October 24, 2009

Creating by Writing and/or Devising

EDITOR posted 17 Dec 2007, 11:54 AM / edited 8 Dec 2009, 02:13 PM

The following discussion has been plucked from the Comments below John Smythe’s review of The Wind Speaks to Wellington, as the continuing discussion deserves its own forum.


T MEEK:  posted 10 Dec 2007, 07:10 PM

I noticed that one of the posters above confusedly cited “Taika Cohen, Jermaine (sic) Clement and Bret McKenzie” as an example of the wonders wrought by devised theatre. I’ve just read an interview with Jemaine Clement. He has some useful things to say about creating a show and I’ll quote them: “When we do write [our own scripts] we’re quite analytical about it. You choose all these lines really carefully and then when you act it’s like it doesn’t matter and we don’t memorize them and we sort of do something which sort of comes out a lot like the script. I guess the acting is an extension of the writing.” Asked if the writing gave a structure to the scenes, he replied, “Yeah, we take the writing a lot more seriously than the acting.” Asked about episodes of FOTC written by Taika Cohen and Duncan Sarkies, he said, “We storylined them. So we give them a storyline and they hand in their first draft and then we give them notes on that. And then we do the last re-write.”

The director of The Wind That Speaks to Wellington has said he’s found the

discussion in this thread “fruitful”. Perhaps most fruitful of all might be

if he were to take aboard the Flight of the Conchords’ devising process.


stephen Gallagher:  posted 11 Dec 2007, 10:48 AM

Hi T Meek, Where did you find the article? It sounds interesting and I’d like to read it.


Ms. Katurian:  posted 11 Dec 2007, 07:33 PM / edited 12 Dec 2007, 12:00 AM

I’d also be interested, ‘T MEEK’. When you post it, could you clarify what the article is covering? Because based on what you quote, and your fairly self-righteous scolding of the previous posters, it seems rather curious that your own quotes seem to

a) refer primarily to the scripts generated for a commissioned TV series, which changes the complexion of the discussion considerably and

b) even then show some blurry areas which don’t quite give the grounds for your rather snippy tone and, most importantly

c) don’t seem to discuss the extensive evolution of this material, these characters, their ‘world’, all prior to the radio and television series, respectively. I’m sure that plenty of the contributors to this very website could talk about this very issue.

All of these elements, if anything, would seem to blur matters, shattering this ongoing dichotomy that people lay out, where, apparently, it’s writing vs devising. If all you’re claiming is that rigor and craft are a good idea, I can’t see what the problem is. Nor can I see applying these to good devising, good writing, and the area in which the two often overlap as a particularly threatening concept to anything that’s been discussed here. Any clues?


T MEEK:  posted 12 Dec 2007, 07:11 AM / edited 12 Dec 2007, 07:13 AM

The interview appears in Pitch Engine, December 2007, “Interview with Jemaine Clement by Benedict Reid”. It deals with the process of creation of the current Flight of the Conchords TV series. See also comments by John Smythe above, December 3. By way of comparison, it might be enlightening to hear a description of the creative process behind The Wind Speaks To Wellington which resulted in the review at the top of this thread. Snip snip snippy.


Ms. Katurian:  posted 12 Dec 2007, 03:38 PM / edited 12 Dec 2007, 12:00 AM

Thanks, T MEEK. I will try and locate a copy at some point.

In the meantime, based on reading both the quotes that you’ve supplied, and your own directive to read John’s previous comments, all I can see is evidence that employing a range of creative processes (writing, devising, character improvisation, formal scripting, improvising around a script) can be beneficial, that craft and time pay off in creating good material, and that true fun is hard work. I can’t see what’s especially controversial about any of those conclusions – but you seem fairly triumphant as you flourish this article at us.

I’m lost. Could you elaborate on what, precisely, you think you’ve shown?


Kore Flavell:  posted 13 Dec 2007, 01:45 PM

I’d also be interested to getting a response to Tina Meeks question. What exactly was the creative process that came up with this production?


Mary:  posted 13 Dec 2007, 02:58 PM

While we wait for T’s answer, can I offer my own understanding of his/her point. Which is that really there is only “Writing”, good or bad. Work that appears to be ‘improvised’ and spontaneous in performance (like the Conchords) is presumed by some to have been arrived at in some other way than hard graft Writing, so the word ‘devised’ is used to imply a looser process. The article shows however that the Conchords didn’t use some mysterious new loose process – they WROTE their shows in the old fashioned, disciplined way; and B & J are therefore co-writers.

What’s more in this article J describes their writing process in detail. When is someone going to do the same for ‘devising’? Is there in fact such a thing? Or is it just old fashioned writing by another name? What makes devising different from ordinary old writing?


Ms. Katurian:  posted 13 Dec 2007, 03:36 PM / edited 13 Dec 2007, 04:30 PM

I think T MEEK’s tone speaks more to an agenda, as do their earlier comments, so only time will tell.

Perhaps, Mary, there is only CREATING, and what have been referred to as ‘writing’ and ‘devising’ and ‘improvising’ are not only related, they’re often employed together, and all, when done well, involve rigour in their process. Perhaps, in fact, none of them are new, they’re just given different names over time and the application of them varies.

And yes, wait no longer, because there are a _lot_ of publications about ‘devising practice’, they’re detailed, and many internationally leading groups and individuals teach methodology in masterclasses. Whether you want to portray them as some newfangled thing called devising, or reinvented versions of writing probably has a lot more to do with people’s allegiances than anything else. I find it a rather meaningless debate.

I’d respond with several questions for you, Mary – what is ‘good old writing’, ‘old fashioned writing’, and why is it good and ‘disciplined’ as opposed to this riff-raff devising? Why is writing ‘hard graft’ and devising ‘looser’? Why do they have to be opposed? If I’m doing writing or planning structuring, do you really think I am no longer devising? If I get performers to contribute, am I no longer writing? And why, in all of these cases, does it even matter? I think if you can answer these, you can begin to address your own questions.


Mary:  posted 13 Dec 2007, 07:09 PM

Thanks for that – but as for your questions I really have no idea. I was hoping some NZ ‘devisers’ would address all this, explain what they do and how they define it all.


Michael Smythe:  posted 13 Dec 2007, 08:39 PM / edited 13 Dec 2007, 08:41 PM

Writing and creating come together in that good old fashioned term ‘wrighting’. As far as I know we still spell playwright that way (although US TV did not recently recover from a wrighters’ strike).

My good old Shorter Oxford (1959) defines a wright as an artificer or handicraftsman, esp. a constructive workman. So – any forming or shaping process is okay as long as it’s constructive? (And that’s man as in manual, not as in bloke.)


John Smythe:  posted 13 Dec 2007, 09:45 PM

Here’s how I distinguish between play ‘writing’ and ‘devising’ although – as Michael suggests – both may be considered ‘wrighting’.

If a sole creator writes their blueprint for a structured performance piece in script form before anyone else gets involved, then they have written a play: a play wrought by a playwright.

If two (or more) playwrights collaborate to first communicate their vision the same way – via a written script – that is also a written work.

