Detaching A Play Text From A Performance
September 1, 2010
A friend and I had a discussion this morning about how possible it is for an audience member to detach his or her experience of seeing a staging of a play from the play text itself. We disagreed.
My friend thinks that if a play is great, you can still enjoy a production of it, even if the production is very bad. He looks at the staging as an inconvenience and a distraction, but no matter how ham-fisted the mise-en-scene is, it ultimately doesn't stop him from enjoying the play -- as in the words on the page -- itself. "It's hard to fuck up Macbeth," is what he said.
I feel very differently about this. A bad production can completely wreck a play for me, no matter how great the source text might be.
I envy my friend's ability to divorce the text from the staging. I have never been able to do it. For me, plays are no good simply sitting on the page. I mean, they're OK. I like reading plays. But plays are meant to be put on stage. That's where they're supposed to come to life. A lifeless production cannot help but kill the dramatist's words.