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Join us for an exciting day of conversation around new writing at the HighTide Festival on Wednesday 9th May 2012, 10.30am – 7pm
BIG IDEA SPEECH: David Edgar / The Rise and Rise of New Writing

When I was three and three quarters, my parents first took me to the theatre. The play was Beauty and the Beast by Nicholas Stuart Grey, and at the first entrance of the masked and fearsome creature, I screamed the place down. Eventually, my behaviour became so disruptive that I had to be removed from the auditorium, and as, conveniently, my aunt was administrator of the theatre, I was escorted backstage to meet the now maskless beast in his dressing room, to shake his hand, to watch him put his mask on again, to shake his hand a second time, and to be taken back into the auditorium. Thus reassured, on his next entrance, I screamed the place down.

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— 2 years ago

IdeasTap presents… Can’t we all just get along? Examining the writer/director relationship.

Continued from earlier post here.

‘What makes for a successful (challenging, robust, good) relationship between playwright and director and what makes for an unsuccessful one - why and when does it go wrong?”


“Good: when a writer wants a director to realise as fully and successfully as possible the world they have imagined, and uses each of their skill sets to achieve this.

Bad: when the writer clearly wants to just direct it themselves. Or when the writer, at the first read through, says ‘I thought you might say it like this…’”

UK: Anonymous

“Successful: The writer/director relationship is like running the three-legged race - thrilling, wobbly, hysterical, terrifying, exhausting, and hopefully with lots of people cheering you on from the stands. In seriousness, as much as the theatre is a social industry to work in, what’s important is not necessarily how much you get on with each other, but the respect you have for each other’s work. You have to push and stretch each other every day, but be sensitive and support each other as well.

Unsuccessful: The theatre is the most beautiful and terrible profession in the world - but as repayment for all the unemployment and uncertainty, we get to experience the sheer joy of the rehearsal room. “Sheer” is the key word - total transparency is a must. The work will suffer if everyone isn’t saying what they think. Don’t get precious - writers are allowed to question what you do in a rehearsal room as much as you can quibble with what they’ve put on the page.”

UK: Nadia Latif

“I know it sounds trite but mutual respect for each other’s disciplines. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had very positive experiences when working with writers, but being as collaborative as possible and remembering how each others disciplines are different is key. We are drawn to different elements within art, and by pulling all our ideas together and not being too precious in rehearsal, or too erratic, will yield the most collaborative and exciting work. I also like to have a coffee with the writer before casting or rehearsals to check that we are on the same page about

the piece. I normally open with what I think its about, ask them what compelled them to write it, and what they feel the piece is saying. If that isn’t clear to me the draft, I would suggest maybe some tweaks in the script. I also ask about what writers and directors they like.

I’m all for having a writer in the room, particularly when doing table work, but I also know that i need time with actors on my own, likewise the actors need to feel free to express themselves without the writer always being present. I take care to never undermine the writing, even when dealing with tricky (but normally fair) questions from actors.

Giving notes is the trickiest time for both sides, but presenting a united front for the actors is imperative. I like to give notes with all the actors and the writer present. After each run that the writer sees I would ask for their notes, and for any big notes i would rely them to the actor but make sure the writer is present to ensure they have an opportunity to elaborate if needs be.

Trust in each other’s talent is key. But trust is earned, I feel that when meeting the writer for the first time to discuss a script, I have to make them feel confident that I understand the piece, that I know what the writer is trying to achieve with it. Likewise by having welcomed a writer into a rehearsal room I believe they should trust you enough to have some solo time with the actors and not give notes without you around. “

UK: Kirsty Patrick Ward

“What I have to offer up may be painfully obvious, but I think it is important in most relationships that work.

I think it is important that you can be honest with each other and not be scared to explore ways of telling stories.  It is very important for a writer to respect the art of acting and directing and the fact that a journey may have to be gone on in order to give their words the richness they imagined when they wrote them.  Actors have to find characters and performances.  It is tempting but destructive to expect it all to happen first time of asking.

Another fundamental is respect for each other as artists. The writer writes and the director directs. This is not to say that one is not allowed to share their opinion with the other when it comes to their respective area of expertise.  It is important to know where the line is blurred and to be respectful, otherwise, things can get out of hand and we can stop being creative and end up defending things for the sake of it rather than working towards the main goal which should always be to create the best piece possible. There will also come a point where the director has to respect the writer’s words. Ultimately, they write it and the director has to find a way of communicating it with actors and other theatrical means.

A shared passion for the project. You may come at it from different viewpoints in terms of roles, but you should both be passionate about the story you have to tell. Otherwise it is going to be a long creative process (most likely a fruitless one!)”

UK: Bruce Guthrie

“Successful = the ability to listen and give one another the time and space needed to absorb ideas and notes - collaboratively nurturing the growth of the script.

Unsuccessful = wanting to control or change things. Being overly prescriptive about the outcome.”

UK: Pia Furtado

I’d say as a director it’s important to really listen to the writer, ask lots of questions about the play and why they wrote it. Thoughtful, honest, open communication throughout the process is the key to a successful working relationship.”