Where a group of co-creators collaborate to develop an idea into a structured piece for performance, building from research, provocations and other stimuli to first give form to the work in performance mode, usually through improvisation, then it is a devised work. And the more it continues to evolve by this process, the more it is a devised work.

If a solo performer also develops a work in a similar way, that work too is ‘devised’ rather than ‘written’.

Once a written work gets onto its feet, in workshop or rehearsal, it is bound to change through the collaborative input of other creative-cum-recreative practitioners. In this case the playwright revises and, because none of this would have happened unless the writer had written it in the first place, it remains a written work.

It is also common for a devised work, once consolidated, to be written in script form. In the first instance this may be necessary so that stage managers, and light/ sound/ AV operators, etc, can mark up their cues. Otherwise it may be written for posterity, so that revivals can be mounted and/or so that other groups can acquire rights to perform the show.

So yes, Ms Katurian, it is all ‘creating’ – and ‘recreating’ (a.k.a. ‘play’) and either way it is ‘wrought’ into shape for live performance, so it would be linguistically logical to call all of it ‘playwrighting’ if not necessarily ‘play writing’.

I should also add that in the end the criteria for success (or otherwise) in production are the same, regardless of how the work has evolved. Except I do believe we respond differently to – have different expectations of – pre-rehearsed work and live improvisation (i.e. theatre devised before our very eyes). While we may be hugely entertained by material produced instantly in theatre sports-style formats, if those results were scripted, rehearsed and performed again I doubt they would fly. And the reason for that may have everything to do with why there are inherent dangers in what we call devising.

Conversely there are inherent dangers in fully producing scripted works without testing them in action first. [Continues, next posting]

EDITOR posted 17 Dec 2007, 12:05 PM / edited 17 Dec 2007, 12:12 PM

[Postings continued]

Simon Bennett:  posted 14 Dec 2007, 09:07 AM

Yes John, but where does work which ends up being written down, but which is derived from an improvisational/development process with actors, fit in? I’m thinking here of two very successful NZ plays: Fiona Samuel’s The Wedding Party, and Gary Henderson’s Skin Tight.


Mary:  posted 14 Dec 2007, 11:20 AM

Yes Simon. It does seem that often ‘devised’ work tends to overlook the group contribution and credit a dominant individual. Exactly when did group co-written (and group credited) work, which often employs all the creative methods John and others cite above, become formalised into this thing called ‘devised’? Is there a book from some academic which marks the moment in history?


Thomas LaHood:  posted 14 Dec 2007, 01:29 PM

…bringing the whole saga full circle to the initial queries about who owns devised work.

But Simon, who cares where it ‘fits in’? And Mary, since when were artists required to ‘show their working’ to get their grades?


John Smythe:  posted 14 Dec 2007, 01:36 PM

As I understand it, Simon – correct me if I’m wrong, anyone – both Fiona Samuel (The Wedding Party; One Flesh) and Gary Henderson (Skin Tight) did a lot of work on the premise, the concept, the characters and/or the scenarios before they worked with their actors; indeed they must have done in order to assemble an appropriate cast (although in the case of The Wedding Party maybe the ad-hoc ensemble of Depot actors who were available and interested became the starting point for the characters that Fiona developed).

In the development process the actors were interpreting / recreating something which had originated with the writers. And provoked by what had occurred in the workshop space, the writers continued to write and rewrite – including, discarding, modifying, renovating, reinventing … – on the clear understanding that whatever evolved through this process, and was distilled into the various drafts of script, remained the copyright property of the playwright.

All Playmarket workshops proceed on that basis: the director, dramaturg and actors are paid for their services while the playwright ends up owning the outcome.

The International Affiliation of Writers Guilds encapsulates the principle of creation versus recreation with a quote from Genesis: “In the beginning was the Word …”


Simon Bennett:  posted 14 Dec 2007, 04:46 PM / edited 14 Dec 2007, 04:47 PM

What I’m implying is that the devising vs writing debate isn’t a black or white, right or wrong thing. The devising process has been integral to the development of a number of acclaimed works.

Rather than any process being right or wrong, I would venture to suggest that the elements critical to success of theatre work include craft, dramaturgy, taste, a clear sense of purpose (ie something to say), and the application of an informed objective eye while the work is being forged and polished for presentation.

There are many ways of arriving at the right destination.


Ms. Katurian:  posted 16 Dec 2007, 07:57 AM / edited 16 Dec 2007, 08:01 AM

I totally agree, Simon, and have been putting that same opinion out there repeatedly (see previous).

A couple of related thoughts:

1. John, your discussion of improvisation as a form is rather interesting. People do receive work in different ways, but the implication that we enjoy the improvised form but probably wouldn’t if it was written down, is not only something of an odd leap, but I don’t see why improvisation should need legitimation by being written down, nor should it form a judgement one way or another if it is not. It’s a bit like saying that we enjoy painting but we wouldn’t if it was a sculpture: I don’t really see your point. Improvisation is a performance form in itself.

As a related, and interesting point that somewhat confounds your theory about its reception (and I would argue that there’s a slight undercurrent of ‘disposability’ and logocentrism to your argument), talk to any professional improvisor that has been performing for at least, say, a couple of years – or read Keith Johnstone on the same topic – and you’ll find that at least once, often repeatedly, in _every season_, audience members will approach the performers and ask where they can buy the scripts. It happens over, and over, and over (in fact, it’s something that impro performers frequently swap stories about).

2. Your leap from discussing creative process to dwelling on copyright and who-owns-what is a disturbing, worrying trend. And, in contrast with the development of, well, most performative traditions internationally, the Writer’s Guild motto tells me everything I need to know: because on the whole, in the beginning _wasn’t_ the word, but movement and spectacle. Moreover, the righteous connotations of co-opting that quote are more than a little offensive, to tell the truth.

Leaving that aside, as Simon suggests, there is a great deal more out there than these apparent ‘boundaries’ in the creative process, which are themselves remarkably permeable. This principle of ‘creation’ and ‘recreation’ is a particularly artificial distinction when you’re referring to ‘origination’ (a contemporary capitalist intervention into creativity if ever I heard one), especially as many of the worshipped figures in the Western tradition (Greek, Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, say) worked extensively with material that ‘originated’ with other people, and the more we enquire into these processes, the more we understand how blurry they might indeed have been. In fact, I’d suggest that their disdain for ‘originality’ and ‘copyright’ is one of the greatest strengths for the dense frameworks of allusion they are able to employ. Moreover, as Michael reminds us previously, that old definition of ‘wrighting’ as shaping, as crafting from material that is _there_, is something that I think people have tended to gloss over in our addiction to the image of the genius lone writer (thanks, Romantic poets…) who receives ideas from the cosmos.

Writers, particularly when they bring the products of their research and investigations forward and are the initiators and shapers of a project, should certainly be credited for their work and acknowledged. I don’t mean to imply at all that they shouldn’t. But as Simon suggests, there’s a lot more nuance to the discussion than erecting territories – and if anything, I believe that the jump towards discussing copyright and ownership is often rather revealing of territorial impulse when I’d believed we were discussing process…


Mary:  posted 16 Dec 2007, 10:59 AM

Ms Katurian is possibly not aware of how often actors’ input into ‘devised’ plays is exploited by ambitious individuals. The Writers Guild, Playmarket and other writers agencies possibly are.


