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Should Playwrights Direct Their Own Plays?

November 6, 2009

trevor.jpegmark.jpegpeter.jpegThree Bay Area-based dramatists had the following to say in response to this question:

Trevor Allen: "I don't chose to direct my own work anymore. I have been very fortunate to have been able to work with some amazing directors who "get" my weird plays (Kent Nicholson, Rob Melrose etc.) However, I also don't think there should be an immediate negative reaction to a playwright directing their own work. As long as they know what they are doing--directing a play that they happen
to have written and not rewriting their play while trying to direct it at the same time. If they know the craft of directing, then more power to them!"

Mark Jackson: "As a playwright who quite often directs his own work, I of course think it's a good thing. But of course it's not for everyone. Some playwrights also have a knack for directing, and some do not. The garden variety con that usually gets mentioned is that a playwright would not have the proper objectivity to direct his or her own work. Again, I think this depends on the person and as a generalization does not fly as anything more than a seemingly logical theory. The garden variety pro is that, as the playwright, one has an invaluably intimate understanding of the play. Really, though, I think the question of whether or not playwrights should direct their own work depends on the individual, and so as a general question it is irrelevant. Should THIS playwrigt direct his or her own work? That is a question to ask, I think."

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb: "I haven't directed my own work since college, except for a few readings here and there. I think it's an admirable skill to be able to wear both hats at the same time and i think leads to the generation of work that can have a very strong point of view. For myself, especially when a play is new, I really enjoy just focusing on the writing, though I will give extensive notes and observations to a director. But I like not having to be the one responsible for managing those notes and tech and actor process. As "just the playwright" I can worry about my own part of the puzzle and then be able to take notes from my perspective . I also like how a director that's not me can expand my work and insert their own awesomeness. I like the wiggle room within a play's process, the particular combination of bodies in the room that ultimately shape how a final product will look. That being said, never say never. But I think if I do ever direct my work again in the future, I think I would pick a piece that I feel like I've really finished writing."

A bit about what each of these playwrights are up to right now:

Trevor's drama The Creature is playing at The Thick House under the auspices of Black Box Theatre Company.

Mark is currently in Germany co-directing a group-devised adaptation of Heinrich Heine's Deutschland, Ein Wintermärchen, commissioned by Schauspiel Frankfurt.

Marin Theatre Company is about to stage Peter's Boom. Peter is in Bloomington, Indiana right now visiting another production of the play at Cardinal Stage. In fact there are multiple productions of his plays going on right now around the country. Read Peter's blog to find out more.


  • Personally, I prefer to direct my own work. It gives me a chance to bring my original vision to the stage. Once I've done that, and am convinced that it works, then I'm happy to have someone else apply *their* vision to it. At least I know that I wrote something that works as I envisioned it.

    By Blogger Dan Wilson, At November 6, 2009 at 12:12 PM  

  • As an actor sometimes I wish the writer was around to slap some sense into the director so I can appreciate why people would do both. On the other hand, as I've told Dan, I avoid blind auditions for new playwright-directed work. My experience is that the writer is too enamored of their precious words to cut overwritten monologues or repetitive scenes and heaven forbid a mere actor should suggest any changes, bringing out the double-headed monster - the ego of the playwright and the megalomania of the director. However I'd work with Mark or Trevor on their own work in a heatbeat because of who they are and what they do (yeah, right, in my dreams) or Dan because we've worked together and he's a big pussycat. ;-> I think it's ultimately about talent for directing and willingness to collaborate. I don't know Peter but I'm seeing Hunter Gatherers and boom this month in Philly.

    By Blogger Tom, At November 6, 2009 at 8:16 PM  

  • Wee correction. The production I am directing in Germany based on Heinrich Heine's poem is not my adaptation, but a group-devised piece that Sommer Ulrickson and I are co-directing.

    By Anonymous Mark J, At November 11, 2009 at 12:51 PM  

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