UK: Abigail Graham

“In my experience, the relationships that work are those where both people put the time into building an actual relationship, rather than just two people working on the same script - so talking lots about the play and how/why the playwright wrote it but also about food, films, music, other theatre - genuinely getting to know each other so you have a shared vocabulary …and a base of goodwill that will sustain you through the trickier bits of the process. Relationships that don’t work… I’ve been quite lucky but I guess just that someone might be very talented and a great playwright but just not the sort of person I will enjoy working with for 6 months - which means I won’t do my best work.”

UK: Rachel Briscoe

I’m fascinated with the question of how you remain objective when you get involved with the story and characters and are working closely with the writer, how can you retain an outside eye?”

UK: Gemma Fairlie via 280 character tweet

Most writers feel a particular attachment to the first draft of a play. It’s when the world of the play first emerges, its characters are born. For me, the relationship with a writer is about understanding the peculiar alchemy which has come together for that writer to write that first draft at that time. Dramaturgy, and all of the conversations between a writer and director which aim to have a dramaturgical effect, should be about releasing the essence of that play.

I know that writers often feel that the play has lost its soul after dramaturgy or re-drafting. To my mind, a writer’s quest is to find that version of a play where its soul (story, character, meaning) is fully realised in its technique (structure, plotting, form etc.) And if I can help a writer, even in a very minor way, on their quest to find a draft of the play which is both blisteringly alive and technically masterful, then I’ve probably done my job and they’ve certainly done theirs.

As for the relationship with a writer in the room, I think a director should work from the assumption that the writer has a deep and personal ownership of their work. If they’re a good writer they’ll know their play really well, in all likelihood far better than one as a director can know the play (the world of the play has, after all, been living inside their head). As a director, part of my job is to work out what information from the writer is useful for the actors and also what is useful for creating the play. There’s also creativity on my part and I’ve had successes both where I’ve communicated a great deal with the writer about what we’re creating and also where the writer has left us to our devices. The key is that there is communication between director and writer about what their roles consist of.

I think the relationship between writer and director (and indeed writer and cast) works well when the writer is not only willing to give up sole ownership to their play, but actively enables a director and cast to stake their claim. At a certain point in rehearsals all the good writers I’ve known step aside (often with a grace I’m in awe of) as their characters start to be re-created and owned by the actors playing them. And so these characters cease to fully belong to the writer; after the pain and work of their birth, a playwright’s characters very quickly fly the nest.

While these might seem florid metaphors, I find it helpful the think the writer has given birth to the play. When working with their “child” it helps me respond with the right level of respect and tact. It doesn’t mean that I shy away from taking risks or making bold decisions, but with the writer (parent!) onboard, it often makes it a hell of a lot easier.”

UK: Oliver Rose

“I think a good relationship has to be based on the director’s own understanding of their role within the process. The director should not somehow be attempting to write their own play by proxy, but, if the writer is developing a play through rehearsal/workshop with them; then the director’s only concern should be to truly ask of each scene and moment created: is this serving the vision that the writer has told me they are trying to explore? If I don’t think it is, why not? Can I illuminate contradictions, or options, to the writer in how I then work with their text in rehearsal?

A sensitive openness is key. The writer’s creative act often originates in a more personal place than the director’s.  One needs to take care in navigating the potential conflicts between what a writer feels they have set out to do; and what their work is actually doing.

The director is also there to serve actor and audience and it is good and legitimate to ask a writer to bear the needs of those other participants in mind.

If all the above exist, good things can happen.

Equally where an e.g more experienced writer needs none of this kind of support, then the director’s job is to be an almost invisible agent, working straightforwardly to bring together the right team for the show.

The relationship fails when a director thinks the play he is directing would be better if he had written it. It also fails when the writer does not believe their work requires any space for consideration to the actor performing their work and taking that bullet live every night.

Finally, some writers are writing therapy for themselves. Those plays tend to be easy to spot: usually the audience is intended to feel uncomplicatedly sorry for a very wronged central character, who is similar to the playwright. A director is usually doomed when working on such material.”

UK: Suba Das


“The relationship seems to function best when the driving force is an open, collaborative spirit that listens to the needs of the play: its world; its concerns; its beauty; its rough truths. The play leads. Direct the play on the page, not the play in your head, and the playwright will see what needs work. Time and length are important, but not as important as pacing: plays are as long as they are and characters and worlds are unpredictable, unstructured and volatile. So a good process tightens without normalising; makes honest without making ‘accessible’; provokes debate without necessarily peddling answers. When plays get time to breathe and grow in workshops and drafts, they get better; slash-and-burn cutting after preview 3 can’t be good for anyone.”

UK: Prasanna Puwanarajah

“I find the relationship between a playwright and a director works best when they are the same person. If this is not possible, then the director should ideally come to the writer early and the two of them should work closely together in generating material - there will be a clear understanding of who will be responsible for what in presentational terms further down the line, but at these initial stages they should work together speaking largely the same language. If this is not possible, and there is already a script in existence before a director is attached, then ideally the director should have other skills to contribute, like also being a set designer, and perhaps the playwright if for some reason not up for taking responsibility for their work by actually directing it could still take

responsibility for it in some other way, such as by also designing the sound. The more capacities in which a director and writer are forced to engage with one another in a creative relationship, the

less hidebound, hierarchically stratified and territorial things are likely to get. At least in my experience.

In short, a good relationship between a playwright and a director is probably one where the playwright isn’t always and only a playwright and the director not always and only a director.”