Ms Katurian:  posted 16 Dec 2007, 08:43 PM / edited 16 Dec 2007, 08:45 PM

No, I’m more than aware of it; I’ve even seen it take place. It just wasn’t the point of my discussion.

(By the way, for a pseudonym previously asking questions about the basis of devising and creation, that’s a remarkably informed statement…)


Mary:  posted 17 Dec 2007, 12:05 AM

No, I didn’t want to know about “the basis of devising and creation”; I was interested in what NZ groups actually do – “what actually happens.” Concrete examples from recent devised productions is what I was hoping for, from the participants. Given up hope now.


Murray Lynch:  posted 17 Dec 2007, 10:49 AM / edited 17 Dec 2007, 12:00 AM

I’m harking back to earlier in the thread but I want to put the record straight about the creation of ‘The Wedding Party’ and ‘One Flesh’. The process for ‘Wedding’ was that Tantrum theatre company, not The Depot who later staged the script, invited Fiona to write a show for the actors in the company and for myself to direct. A series of provocations and improvisations surrounding the events at a wedding were set up by myself and Fiona. This took place over a period of three weeks.

Whilst we continued to explore some of the characters that arose out of this, Fiona began to produce scenes based on the work on the rehearsal floor. She would deliver scenes for us to rehearse and we began to piece these together into a play while she continued to write further scenes away from the rehearsals. It was a collaborative process. Some of the resulting play resembles the characters created by actors and scenes improvised but much, perhaps most, of it is Fiona’s invention.

‘One Flesh’ was begun in a similar way in a workshop where both David Geary, who wrote an accompanying play, ‘Ruapehu’, and Fiona participated in exploring ideas with the actors,led by myself. Both writers then went away and wrote. However, in this case the resulting plays bore little, if any, resemblance to the explorations of the workshop.

John Smythe      posted 17 Dec 2007, 12:08 PM / edited 17 Dec 2007, 12:09 PM

Thanks, Murray, for you clarifications – hopefully you have restored hope for ‘Mary’ (whose 14 Dec posting was held up in the Spam Trap – sorry about that.).

And apologies to you, Ms Katurian for taking so long to respond to your questions to me. It seems you have taken offence where none was intended – or are you just being purposely provocative? 

On improvisation:

The formats initially created by Keith Johnstone (‘Yes Games’ and ‘Theatresports’), then developed by others, include specific components that make them suitable for live public performance to a paying audience. The audience is in on the games, contributing key elements and challenges, and a large percentage of the entertainment factor derives from their seeing those elements included and challenges met, knowing it has been achieved through a very special set of essentially ego-less skills that fully embrace the principles and benefits of group creativity and ensemble acting. And such skills are, of course, totally relevant to all theatre performance.

Improvisation used in a non-public devising workshop – to test out / develop and otherwise play with ideas and material brought to the group by ensemble members – addresses entirely different objectives, although the above-mentioned skill remain fully relevant. Improvising around an idea is one of the ways raw material can be worked and reworked – as with a potter, painter, sculptor, winemaker, brewer of beers, distiller of spirits, fashion designer, product designer … – in the process of creating something that may eventually be ready for public consumption.

So ‘improvisation’ – the word and the activity – can be used in very different ways, I see clear value in both applications, and I make the point again that when the audience is in on the ‘game’, the conditions required for their being entertained differ strongly from the assumptions and expectations they would normally bring to a show they believe has been thoroughly honed / distilled / pre-rehearsed. 

The fact that some people might ask where they can get the script after they have seen an especially good impro show does not, to my mind, detract from any of the above. I still maintain that if an exact transcription became The Script for a rehearsed show, without any further development or editing, the performance dynamic would be totally different and the audience would not be nearly as impressed with the result. The point here has nothing to do with “legitimising” the work; it’s to do with audience expectations and the audience/performer relationship – or (dare I say?) ‘contract’.

On copyright:

WARNING: The following paragraphs may contain references to property, ownership and territory which may be offensive to those who perceive such notions as capitalist or restrictive of artistic freedoms. Others may see them as fundamentally necessary to the proposition that being an artist (of quality and/or popularity, in any discipline) may be a viable profession.

Ideas cannot be copyrighted but the form in which an idea is expressed – as a created artefact – is (in most legal jurisdictions) automatically considered the property of its creator, unless and until a contract exists that says otherwise. Such agreements usually involve a selective releasing of rights, usually defined by time and territory, rather than assignment of the copyright in itself. (Writing scripts for series and serials usually involves assigning the copyright to the producer, who may or may not have originated the concept.)

With film, TV and any other form of recorded production, there are two copyright properties involved: the script and the produced work. Because live theatre is ephemeral, it is harder for the work of live performers to be protected, except by stipulating it may not be recorded in any form without the requisite agreements.

This derives from both Copyright and Moral Rights (droit morale) whereby an artist retains ‘authorship’ of the integrity of the work regardless of who owns the property (e.g. y0u can own the Mona Lisa but you may not paint a moustache on it; the WCC can own the fern ball sculpture in Civic Square but they may not adorn it with Christmas lights without the permission of the artist). But when it comes to acting work, both live and recorded, this principle is so hard to pin down and monitor that most contracts – especially in highly collaborative areas like film – require actors and other creative artists (script writers, designers, cinematographers – but probably not composers) to waive them. Moral rights cannot be assigned but they can be waived.

Ms Katurian        posted 17 Dec 2007, 12:50 PM / edited 17 Dec 2007, 04:25 PM


thank you for taking the time to reply.  I was certainly being provocative, but would’ve thought it was pretty clear that the only thing I was really taking ‘offence’ to, and largely in the rhetorical sense, was the dual implication that 1.  performance work needs to be stabilised and ‘written’ to be valued, but more importantly 2.  the rather disturbing (all the _more_ so given that the quote was probably originally taken up light-heartedly, without thinking about its politics) use of the biblical reference that the Writer’s Guild employs.   I’m sure that you can understand that the acquisition of biblical terms as an organization’s guiding principle does tend to make the organization run at least a minimal risk of looking rather self-righteous (it’s something to do with the identification with a deity, I suspect….)

I certainly find discussions of property and ownership, and the politics thereof far from offensive, as I was one of the people who stepped into that territory.  Moreover, I did so with the intent of contributing a different angle, if a fairly robust one, to the debate.   The way I see things, this is a measure of respect in an exchange of views: to honor an idea by being rigorous in grappling with it.   I’m sure, given your statements on critical engagement with artistic endeavor, that you would agree.

In terms of the improvisation discussion, I’d maintain that we are still somewhat at cross purposes.  While I agree with your distinction between applications of improvisation, I believe that your suggestion that people bring different ‘expectations’ to an improvisation-as-performance show is correct in a sense, but perhaps ‘more’ correct than you think.  That’s why I argued that it’s a fundamental distinction of form, and that whether it can be shifted between forms reveals nothing more than that – that it is difficult to shift between forms.  There’s much more to impro (even, and especially, Keith’s brand of it) than the ‘games’ of ‘Theatresports’, and many groups don’t even take ask-fors at all: this is a common approach internationally.  So I contend that the ‘buy-in’ in many impro settings is a somewhat different beast from what you claim you feel as an audience member; similarly, I do believe that the  manner in which people ‘ask for the scripts’ clearly does  indicate a more nuanced reception than I believe you are claiming.  Whether it can be written down and reproduced is, to me, a somewhat different question altogether.

