the playwright's written directions at face value or should he be free to interpret them?

Friederich Dürrenmatt, in discussing his function as a playwright, has written down some of his thoughts concerning what he means to do and what he actually, in the end, does accomplish when he writes a play. Here is a brief extract from an essay called "Problems of the Theatre" (translated by Gerhard Nellhaus) in which he comments on his work and what that work "means":

For me, the stage is not a battlefield for theories, philosophies and manifestoes, but rather an instrument whose possibilities I seek to know by playing with it. Of course, in my plays there are people and they hold to some belief or philosophy--a lot of blockheads would make for a dull piece--but my plays are not for what people have to say: what is said is there because my plays deal with people, and thinking and believing and philosophizing are all, to some extent at least, a part of human nature. The problems I face as a playwright are practical, working problems, problems I face not before, but during the writing. To be quite accurate about it, these problems usually come up after the writing is done, arising out of a certain curiosity to know how I did it.

-24-

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