UK: Alan McKendrick

Openness and honesty always. When both parties see the play as something other than themselves, they just see “the work” and ego(s) can be put to one side.”

UK: Joe Douglas

— 2 years ago

IdeasTap presents… Can’t we all just get along? Examining the writer/director relationship.

With Natalie Ibu.

What creates a bad working relationship?

  • Unbalanced mix of business and personal
  • Lack of clarity
  • Lack of consultation
  • Preciousness about job and stages
  • Notes as instruction rather than conversation
  • Lack of time
  • Different tastes and sensibilities
  • Ask wrong questions
  • Ideas at odds with play
  • Ego
  • Stubbornness
  • Lack of understanding - play or person
  • Presumption
  • Arrogance
  • Lack of ownership
  • Unable to articulate
  • Lack of trust
  • Writer too present
  • Lack of responsibility
  • Defensiveness
  • Preciousness
  • Cowardice
  • Concept driven
  • Lack of sensitivity
  • Want to do others job / believe know better
  • Imposition
  • Control
  • Suspicion
  • Lack
— 2 years ago

IdeasTap presents… Can’t we all just get along? Examining the writer/director relationship.

With Natalie Ibu.

What’s needed for a good, successful relationship?

  • Trust
  • Passion
  • Closest ally
  • Mixture of business and personal balanced
  • Two sided
  • Mutual effort
  • Honesty
  • Openness
  • Free
  • Bold and Brave
  • Nurturing / Growth
  • Mutual servitude
  • Listening
  • Constant dialogue
  • Aspiring for best storytelling
  • Team work / mentality : us
  • Explorative
  • Provocation and acceptance
  • Enthusiasm
  • Intrigue
  • Shared language
  • Loyalty
  • Shared goal
  • Patience
  • Connection
  • Planning
  • Playful
  • Curious
  • Generosity
  • Stakes / investment
  • Communicating
  • Shared discovery
  • Respect
  • Exchange
  • Mutual excitement about each other and play
  • Illuminating
  • Faith
  • Fearless
  • Rigour
  • Shared ambition
  • Shared responsibility and storytelling
  • Appreciation / share love for vision and story
  • Facilitate play not egos
— 2 years ago

IdeasTap presents… Can’t we all just get along? Examining the writer/director relationship.

With Natalie Ibu.

The relationship between writer and director can be difficult, with both parties struggling to retain their creative vision. But how can writers and directors work effectively together? An expert will draw from their own professional experience to host a workshop exploring how best to manage this key relationship to get the most from your production.

At around 20:38 last night, as I started to muse on the concept of ‘writer’ and ‘director’ and ‘relationship’ and ‘vision’ and ‘effective’ and ‘play’ and ‘production’ and ‘theatre’… the ‘world’ (you get the picture) I decided - ever the collaborator - that I wanted to take a poll. So, I emailed every writer and director I knew that I thought would be at their desk on a spring Tuesday evening and I asked them:

‘What makes for a successful (challenging, robust, good) relationship between playwright and director and what makes for an unsuccessful one - why and when does it go wrong?”

What follows, is a collation of responses; it is by no means exclusive but is a starting point as we meditate on how to get the best out of each other, how to get along, how to serve the play - or maybe, more specifically, the production.


“The key idea in ALL relationships is that they are built on trust. Sadly no relationship in art is purely business or personal. They are a rare mixture of both. When one his sided or heavier than the other relationships sour. Usually one would think the business minded relationships go first but you can find - and I have - that relationships between director and playwright that don’t take in to account the audience, accessibility, the numbers, also become strained. Its early on that these relationships can dissolve. I’ve had directors approach me without knowing me personally and begin telling me what to change and why. And even they might have been right I couldn’t hear them. Just because they are a director and me a writer doesn’t mean I can engage with them on so intimate a level. That’s like a man coming up to a woman telling her how she could be better dressed. Unless they know each other already, and even if she agrees with what he might say, he doesn’t have the cache to influence her. She will think him some pompous and mad man. I’ve also been the ONLY person in the relationship. Trying hard to have a director understand what I am saying and to learn what their intentions are only to be met by a chilly shoulder. This too can’t sustain. Relationships, all, must be nurtured, grown, and balanced.”

US: Tarell Alvin McCraney

“Maybe it’s ego, but you want a director to beyond ‘get’ your work, you want them to feel it’s as urgent a play, a story as you do. From when you both believe 100% in the message you’re trying to deliver and you’re on the same page there, everything else is negotiable as you can relax and trust you have the same goal. There will inevitably be bumps along the road, huge disagreements, but know that is collaboration and if you’re sacrificing they probably are too.”

UK: Rachel De-Lahay

"For me, a successful director -playwright relationship is all about honesty and being open to going to the next level in the work. Sometimes it’s even about facing something that is hard about yourself that must change, in order to achieve it in the writing. A kind of growth. It’s about being nurturing but sometimes saying or hearing hard, hard things in the most positive of ways. Just like a director is there to serve the play, I’m there in many ways to serve what jazzes the director. What are they going to be able to do that’s new and exciting for them? We’re looking to achieve a marriage of sorts.