Similarly, in terms of copyright and ownership, we’re also conducting somewhat parallel discussions.  I was talking of the political underpinning and implications of the almost immediate shift to talking about ‘copyright’ in any conversation about process or crediting of contribution to a project.  As you’ll note above, I even expressly acknowledge that the act of crediting contribution is key (in these terms, I discussed this in relation to the writer – but I believe that this is true of the entire creative team).  Certainly I am being provocative, but I am being provocative more at the level of value (or what ‘should be’), most particularly in relation to the idea of ‘originating’, which I find an intensely troubled element here.  Nonetheless, I absolutely uphold the rights of creative teams to assert differing degrees (or even a sole degree) of contribution to shaping.

Your discussion talks primarily of application of the law, which tends more towards the category of fact.  Of course, fact and value discussions don’t directly mesh: they are different argumentative categories.  This is why our arguments have quite different inflections.  I can quibble with the capitalist underpinning of the idea of copyright, but I can also work towards applying credit where credit is due.  They’re related, but far from the same.  That’s precisely why I am challenging this idea of origination as you define it.  Similarly, while I appreciate the rhetorical flourish, your loading of the dice to make it a choice between those who dispute this idea of ‘origination’, and those who uphold what is ‘fundamentally necessary’ to a ‘viable profession’ introduces a false dichotomy:  precisely because I agree that questions of contribution and credit are key.  I just differ with your solution.  So – I am neither offended, nor intending to be offensive.  I’d just genuinely like to shake these ideas up.

John Smythe      posted 17 Dec 2007, 04:55 PM / edited 27 May 2009, 09:55 PM

Ah, those were the days when a whimsical rhetorical flourish – e.g. “In the beginning was the word”, to encapsulate the meaning of life for the Writers Guild – could happily make its point by bringing a smile to the lips, rather than derail the discussion by bringing a frown to the brow. The irony is that The Bible – the Old Testament especially – is riddled with rhetoric, not to mention allegory, parable and metaphor … Not much humour, though.

At the risk of damning my soul to an eternity of torment, or exposing myself to more temporal retribution, I confess I would love to own the copyright in that Book (not for personal gain, you understand, but to allow this site to become fully professional). Which leads to the question, was The Bible written or was it devised, before it was translated, versioned, revised* and re-revised, let alone adapted?

Of course it’s debatable whether the Genesis quote even serves the Writers Guild at all, given ownership in that particular Word (of ‘God’) cannot be vested in any mere mortal. Or may one attribute authorship to the New Testament Gospels, at least? Or were the epistles of those Apostles simply the media by which those words were handed down from a higher place?

Which brings us to this question of ‘origination’. To quote from The Bard himself – who no doubt got one or the other or both ideas from somewhere / someone else – “there is nothing new under the sun” even if “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. Hence the crucial distinction, in law, that it is the form in which something is expressed that is the tangible (proof of?) creative work; i.e. the intellectual property. Thus history can inform, and be the basis of, ‘original’ creative work.

Mind you, history also proves what a slippery can of worms this can be – c.f. the origins of Alex Haley’s Roots; The Full Monty (vis à vis Ladies’ Night); The Da Vinci Code  … etc. The there was the Penumbra project which sparked off the epic Who Owns Devised Work? forum (started 27/2/2007 and still going)…

*Umm … if the noun from ‘revised’ is ‘revision’, why isn’t the noun from ‘devised’ ‘devision’? ‘Re-visioning’ a work to improve it makes sense, but ‘de-visioning’ it …? Nah. That is just a linguistic glitch which must not be rhetorically misused to support the anti-devising faction (to which I emphatically do not belong).

Ms Katurian, I do fully welcome your approach to all this for all the reasons you suggest. As for whether we are at cross purposes on the improvisation discussion, I say again I am not trying to suggest “performance work needs to be stabilised and ‘written’ to be valued”, I simply wish to note that some devising processes involve improvisations as a strategy for group creating.  And, regardless of whether the produced work finally exists in script form, it’s important to note that the joy experienced in the moment of conception cannot be seen as an indicator of the quality of the artefact thus produced.  Indeed the metaphors of a gestation period with regular check-ups, the agony and ecstasy of birth, then further maturation towards independence, can all be validly applied.

Lone writers must also revisit the results of their initial intuitive impulses, no matter how exciting the moments of discovery were. Hence the truism that writing is largely rewriting; that creation is mostly recreation … And is it, then, a linguistic accident that ‘recreation’ means ‘play’?

Trygve Wakenshaw         posted 18 Dec 2007, 04:48 PM

hello. i think these are my thoughts on the difference between writing and devising a play:

A written play begins as a seed of an idea and built upon until the writer or writing team is satisfied that it can now be called a piece of gold. It is presented as a piece of gold, that is accepted therefore everyone involved treats it as gold then polishes and waxes and buffs and works like hell to make it shine.

A devised play begins with a seed of an idea, or even an entire script but no-one really wants to call it gold, maybe it’s just a shiny rock with some gold flakes somewhere. Throughout the process things are cut and slaughtered and thrown out and shaved and trimmed until the team (or individual) says “Yes, that’s gold”.  But with so much brutalising of the original slightly shiny rock the gold that remains is very small. So people remember some other similar shiny rocks they saw as they were hacking up the original one and everyone gets together to pummel these newly presented rocks, hacking off the bit which are definately not gold. sometimes someone brings a log, out come the blades and slash away, “Any gold?”, “No, that was a log. No gold there.”. So, after enough rock smashing they’re left with heaps of gold, and with all that abrasive blasting it’s pretty shiny already.


Written work fails if it was never actually gold and/or if the waxing and buffing was ineffectively or slowly done.

Devised work fails if too many logs are presented and/or there’s not enough time to smash enough rocks (sometimes it’s fun to put a piece of shiny rock in and see if anyone notices)

But you can get gold through either process.

Good actors aren’t always good devisers and good devisers aren’t always good actors.

Actors can be very good at polishing and buffing but may not know the difference between gold and a log. Or may simply not have the right tools to crack rocks into pieces and pick out the gold.

And some devisers will never accept that what is presented to them is gold and will start smashing away.

I think i like this analogy. Plus, it makes sense of John’s comment on linguistics:

“if the noun from ‘revised’ is ‘revision’, why isn’t the noun from ‘devised’ ‘devision’? ‘Re-visioning’ a work to improve it makes sense, but ‘de-visioning’ it …? Nah. That is just a linguistic glitch which must not be rhetorically misused to support the anti-devising faction”

I like to assume that words are there for a reason and peculiarities are more than a glitch.


PS: i think performed improvisation (i.e. theatresports) is where you a given a log and then spray-paint it gold with some paint you brought along with you or found lying around.

