No one (e.g. directors, actors, dramaturgs) can make changes, alterations, and/or omission to your script – including the text, title, and stage directions – without your consent. – Dramatists Guild Bill of Rights
Recently during a discussion on Facebook about new plays often having text dictating “female characters be thin and/or beautiful without it really being necessary,” a whole can of worms I’d love to open and take on, as well, someone posted: “Honestly, I would just cut the language.”
To be fair, the poster also said if it were a significant change, she would ask the playwright. Gee, thank you. Now, if you would please apply the same respect to ANY of my language, I’d thank you very much.
While I wanted to applaud her honesty, though I’m not sure she realized she’d have protests, I was really bothered by how cavalier the statement was: “I would just cut it.” Like it was no big deal. Like the playwright was incidental to the text; insignificant. It’s disrespectful.
When I pointed out that no words should ever be cut or changed or added (or paraphrased as is something that happens too often) without permission from the playwright, she thanked me for my sentiment.
But it’s not a sentiment. It’s not permitted.
And when it happens, it’s defilement. (can I direct you all to a great post by Bitter Gertrude called “Directing Creative Freedom and Vandalism,” please).
Keep in mind we are talking about new plays where you have playwrights at your fingertips. Playwrights understand collaboration. Playwrights want collaboration. Playwrights are eager for collaboration. (By the way, if you’re a playwright and you don’t want to collaborate, I’d recommend writing fiction or poetry. Theater is collaborative).
However, if we feel the cut or add you are asking us to make is not right for the play, then you have to be ready to hear “no,” just as we need to be ready to hear, “we can’t produce your play.”
Changing a script without permission is not a feeling, emotion, or attitude on my part (or the part of any playwright), but is a bonafide right as the creators of the work. Yet, the debate continues. (see this facebook exchange on Playscripts)
I used the Dramatists Guild’s Bill of Rights to back me up.
This triggered the expression of another frustrating myth: she said, “no director ever follows stage directions.” We can talk about his forever. Stage directions are vital to a play. They aren’t any more incidental to the play than the playwright is, IF they’ve been used properly. They, too, should not be ignored.
Because it would be a digression I'm not interested in taking on right now, I’ved linked you to a couple posts about why ignoring stage directions is not cool (thank goodness for teachers like Dr. Louis E. Catron, Professor of Theatre, College of William and Mary) and why playwrights need to do better with them so they myth that all actors and directors should ignore them can go away. Forever.
Along with anyone thinking it is ever okay to change even one punctuation mark in our scripts without permission.