When I first started, when relationships didn’t work I always found them to be a 50-50 situation. I found I was jumping into something too soon or didn’t have a clear idea of what I was going for in the work. I was not communicating properly or captured what I was looking to do in the work, so I’ve tried to better myself from those experiences. I have never found a director who “ruined” a play. I get sensitive about folks ever saying that because the work a director does is just as hard - so hard! I think perfecting a play in rehearsal (and I do think of it like that - it’s rare that a new play is so perfect just on paper it shouldn’t be tweaked I think) but it’s important to me that our results are always a team effort. We have to in order to really work well with the theater who has also invested their time in producing the play.

Listening to one another is key. If an actor has tried a line or section that hasn’t worked, I’ll ultimately adjust it for them. The reason why is all we’re doing is paving the way for this story to be heard and seen theatrically by an audience. To give it life. In order for us to really hear the audience’s experience and ultimately know if what we created has an impact, we have to feel we did all we could. Together. Then sharing the play with an audience becomes something else. It transforms and changes us as we experience it in the dark together! The goal for me is always to become a better playwright, and to see my productions also grow. To reach different kinds of audience as well, discover them, as they discover me, and as they discover my director, my actors, producers and team. And if it does go wrong, learn. Learn, learn, learn. I’m learning so much - and at times it’s joyous and at other times very painful - but it has made the work always better.”

USA: Crystal Skillman

“The playwright should be like fire - hungry as hell, mercurial in approach & concerned chiefly with the core white heat of the play’s progression. The director is the clay - teeth-achingly patient, inordinately faithful & yet unashamedly responsive to swells in formation. A bad playwright causes needless heat, bakes all the wrong parts of the p(l)ot & shatters the final product. A bad director drenches the inspiration, snuffs the fire & produces nothing but a sloppy mess.”

UK: Pericles Snowdon

“Trust and respect is a huge part of a successful director - playwright relationship. When a director reads and talks to you about a piece if they get it, have a vision for it and you respect them you feel you can trust what they’ll do and that makes you slightly more relaxed. It’s good if you can talk any time and you get excited listening and talking to each other. Mutual excitement about the piece helps, that makes questions, further discussion and challenges welcome.”

UK: Paula B Stanic

“What makes it successful: openness, communication, and constant dialogue. I think the relationship is at its best when the director wants to do the best they can to tell the story the writer wants to be told. (this includes pushing the writer, questioning, etc) but always with the goal of telling that story. Honesty is the best policy. Everyone feels vulnerable in the rehearsal room, but there’s no time for beating around the bush. If something doesn’t feel right in the play or production, trust in the relationship that you can say.

I think it goes wrong when either party views that the writers job ends at first rehearsal and directors job begins at rehearsal. It’s a team job through and through. People may come in at different points but you’re all there until the end.”

UK: Evan Placey

“Good: Director is an artist equal to the playwright, co-creating a piece of art, not a text-facilitor. They interrogate, antagonise and generate the work from draft 1 or earlier.Bad: They adhere to the view that a playwright for protecting, an audience for shepherding and work for staging instead of realising.”

UK: Joel Horwood via the medium of 420 character twitter DM

I think it is up to the playwright to offer the director (and indeed the rest of the creative team) an artistic challenge or opportunity or provocation. By this I mean, when a director has to think too practically or pragmatically - because, say, the writer has stated a great deal of locations or props - they in some senses become a problem solver. And my instinct is that then the really fun questions - what IS this play? for instance - are neglected in favour of questions like when and where to stand and, when and where to exit. I think the best writer-director relationships are those where a writer openly and enthusiastically invites a director to behave as imaginatively and as boldly as they possibly can. I think it goes wrong when too much furniture needs to be moved about.”

UK: Nick Payne

“Positive: If both parties have a clear goal that is shared. They are working towards the same final production. When a director directs the play that is there, not the play they want to be there. When communication is clear and truthful. No one needs a fluffer in the rehearsal room (except the actors).

Negative: When the writer isn’t consulted on big choices at any level. When notes are seen as an instruction rather than a conversation. When there is a lack of time in both preparation and execution from either party. Planning is everything. Space should be there to play. But without clear thought it can descend into bullshit and artwank (which quite clearly should be a word).”

UK: Kenny Emson

Successful - always good to be on the same page as the director, which can really only happen if the lines of communication are open and bullshit free. Not always easy to be honest with each other, especially in the early stages though. However be brave and express concerns from early on if you have them as they will only get worse the longer you leave it.

Unsuccessful - I’m lucky enough to say that this has only happen to me once. We had different tastes and sensibilities. we were thrown together in a rather shot gun wedding sort of way - due to the nature of the project and I knew after the first meeting that it was going to be an uphill battle. A shared sense of humour in my book is vital.”

UK: Alecky Blythe

A successful writer/director relationship is one that is constructive towards the aim of best translating what the playwright is saying with their work and how the audience engage with the story. Directors work best with writers when they open the writers mind to possibilities and make them interrogate what their work is about. The relationship should be about a shared ambition to communicate a joint view on the world we live in today through the story they are telling. Working together to effectively communicate the story, the action, the people and the ideas contained in that. When the aim is the same and there is an aura of intrigue, open mindedness and curiosity about where the piece will end up - when both sides are not certain and they act on impulse, then that is a productive way to work.