Ms Kutarian        posted 18 Dec 2007, 05:25 PM / edited 18 Dec 2007, 06:25 PM

John, really I don’t see your point. Your righteous and offensive connotations are remarkably permeable, while your artificial distinctions have undercurrents of disposability and logocentrism that make your reinvention of methodology rather meaningless. Everywhere you seem looking for legitimation. I have tried to grapple with the nuances of your views but constantly come up against this acquisition of yours of some sort of agenda of self-righteousness. Aren’t we discussing process?

[NOTE:  This was not posted by the member who uses the name Ms Katurian – note the subtle difference in spelling.  In this case legitimate satire has saved it, however I do reserve the right to delete completely postings that appear to be ‘passing off’ as being from existing members – ED]

Ellen Walsh         posted 18 Dec 2007, 05:42 PM

Do you know what I think is self-righteous? People feeling the need to over use polysyllabic words in their posts.

Paul McLaughlin               posted 19 Dec 2007, 03:04 PM

Some of the above posts merely reinforce calls for the end of pseudonyms. Notice how little real debate comes from legitimate theatre practitioners anymore? Merry Xmas everyone!

stephen gallagher            posted 19 Dec 2007, 06:18 PM / edited 19 Dec 2007, 09:54 PM

Check this from The Guardian.. 

Ellen Walsh         posted 19 Dec 2007, 10:04 PM

Paul, I dont think you can use pseudonyms on the forum anymore anyway…It doesn’t seem to let you change your name to something different..Unless people using them have registered/re-registered using a fake name..

John Smythe      posted 19 Dec 2007, 10:27 PM / edited 8 Jan 2008, 02:22 PM

This joker in The Guardian can’t be serious. 

The only thing almost as absurd as his article is the Royal Court practice of handing the script as programme to audiences during the premiere season of a new play.  It is inevitable changes will have happened between the time the text went to print and opening night.

As for calling any script “a ghost. A memory of past performances and past performers. A memorial to dead actors and dead writers”, that’s just dumb. Of course it’s a blueprint for future productions; a starting point; a foundation on which new creative talents may build. Why on earth should theatre practitioners feel threatened by that? It’s a means of exchange, for heaven’s sake, that allows wider access to something much more than words on the page, just as music in manuscript form is a means to a greater end.

By the way, Paul, Ellen’s right – members can no longer use multiple aliases on the same sign-in. But we don’t demand to see your passport so you can join using different names. And I think that here – as well as on other sites like The Guardian one – valuable contributions are posted under pseudonyms, as well as by well known practitioners.

Ellen      posted 19 Dec 2007, 11:02 PM / edited 8 Jan 2008, 02:21 PM

With blogs, while I find them interesting sometimes, I would only read it as an opinion and maybe a conversation starter. Or sometimes pure entertainment.

With scripts, I think they are a good starting place..any notes within an original script, are in my opinion what the original playwright wanted to happen within the play. There would be a frustration doing it to the tee, as it is sometimes described in scripts, because it is so confining and dull in some cases. It would just become imitation then. Every group of people realising a play is going to do it differently as their is a different dynamic with each group of people and of course a director will have his own take on it.So really, I think some people just like reading about the history of a play, it’s fun to think “wow, so and so played such and such!” or whatever.

Reading back over this…I may have strayed off topic but it’s been a long day with the run up to Christmas and all so my brain is running at a lower speed 🙂

Trygve Wakenshaw         posted 8 Jan 2008, 12:18 AM

so, who are the good nz playwrights?

and who are good nz devising companies?

or is that rude of me to ask?

Eleanor Bishop posted 8 Jan 2008, 11:40 AM

I think the Royal Court practice (that when you attend a new play there (which is almost all their productions), the theatre programme is the script) is a magnificent idea. It ensures that new plays get published, and have a life beyond their original production. It means they can be read and studied at university and high school. It means that trends and new discoveries in the theatre can quickly be passed on to other practitioners.

Imagine if Sarah Kane’s Blasted was not published when it premiered in 1995…it almost certainly never would have been published, it would have died a quiet death because initially the critics lambasted it. It became successful because it was published and people picked it up and read it…like famous British playwright Mark Ravenhill…

“I hadn’t met Sarah until well after the first production of Blasted in 1995, and I had neither seen nor read her play when I wrote Shopping and Fucking. I remembered the storm surrounding the opening night and idly thought it was probably another bad play that the sensation-hungry media were making too great a fuss about. But then, in the spring of 1996, a young female student whose work I was supervising chose to write about Blasted and I sat down reluctantly to read it. I quickly realised that this was a substantial piece of writing….What had seemed to many of the male, middle-aged critics to be a shapeless piece of graffiti masquerading as a play – “a disgusting feast of filth”, as the Daily Mail labelled it – was, in fact, a carefully honed piece of work, having gone through some 20 drafts….”

And then Ravenhill, as the director of Paines Plough new writing company gave Sarah a commission to write her second play, Phaedra’s Love…and so her career continued. And a student of his was writing about Blasted ?, less than a year after its premiere! Imagine if plays didn’t have to sit around for twenty years before they could get put on academic courses? And NZ plays no less?

John Smythe      posted 8 Jan 2008, 02:19 PM / edited 8 Dec 2009, 02:37 PM

Trygve Wakenshaw asks, “so, who are the good NZ playwrights? and who are good NZ devising companies?”  A rundown of nominees and winners (in bold) in relevant categories of the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards for the last 10 years will go some way towards offering an answer. 

Of course this list only covers productions mounted in Wellington, and there are always some who mysteriously miss out on nominations – like Leilani Unasa’s His Mothers Son and Vivienne Plumb’s The Cape, just last year, when all three nominees for Production of the Year were NZ plays! – so there will be many excellent works and writers not mentioned below. Feel free to offer further names and/or expand on this information … 




Dirt – Bret McKenzie, Jeremy Randerson, Jackie van Beek, Gentiane Lupi, Jason Whyte

The Abattoir – Stephen Bain & Frances Herve

Frangipani Perfume – Erolia Ifopo


Automaton – devised by ???; (directed by Jacqueline Wilson)

The Sojourns of Boy – by Briar Grace-Smith & Jo Randerson; (dir. David O’Donnell)

Flood – Tracey Monastra & Emma Willis


Box / Role / Dream – by Lynda Chanwai-Earle (dir. Vanessa Byrnes)

Fragments – Peter Wilson & Nick Blake

SEEyD – Tim Spite, Genevieve McLean, Richard Edge & Scott Macky


inSalt – SEEyD Company

Irish Annals of Aotearoa – by Michael O’Leary; (dir. Simon O’Connor, David O’Donnell)

Wild Night American Dream – The Clinic


The Perfect Plan – Jealous

SAnD – SEEyD Company

The Pickle King – Indian Ink Theatre Company


DnA – Just Add Water; dir. Jacqueline Coats

Strata – by Kirk Torrance; dir. Tim Spite

Vula – The Conch; dir. Nina Nawalawalo


The Peculiar Case of Clara Parsons – the clinic

Sniper – the 24/7 Project; dir. Kerryn Palmer

Yatra – The Untouchables


Head – Nightsong Productions and Theatre Stampede

Migrant Nation – Migrant Nation Collective; dir. Jade Eriksen

Demeter’s Dark Ride – Pandemonium Attractions; imagined and led by Madeline McNamara


Arcane – Theatreheuristic & BATS Theatre

Dr Buller’s Birds – written & directed by Nick Blake

Yours Truly – by Albert Beltz, dir. David O’Donnell


Hotel – site-specific.co.nz

Settling – A Slightly Isolated Dog

Turbine – SEEyD Company



Victor Roger – Sons

Lucy Schmidt – Trash

Virginia Fenton – Purple Frog


Toa Fraser – Bare

Diana Fuemana – Mapaki

Mel Johnston – I’m Having It Off With Ajax


James Griffin – Serial Killers

Bervin Linkhorn – Confessions of an Adolescent Stormtrooper

Gabe McDonnell – The Inept


Ryan McFadyen – Shootout

Kathryn Van Beek – Little Death

William Walker – Take Me Home Mr!