An unsuccessful writer/ director relationship is one where the directors theatrical ideas are at a jar with the work. For example I think that there are certain versions of classic plays that are now about directors ideas about not about the stories and how they resonant socially, politically and humanly archaically with our lives today. Vice Versa when stubborn writers refuse to budge from their starting place. The creation of a play begins a long time before rehearsals, it starts with an itch and noticing something… it starts when an urge, then a story. The story is written and there is some back and forth, each side needs to open minded and genuinely not know where the play will end up to fully explore the story and the ideas within it. I think when a writer reaches an end point at the start of the process there is trouble. The BIG questions should come early on then the small ones later in the process. If the writer refuses to budge on the BIG questions at the beginning and focuses instead on ironing out in the early days I think trouble will ensue … this is of course assuming the writer and director have been working from an early stage together on the work.

Ultimately the writer and director share the responsibility for telling a story and the ideas within that story as clearly, viscerally and effectively as possible to an audience. That is their aim. Anything that stands in the way of that is not what theatre is about. The story comes first, the minute ego, pride or the intellect (ideas for ideas sake that are not directly shaping the story) stand in the way that is where problems lie too.”

UK: Luke Barnes

“A successful playwright/director relationship happens when both artists share, if not appreciate, each other’s visions for the play and a love for the story. They should also respect and understand any cultural and social specificities. It should not be an experiment. One of my most successful director relationships happened when a director agreed to helm my production because he felt a personal connection. A character in my play was ostracized (because of physical handicap) and the director, as a child, was ostracized for obesity. His sensitivity to the story insured me the play was in good hands.

The relationship can go sour when the director decides that their vision is more important than the playwrights. Recently, I had a director layer on so much gratuitous theatricality that my play was unrecognizable. I also had an experience where a director was more concerned with their career trajectory, they used my play as a calling card for their career. “

USA: Keith Josef Adkins

“I think a lot of us write in order to figure the world out, in order to try to better understand the terrible beauty of the human adventure. So I think what makes a collaboration with a director particularly good is when it’s clear that he or she is also trying to figure the world out—is more interested in figuring out what something means as opposed to figuring out what’s “right.” Does that make sense? I think it has to do with generosity—the sort of generosity that allows people to be at their most creative, the sort of generosity that produces a shared vision for a piece from which all subsequent work with actors and designers and others will flow. I think there’s a real difference between sharing and implementing a vision on the one hand and making things work or getting things “right” on the other. The one has to do with exploring how things make sense together as a whole, the other has to do with creating a false sense of certainty that choices made will be “correct,” whatever that means (see below!). But I’m not interested in correct. I’m interested in vision. A play is not a problem or a puzzle. It’s a living gesture of hopeless love. I think that the directors who feel similarly are the most fun to work and play with: there’s lots of give and take, lots of room to fail, lots of room to explore and rediscover the play.

I think lots of things can turn a collaboration into a nightmare: when a director just doesn’t understand the play, its structures, its rhythms, its music; when a director can’t own or articulate the vision for the play and, subtly at first, but more overtly in the end, actors and designers begin to turn to the writer for direction; when a writer is too often in rehearsal and other collaborators begin to rely too much on him or her and less on their own instincts and creativity; when a writer will

not take responsibility for their work, unwilling to stand up for it on the one hand or displaying an inflexible or artificial defensiveness / preciousness on the other—the former is cowardice, the later is a pose, and neither are particularly responsible or honest. If caught in time, most of these things can be effectively dealt with. But the worst thing that can happen in collaboration with a director is when the director and the playwright both fall too much in love with a concept or an idea and begin to confuse the concept with a compelling vision. That’s either the result of ego or naivety. Either way, it’s a crippling delusion which will ensure that the play serves an idea, rather than the idea illuminating the play. And you’ll only realize what’s happened much too late. Woof. When asked by a session saxophonist which was more important, ideas or prose, Kerouac said: “Ideas come a dime a dozen.” The play’s what’s important. Not an idea.”

USA: Mark Schultz

“A good director will…

Facilitate the realisation of the play the playwright has written, not the one the director would like it to be.

Never cut dialogue without asking the playwright.

Not let the playwright talk too much in a rehearsal room. It confuses those poor actors.”

UK: Hywel John

“For me the most important thing to feel while working on a play with a director is mutual respect. Ideally, the director will feel like your closest ally, and you will feel like hers/his. In this way, even when things are going wrong (which they always do) there will be a degree of trust and good humour to see you through to opening night.

The directors I’ve most enjoyed working with so far are the ones who understand that the play is precious to you, and that you feel protective towards it.

What I have come to think is good writer behaviour is that you present yourself in the rehearsal room for as long as feels right (to you and the director as agreed previously), and never question the authority of the director in front of the actors. Then when it is time for you to go, you go, and then come back towards the end and feed back in things once they’ve had time to settle and make some key choices.

And I try to remember to tell the director that I think they are doing a great job, as sometimes they are secretly just as insecure and scared as everyone else involved in putting on a play - they’re just not allowed to show it.”

UK: Penny Skinner

“For new writing I think it’s about being open to sharing ideas (quite hard for some!) and about being honest with things that aren’t working but doing so in a way that makes you both excited to try out something new instead.

When it goes right;

Having good, honest and constructive chats on a regular basis and particularly at the start of the start of the process - it’s the easiest way to understand each other and manage expectations for the whole project.