Peter Cox – The Plum Tree

Megan Huber – Gravity

Tom Scott – The Daylight Atheist


Dean Hewitson – Head of the House

Matthew Saville – The Boxer

Kirk Torrance – Strata


Vela Manasaute – The Taro King

Paul Rothwell – Golden Boys

Brian Sergent – The Love of Humankind


Paul Rothwell – Hate Crimes

Matthew Saville – Kikia Te Poa

Lauren Jackson – Exchange


Jan Bolwell – Here’s Hilda

Julie Hill – Stories Told To Me By Girls

Sonya Stewart – Wheel


Brian Hotter – Pig Hunt

Charlotte Simmonds – The Story of Nohome Neville and Unwholesome Clare who Worked in Kitchens and Smelt Like a Dish

Rob Mokoraka & Paolo Rotondo – Strange Resting Places



Sons – by Victor Roger

The Farm – by David Geary

Home Fires – by Hone Kouka


Bare – by Toa Fraser

This Train I’m On – by Greg McGee

The Sojourns of Boy – by Briar Grace-Smith & Jo Randerson 


The Candlestickmaker – Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis

Flipside – Ken Duncum

No 2 – Toa Fraser


Have Car, Will Travel – by Mitch Tawhi Thomas

Take Me Home Mr! – by William Walker

Waterloo Sunset – by Ken Duncum


The Daylight Atheist – by Tom Scott

The Pickle King – by Jacob Rajan & Justin Lewis

Trick of the Light – Ken Duncum


Awhi Tapu – by Albert Belz

Cherish – by Ken Duncum

Potiki’s Memory of Stone – by Briar Grace-Smith


The Love of Humankind – by Brian Sergent

Niu Sila – by Oscar Kightley and Dave Armstrong

The Prophet – by Hone Kouka


The Tutor – by Dave Armstrong

Baghdad, Baby – by Dean Parker

The Remedy Syndrome – by Tim Spite, Leo Gene Peters, Danielle Mason, Pedro Ilgenfritz


Picture Perfect – by Ken Duncum

Troy the Musical – by Paul Jenden

Yours Truly – by Albert Belz


The Hollow Men – by Dean Parker (adap. From the book by Nicky Hager)

Homeland – by Gary Henderson

Turbine – The SEEyD Company

PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR (where it is a homegrown play)


[No NZ plays nominated]


The Sojourns of Boy – by Briar Grace-Smith & Jo Randerson;  dir. David O’Donnell / BATS


Flipside – by Ken Duncum; dir. Simon Bennett / Circa Studio


Take Me Home Mr! – by William Walker; dir. Steven Ray / Circa Studio


The Pickle King – Indian Ink Theatre Company


Cherish – by Ken Duncum; dir. Katherine McRae / Circa Theatre


Niu Sila – by Oscar Kightley and Dave Armstrong; dir. Conrad Newport / Downstage Theatre


[No NZ plays nominated]


Yours Truly – by Albert Belz; dir. David O’Donnell / Left of Centre Productions at BATS


The Hollow Men – by Dean Parker (adap. From the book by Nicky Hager); dir. Jonathon Hendry / BATS

Homeland – by Gary Henderson; dir. Jane Waddell / Circa One

Strange Resting Places – Rob Mokoraka & Paolo Rotondo; dir. Leo Gene Peters / BATS

T MEEK                 posted 8 Jan 2008, 03:50 PM

John, I agree with you, “There are always some who mysteriously miss out on [Chapman Tripp] nominations” and you cite, as one of two examples, Vivienne Plumb’s The Cape, currently about to get a season further north. But John, you were one of the Chapmann Tripp judges. Why is its omission “mysterious” to you? Were you out of the room at the time? Are we to assume its shameful rejection is to be blamed entirely on Laurie Atkinson, Lynn Freeman and Harry Ricketts?

John Smythe      posted 8 Jan 2008, 04:02 PM / edited 8 Jan 2008, 04:05 PM

Not at all, T Meek – “mysteriously” may have been a bad choice of word. The point is that it was a very strong year for homegrown work, as evidenced by all three Production of the Year nominees. So – because it’s a numbers game – plays / productions, such as the two mentioned, that were thoroughly praised by all the critics, didn’t make the final cut. In other years they probably would have.

Every year, through the inevitable vagaries of democracy, each of us is disappointed that something didn’t make it.  All I can say (and I do so every year) is that while everything that gets nominated thoroughly deserves it, many other deserving souls and works miss out.

(Incidentally, there was a 5th critic on the panel last year: Melody Nixon from the Lumiere Reader.)

T MEEK                 posted 9 Jan 2008, 11:08 AM / edited 9 Jan 2008, 11:09 AM

I’m trying to read what’s between the lines here, John. You’ve taken back “mysteriously” and replaced it with “vagaries of democracy”. This seems to be coded language for your having voted for The Cape while a majority of Atkinson/Freeman/Ricketts/Nixon didn’t. Well, fair enough. Credit to you. I think if there were any others on the judging panel who voted for The Cape alongside you, they should now take advantage of this forum to raise their hands. As things stand, all four of them continue to share the shame of what really was a staggering decision.

John Smythe      posted 9 Jan 2008, 12:47 PM / edited 9 Jan 2008, 02:48 PM

To attempt to play a ‘name and shame’ game on this one, T Meek, is surely a fruitless errand.  The fact is both the ‘Outstanding New Playwright of the Year’ and ‘New New Zealand Play of the Year’ categories were extremely strong in 2007.

Each of the five critics doubtless struggled to reduce their lists of worthy contenders to 3 nominations each, at which point the numbers game democracy boils down to had its way.  Each of us probably wept inwardly for one or two of those that didn’t make it, and I expand on the possibilities below (not an exhaustive list) simply to prove what a struggle it was.

While, for example, ‘New’ playwrights Leilani Unasa (His Mother’s Son), Grant Buist (Fitzbunny: lust for glory) and Margot McRae (Finding Murdoch) may well have among the names put forward, it was Brian Hotter (Pig Hunt), Charlotte Simmonds (The Story of Nohome Neville and Unwholesome Clare who Worked in Kitchens and Smelt like a Dish) and Rob Mokaraka & Paolo Rotondo (Strange Resting Places) who came through as finalists when the tally was done, with the latter both winning and being nominated as Production of the Year.

Likewise the titles offered for ‘New NZ Play of the Year’ may well have included The Cape (Vivienne Plumb), The Viagra Monologues (Geraldine Brophy), Deliver Us (Paul Rothwell) and Backwards in High Heels (Stuart Hoar), but it was Turbine (SEEyD Company), The Hollow Men (Dean Parker, adap. from Nicky Hager) and Homeland (Gary Henderson) that made the cut, with the latter winning both that category and Production of the Year, for which The Hollow Men was also nominated. 

Feel free, T Meek, to suggest which you would have dropped in favour of The Cape.  Whichever it is, you won’t be alone.  Such, as I’ve said, are the vagaries of democracy.  And in the end all we can do is celebrate the fact that we are so well endowed with good writers and writing, and be sure not to write off those who didn’t happen to be nominated this time round.

T MEEK                 posted 9 Jan 2008, 05:02 PM / edited 9 Jan 2008, 05:04 PM

Well, now, similarly, John, your attempt to get me into a name-and-shame game is going to be fruitless. Suffice to say that I would have placed The Cape on top of a list for Play of the Year. That it didn’t appear at all is, as your honest first response indicated, “mysterious”. I don’t think you should step back from that response. Stick to your guns, John! Feel free to condemn your fellow judges!

John Smythe      posted 9 Jan 2008, 05:14 PM / edited 9 Jan 2008, 05:15 PM

Please desist, T Meek, from implying I mean to criticise my colleagues.  I do not.  The playwrights and plays that were nominated are all highly deserving.  The others I have mentioned are also excellent writers and writings.  Your opinion is clear and very welcome – but please refrain from putting it into my mouth!

Aaron Alexander              posted 10 Jan 2008, 11:00 AM

Can we assume, T Meek, that you saw ALL of the potential contenders in order to put The Cape on the top so unequivocally?

T MEEK                 posted 10 Jan 2008, 05:02 PM

No, fair enough. Of the three Chapman Tripp finalists, I saw two but read reviews of the third that made an initial hesitation to venture in so prolonged I missed the show entirely. So, okay.

I saw, of course, The Cape. Compared to the two Chapman Tripp finalists I watched, The Cape was better in every, every way. And what I read of the third finalist made me inclined to suspect The Cape was infinitely superior, in concept and execution.

But what I’ve been arguing is that someone who saw The Cape and the three Chapman Tripp finalists and everything else that was around has admitted (with subsequent nervous shufflings) he found The Cape’s omission from the best three plays of 2007 “mysterious”. And that was one of the judges. 

Michael Smythe                posted 25 Apr 2009, 02:07 PM / edited 25 Apr 2009, 02:15 PM

I thought of this forum when I read Peter Calder’s review of the Australian movie ‘Men’s Group’ in this morning’s Herald. It includes the following:

“There was a script – it won best script at the audience-voted Inside Film awards last year – but the actors never saw it. By a technique the film-makers called whispering, each actor was told roughly what to do and say but – crucially – he didn’t know what the others were being told. The directed improvisation yields pure gold – and it’s richer for the fact that everything they printed was a first take.

“There are moments of awkwardness, to be sure, and the handheld camera gets a bit wearing at times but, to paraphrase the beer commercial, this film touches parts of you that other films don’t reach.”

Has anyone used this approach to create a stage play in New Zealand? Or is that impossible given that the magic of the ‘first take’ can only happen once?

sam trubridge    posted 15 May 2009, 02:35 PM

Hi John. It has been done in theatre. By Mike Leigh in the development and premiere of ‘Abigails Party’ in 1977. I read a fantastic interview with Alison Steadman about the process which did exactly what ‘Men’s Group’ did by keeping performers in their own discreet realms of the work, withholding secrets from them, and only introducing the final scene, the twist, right before the show opened. I think this interview is in Keith Johnstone’s book ‘Impro’ and is a great read. As a practitioner I find it fascinating craft, but partially feel that is an example of process over product… and am reminded that aside from this it really was just another drawing room drama with a few chairs and a plot twist.

Bert van Dijk       posted 8 Oct 2009, 10:50 AM

 I have just joined the theatreview website and as a deviser was interested in a Forum on writing versus devising. After wrestling through all the entries there was surprisingly little on the actual topic but perhaps that is the case with online Forums.

Devised Theatre is a process of theatre making in which all the artists involved (actors, director, designers) through collaborative exploration of a point of departure (an image, object, story, topic, character(s), location, play, scene, etc. etc.) develop a performance that is original, current and unforeseen (full of surprise).

Writing on the other hand is relates to the notation of one of the vocabularies of the theatre making process. Other vocabularies are sound, movement, space, light and objects.

For me personally I find theatre in which the written and spoken word is dominating the other vocabularies unbearable and in my work I aim to use Body, Space, Voice, Text and Light as equal partners in the process of image making.

The devising process requires rigor as well as a methodology – however in its methodology devisers embrace messiness and not knowing the outcome as a fundamental way of exploring and discovering new and unforeseen possibilities.

There are two major challenges to devising work:

1: Time – it takes a lot of time to research, explore, score and rehearse an original work to a high standard

2. Scoring – although we are familiar with writing as the scoring of dialogue, little has been done to develop the scoring of the non-verbal vocabularies: movement, space, vocal quality, light, etc.

Playmarket has done little to support and encourage devisers to develop and publish the scoring of their works – whereas nowadays most successful international theatre companies use devising strategies to develop their work (look at program of the various International Theatre Festivals). Devised Theatre is mainstream on the international stage and will become mainstream in New Zealand as well sooner or later.

John Smythe      posted 10 Oct 2009, 06:10 PM

“Writing on the other hand is related to the notation of one of the vocabularies of the theatre making process. Other vocabularies are sound, movement, space, light and objects.”

Do I detect in this, Bert, that you think the text of a play is nothing but dialogue and some stage directions? To me it is the tip of a very big iceberg that harbours multiple life histories, desires, feelings, unspoken thoughts, unifying themes, implied physical actions, metaphysical concepts … etc, etc.  When it is produced for performance, the text is the source and inspiration for all the other ‘vocabularies’ – sound, movement, space, light and objects – employed to give the work life.

Even when the work is devised in three-dimensions first then notated in written form, that text is the ‘egg’ from which another production may hatch.  It is, if you like, the repository of all the DNA information required to give it life again.

Bert van Dijk       posted 10 Oct 2009, 08:36 PM

Hi John,

The distinction that you refer to relates to the distinction between Form and Content.

You can say that Form is the totality of physical and vocal actions and thus encompasses the various vocabularies of text, sound, movement, light and so on – whereas the Content is the quality given to these actions – the intangible aspects of the performance and involves intentions, feelings, imagery and so on.

In the same way that there is more to the text than just the spoken dialogue there is more to the other vocabularies than just the tangible aspects (movement, use of space, vocal sounds produced, lighting design, etc.). For each vocabulary there is the tangible Form and the intangible Content.

What I (and many contemporary theatre practitioners) have moved away from is to consider the text as the only or even most important point of departure in creating theatre to incorporate a variety of other possible sources to create meaning and evocative theatre from. Such as locations, images, objects, issues, poetry, music – and so on.