Knowing when to compromise. Biting your tongue isn’t easy but it’s sometimes necessary. Nothing worse than a passenger seat driver who goes on about what route they would have taken.

When timetables / deadlines are realistic, are communicated well in advance and are honored by both parties.

When it goes wrong;

If either of you don’t trust the other to do the thing they do well - especially if you are working together as part of a development process.

When the director make really affecting cuts or changes without consulting you.

When you stress out and verbally vomit on each other as it can destroy what you’ve spent ages building up in seconds- if you’re going to have a panic about the project don’t do it on each other, that’s what friends, family, lovers, random strangers are for!

Also, one last thought which does depend on the collaborators and the situation but if you both have the time and the will to discuss and be involved in the casting then great! There’s nothing worse than having totally different actors in mind for the same character (a play of mine was once mis-cast with an actress about 20 years older than I had written) or finding out someone’s been cast who can’t do the accent that you wrote the part in.”

UK: Hannah Rodger

“I’m a slow, dense writer and often feel out of the loop with my writerly approach/style but have to say that I’ve been fortunate with directors who have been incredibly patient and open-minded with me, giving me the time and freedom to explore my ideas and taking the time to understand where I’m coming from, what I’m trying to say, while gently helping me to shape my ideas and my work. They’ve known when to step in and when to step back in a continuing, sensitive dialogue with me, the writer - and i think that’s a smart and instinctive quality consistent in the best directors.

The worst? those who don’t take the time to understand the writer’s piece and decide far in advance how they define the work and the writer. Especially the ones who don’t create a dialogue with the writer. i’ve had this awful experience once and it was hugely regrettable. A director with zero sensitivity or understanding of the writer’s work sounds the death knell of a necessarily creative, organic collaboration. the experience made me realise how it’s essential to be open, to try to understand both sides as a writer and director, to talk, exchange ideas and shape some ideas together, sometimes giving way, sometimes meeting half way, sometimes standing one’s ground. But doing so in the safety net of an open, mutually supportive collaboration.”

UK: Satinder Cohan

‘When I first started out writing I think that I was suspicious of directors. I think I felt that they were trying to put their ideas on top of my ideas, rather than trying to figure out what I was trying to say, although quickly, and after working with a few great directors I realized that this was an amateurish fear.

Now, anytime I am working towards a production I like to know who is directing it as early as possible, I contact the director and get as much feedback as I can whilst redrafting. From then on I will be constantly sending the director drafts, and constantly expecting notes and attention. I think that I can be quite demanding but I don’t mind. I like to try and fix as much of the knucklehead stuff before rehearsals, so that the first few days rehearsal aren’t spent doing script development that could have been done during pre-production.

I have never had an unsuccessful relationship with a director, but I have at times been frustrated, mostly when I don’t feel like I have their complete undivided attention. I like very concise and pointed notes, and am prone to get a little frustrated when notes are overly vague, or general. I will expect a director to read several new drafts of the play, and continually be bringing me ideas or thoughts, this goes for in rehearsals to. I am very unprecious about my writing, and would rather a director cut or changed something that was bad, than tried to direct around it, or was afraid to say something because of my feelings or something else.

I like my directors to be as brave as I try to be as a writer. I would like directors to approach new writing with the same abstract staging and the same desire for unique concepts as they seem to approach classic texts. There is a danger of being to true to the writing, which can end in over literalised theatre. Generally speaking, I would like directors to approach my finished plays, the same way I approach my own ideas: I have an idea, and then I find as many ways as I can to make it more interesting. “

UK: Kieran Lynn

“Worst relationship with a director? Someone who didn’t know what their role was in the room (a devised piece with actors) but was also desperate to impress (the actors and the organisers of the experiment). All about ego rather than the work. Not knowing the terms of the relationship can be corrosive.

Best - Natalie Ibu. Shared enthusiasm for the work and always having each others’ back.

Also important is as much honesty as possible, but that requires trust. Which comes from loyalty and respect. And just being lucky with enough of a shared outlook on the world…”

UK: Anonymous

“The best directors are the ones who are passionate about staging the play. It seems obvious but I have encountered directors so many times who have an idea about the sort of play they want to stage and my play is the closest fit they’ve been able to find. These are awful people and should be avoided. They should write their own god damn play.

Be wary of directors who blow smoke up your arse. If they’re telling you things like ‘you’re a genius’ or ‘you’re the voice of a generation’, then they are careerists who see you and your play as a stepping stone. They do not have the play’s best interests at heart.

Always have initial meetings with directors in coffee shops or pubs and keep your schedule post- meeting clear. It’s a bit like dating. If you don’t notice where the time has gone, if you’re on the fifth coffee/pint and you’re still talking about character and plotting and language and all that good stuff, then you’re on to a winner.

If the director is consistently getting the name of one of your characters wrong, they aren’t paying the play close enough attention. (This happens quite a lot).

As a writer, I love sitting in on rehearsals. Rehearsal rooms are great. But my work is done and I want to see what the actors and director and designers bring to the play. Actors have questions. They always have questions - it’s in their nature. A director who knows what they are doing and who is confident in the play and in their knowledge of the play will always be able to answer those questions, or push the actor in the right direction to make those discoveries for themselves. An occasional nod to the writer with a ‘would you say that’s right?’ is fine. Deferring to the writer and encouraging the actors to ask the writer questions directly is not. The writer will have answers about background and about character, but these are the answers that helped them write the play. They are not the answers that will help the actors perform it. A good writer/director relationship is one where the writer knows it is not their job to give notes to the actors, and the director understands that everything the writer wanted to say is in the script. Any background or character work the writer may have that did not make it into the final script is irrelevant. Essentially this boils down to “the writer is the writer and knows what they are doing” and “the director is the director and knows what they are doing”. And that is very much a two-way street.

And rigorous debate is healthy. Very healthy. Being forced to defend your position helps to solidify your choices. If your choices are weak and poorly thought through, they will crumble. This note can apply to writers and directors both.”

UK: Tom Morton Smith

“A great director/writer relationship starts with a creative honesty and communication, a committed passion for storytelling, a trust and willingness to listen on both parts and a shared sense of adventure. The occasional kick arse joke together kind of moves things along too!

It doesn’t work when the writer is inflexible or not able to fight for what matters, when the roles of director and writer are enshrined to the point of politeness, or when the all important trust is not present throughout the process. Each party must believe in the talent of the other, even when they hit roadblocks, and stand by that belief.”

UK: Suzie Miller

“The first point is easier for me to answer because I’ve had such positive collaborations with the directors I’ve worked with. The only times I’ve felt negatively about a collaboration was when the stakes of the reading/workshop/presentation were very low. (I like to think that when I make it to Broadway, I’ll have the final say in who gets to direct the thing.)

So. A successful playwright-director collaboration, in my experience, involves the director operating on the assumption that the playwright has made every choice s/he’s made — every bit of research, every punctuation mark, the structure of the play, everything — consciously and deliberately. Even if that isn’t the case, the playwright learns a lot from a director who acts as if it is the case. Conversely, the playwright needs to trust that every choice the director makes is building the theatrical event. Every bit of direction s/he gives an actor, every design choice, every dramaturgical exegesis, is in the interesting of creating the spectacle — again, even if it’s not true. Only when we operate on that mutual trust can we then QUESTION our fellow artist’s choices. (“Here’s why I think you’ve made this choice, but what more can you tell me about it?”) And then by questioning those choices, we all make the whole thing better. In a word, collaboration.

To the second point: I know a playwright who was in a rehearsal for a play of his in which two of

the three characters are Filipino. A white actress was playing one of the Filipino characters and she asked him, “Why are these two characters Filipino?” He responded, “Well, why are you

white?” (Heh heh heh.) When we start not giving each other full credit and confidence for the choices we’ve made, that’s when an artistic collaboration gets tense and semi-functional. The actress should have asked, “What does it mean to be Filipino in America in 2012?” It might have led to a conversation in which the playwright (or director) could ask her, “Are you feeling uncertain or disingenuous in playing this part?” And then a real collaboration — a real dialogue — could happen.”

USA: Alex Lewin

“Good working relationships -

Trust, openness and honesty are key. I don’t want to work with a director that tells me a scene is “fine” when really we both know that it’s not. I like working with people that will tell me when they think something is wrong; challenge me to do better. (this works both ways)

Knowing that you both have the same overall want for the piece of work is really important - you need to make sure that you have the same vision.

In the past working with a director long before getting into a room with actors has been really useful. Just looking at the script together, so that you know that you and your director are a team and will have similar answers to actors queries (this also builds up trust).

Bravery which stems from trust. I wanted to change the final scene of my play after the second preview and the director was brave enough to support me in this decision. The play overall was so much better as a result.

Working with a director that likes you/wants you in the rehearsal room is always a good sign!

Difficult relationship -

Having different work ethics than your director. Having different priorities than your director.

Directors that do not have good communication skills (or who you don’t feel comfortable communicating with).

Directors that don’t allow you into the rehearsal room. Directors that do not ask you about cuts they wish to make. Directors with egos.

Directors who say one thing to you and something different to the actors. Directors that do not involve you in design queries.”

UK: Shireen Mula

“Good relationship between director: when you trust the director’s instincts. Especially when tell you that something isn’t working or a if a bit of writing needs reworking.

Bad relationship: when a director doesn’t listen, and is determined to put a creative stamp on the work. When the work is more about demonstrating flair than telling the story”

UK: Karis Halsall

“Good Points: You know when a playwright/director relationship is working because you have complete faith in what the other is saying in front of a cast and you don’t feel like you have to be on edge ready to unleash damage control. Every director will be different so there’s not a set template of how to become best creative buds. But listening to directors who are excited by your script and not just because it’s a meal ticket is a good place to start. We’re in an industry where we’re all struggling to get heard and seen so accepting a director’s offer just because you want your play on will not always go according to plan. Coffee, chat, go see a play with them, go see their other work. Simple things I know, but people forget them in the heat of the moment. Also a director who talks to you about your script is always a keeper. A collective musing over the script is essential for any piece of work to come to life so a director, for me, should approach the script and get their hands dirty with the playwright before getting their hands dirty again with the actors. It makes sense that they explore it with the person it came from rather than take it off under lock and key to risk going off on a tangent. Talk. Talking is very good and preferably a lot of this should be done face-to-face so you can pick up people’s idioms, tone and vernacular so later on when you transfer to phone during rehearsals you understand what the director is saying and not fretting over how they said something. Honesty, it’s key to anything.

Bad Points: You know when a playwright/director relationship is not working when you feel like you can’t be honest no matter what. Too often a playwright can get that nagging doubt that they should approach their grievances with others in mind and creep up softly and umm and arr to only end up side-stepping the actual problem. This is a slippery-slope. Playwrights seem to forget that they can speak up about issues and a director has to hear them. They may not agree with them, but any professional director will make your thoughts welcome and deal with them accordingly. Yes you

can do this because it’s best to get it out in the open than leave it to fester and manifest into complete distrust when there is no due cause for any. But when you self-censor to divert the shitstorm that could potentially happen, you’re doing no one any favours - yourself/your working relationship with the other person/the work everyone is doing. Being in an open relationship with a director is something that needs to be just as important as getting the right cast - if it doesn’t work then you can only hide it for so long before it’s too late.”

UK: Katie McCullough

“Successful director playwright relationship: as a playwright I feel that: deep good listening on both sides is key, a flexible-open mode of communication is brilliant and a mutual, fearless desire to explore and discover what the play is and how it works together. I’ve had successful collaborations with directors who understand that a new play is a new universe with its own laws (which are subsequently broken and altered often) but that the play is not equivalent to ‘our world’. Directors who mysteriously manage to unite what the text is doing and what the actor is doing in response to the text in the performance are magicians. I have had bad experiences with directors who try to impose their logic on the world of the play and ask the wrong questions of it have led to damaging processes. I had one director ask me repeatedly where a play I’d written was set when my text was clear that it was an invented world akin to, an island off Australia but no existing place. I’ve had processes go downhill when the director has felt like the play did not fit into a logic that they understood. For example, I wrote a play once where an old woman seduces a much younger man. The director disbelieved this was possible so turned the play into a farce-which it was not.”

USA: Dipika Guha

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More of what the day looked like.

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Photos from A Changing Tide?

— 2 years ago

A Changing Tide? Closing Thoughts

We wanted to write to thank you for joining us yesterday for the first symposium at the HighTide festival and for being such an integral part of every conversation. The day was the beginning of partnerships with you all and open, honest ones at that.

All of our speakers helped build a day of stimulating thought and each of you completed that circuit. There is of course a lot more to say and even more to do. If like us you felt overwhelmed, inspired, exhausted or stimulated then we hope the day did what it set out to do.

For us, the headline was how emerging writers and the artists who support them do look laterally to their generational peers. However in labelling this or any generation based on age, gender, ethnicity or sexuality we seem to limit these same people. We must consider the long game and yet grow up with an attempt at improving and opening up the cultural landscape.

What are your conclusions? We are keen to collect these digitally and will embrace all those online resources at our disposal to draw out more concluding statements. This is not over, there is more to dissect but that is the work of the next days, weeks, months and years. Share with us and let’s shape the next decade together.

Steven Atkinson & Rob Drummer

— 2 years ago

Meet the Antelopes

The Antelopes is an informal network of professional playwrights, at all stages of their careers, who meet every few months above a pub in London. Originally started as a one-off meeting in 2009 called by playwrights David Eldridge, Duncan Macmillan and Robert Holman, for playwrights to meet one another and share experiences of their industry, three years later the group is still meeting regularly and has around 130 members on its mailing list.

The group is open to all playwrights currently working in the UK, the only criteria being that they must make at least part of their living, however small, by writing plays for the stage.  There are no membership fees and no formal structure, and the group’s opinions are as diverse and as contradictory as its membership. The group’s membership is available for consultation on any professional issues affecting playwrights. Please contact

— 2 years ago

Interview with Rob Drummer on A Changing Tide? →

Interview with Rob Drummer on the HighTide Festival Symposium ‘A Changing Tide?’

— 2 years ago

A Changing Tide? Schedule.

A Changing Tide? Schedule.

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At the end of the symposium day you will have the chance to participate in our Open Air, Open Space on Millennium Green which brings together the multiple strands of the day and airs them, not forcing a conclusion but providing a collaborative opportunity to conclude, for now.  The agenda will be set by the people who attend, the content offered up out of the day’s musings, everything is possible, nothing needs go unrepresented.  The event will be facilitated by Rob Drummer, Literary Manager at HighTide Festival Theatre but the participants choose which direction to take it.

We will keep these promises…

1. Every issue of concern to anybody has been laid upon the table.
2. All issues have been discussed to the extent that anybody cared to do that.
3. A full written record of all discussions exists and is in the hands of all participants.

We will agree… 

Whoever participates are the right participants.

Whatever happens is all that can happen.

Whenever it begins will be the right time to begin
When it is over, it is over.

We will abide by…

The Law of Two Feet: If at any time you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing… use your two feet.

— 2 years ago

Q&A: Beyond that first play

So you have a play, you have decided it is finished and it has gone down well, you’ve been asked for a second or have just seen this first at opening night, where do you go next?  What does that second play look like and how easy is it to keep telling stories, keep writing plays? Join Steve Waters (playwright and Lecturer in Creative Writing at UEA) and Tony Ramsay (Playwright and Scriptwriter) who will talk about writing more and keeping going. 

— 2 years ago