Mark Amery       posted 19 Oct 2009, 12:55 PM / edited 19 Oct 2009, 07:34 PM

 As Director of Playmarket I need to respond to what might cause an unfounded assumption about Playmarket’s development support (and I’m not sure if I answer you Bert, or whether your point is more specific). Bert writes:

“Playmarket has done little to support and encourage devisers to develop and publish the scoring of their works – whereas nowadays most successful international theatre companies use devising strategies to develop their work.”

Five years ago or so Playmarket introduced Theatrelab to provide dramaturgical support to collaborative and devising models for playwriting/theatre creation. This comes with similar conditions to that by sole authors in terms of a prudent use of resources to support the very best and to look at where we can have a meaningful input.

Productions receiving this support in the last four years have included Apollo 13, The Clinic, Afterburner with The Singularity, Penumbra, Strange Resting Places, Settling (Leo Gene Peters and co), Live at Six (09 STAB), Wheeler’s Luck, and From India With Love.

Our focus remains in this to support the development of our best emerging and established writers for the theatre, but however they wish to work (we don’t pretend in this to have development resources to assist with the creation/writing of any work be it a person in front of a computer or created on the floor (that’s the preserve of CNZ)  – rather to provide dramaturgical advise to provide a external eye and ear.

I would be interested in further discussion about what publishing scoring devised work might look like.

Clearly our focus is on the support of the rights and development and promotion of playwrights work, but we also recognise the need to utilise our dramaturgical-skills base a range of different ‘strategies’ for the creation of new NZ theatre work. And we also see a need for the rights of the writers – whoever and however they are writing – to be respected in the creation of a theatre work.

Michael Smythe                posted 20 Oct 2009, 09:27 AM / edited 20 Oct 2009, 12:26 PM

Once again I feel compelled to conduct a spelling and comprehension class. Mark, you wrote of “models for playwriting/theatre creation”. You must now write ‘playwright’ 500 times and write a 500 word essay on the reasons the word is spelt that way.

I do accept that you got it right in the final paragraph, but think how much more understanding, empathy and leadership Playmarket would demonstrate if your last sentence had read:

And we also see a need for the rights of the wrighters – whoever and however they are wrighting – to be respected in the creation of a theatre work.

Corin Havers       posted 20 Oct 2009, 11:43 AM

Why would someone who was writing a play feel better understood if they were described as ‘wrighting’ a play?  Don’t we use it in just the same way we might use ‘novelwright’ or ‘poetwright’ or ‘screenplaywright’?

Michael Smythe                posted 20 Oct 2009, 11:52 AM / edited 20 Oct 2009, 12:03 PM

No. Check your dictionary and spellcheck. There is no such word as playwrite.

Corin Havers       posted 20 Oct 2009, 12:15 PM

 The I feel ‘copmelled’ to admit that you’ve lost me.  There is such a word as ‘playwriting’ – so what is your point?

Michael Smythe                posted 20 Oct 2009, 12:25 PM

That forming /shaping /constructing a play involves more than writing, and that was understood when the term playwright was created.

Mark Amery       posted 20 Oct 2009, 12:33 PM

Given we’re surrounded by material on the topic and consumed in supporting this activity Michael I can assure you the standard convention, be it at the Royal Court or Traverse in the UK, the O’Neill conference in the US, with our colleagues across the ditch  or here over many years at Playmarket is as I write it.

Which is to refer to the occupation as Playwright (much like you have a wheelwright) and the activity as playwriting (much as you have in contemporary language – wheelmaking).

It’s very often when I’m discussing basics with new playwrights that I start by discussing the meaning of the term ‘playwright’ being not the same as ‘playwrite’ (sic) – that it refers to the craft of creating a play, rather than just ‘writing’. It emphasies to them that you are in fact building something that requires a solid structure and a high degree of craftsmanship- not just inspiration and writing skills from other areas.

It is perhaps this that you’re drawing people’s attention to – and if so, good on ya.

Corin Havers       posted 20 Oct 2009, 12:55 PM

I’m still confused –  Michael says ” forming /shaping /constructing a play involves more than writing”.  So what else does it involve, that isn’t writing? What is it about the forming/shaping/constructing a play that’s different from the forming/shaping/constructing of a novel, say?

Similarly Mark says that he emphasises to playwrights that they are ” in fact building something that requires a solid structure and a high degree of craftsmanship”.  And a novel, short story, poem, screenplay, doesn’t?

I’m happy to accept that there is some sort of fundamental difference, if there is one; but what is it?

John Smythe      posted 20 Oct 2009, 01:54 PM / edited 20 Oct 2009, 03:19 PM

The obvious difference is that plays are written to be performed while novels and poems are written to be read – i.e. they are wrought in their final form, give or take a publisher and book designer’s choices of font, layout, etc. 

The other distinction to be made is between the wrighting/ writing of a script as the ‘blueprint’, ‘score’, ‘tip of the iceberg’ from which the performance is wrought, and the wrighting of the production itself.

Corin Havers       posted 20 Oct 2009, 02:51 PM

But the process of writing, from a playwright’s point of view, is still writing. They’re still writing words to be read, just as other writers are. Imagining performance as they write is no different from the way a novelist imagines the actions of their characters.  If you couldn’t imagine a full production as you read a playscript, just as you imagine the action in a novel, no one would anyone ever want to stage it. 

When a play is ‘finished’ that means the writing is finished.  I can see what you mean about a production being ‘wrought’ from a written script, but that’s separate activity; the script itself is just that – written.

Do playwrights really think that the play they’ve written is only ‘the tip of the iceberg’? That really sounds like nonsense to me; it’s completely the other way round.  It sounds like the view of arrogant actors/directors who want an excuse to ignore the playwright’s intentions. Written plays exist as creations in their own right, to be respected just as much as any other writing.

I detect in here somewhere the remnants of an old argument which insists on belittling the work of those who write plays.

John Smythe      posted 20 Oct 2009, 03:33 PM

I mean the opposite of what you infer, Corin. The iceberg metaphor recognises that the playwright has created a great deal more than the dialogue and minimal stage directions they write (most good playwrights realise it’s best not to be too prescriptive about the non-verbal actions; that actors, directors and designers do better work when they ‘discover’ things for themselves …).

It irritates me greatly when critics and commentators imply that script writers only write dialogue and everything else is created by others. What they do is re-create. And recreation = play.

Michael Smythe                posted 23 Oct 2009, 03:34 PM / edited 23 Oct 2009, 03:35 PM

Having just read the review of a London production of Skin Tight I would be interested to know how it was scripted – a tad more than the spoken words?

Corin Havers       posted 23 Oct 2009, 11:20 PM

The script of Skin TIght has been published, written by Gary Henderson.

Michael Smythe                posted 24 Oct 2009, 10:32 AM

You miss my point Corin. Not having ever seen Gary’s script, and picking up on Bert’s concerns, I wonder how explicit the ‘choreography’ is and how it is documented.

Corin Havers       posted 24 Oct 2009, 06:00 PM

The script contains the writer’s stage directions which I assume are a record of the type of production that he prefers.  As far as I’m aware though, playwrights usually accept that future companies working on their plays may want to interpret their scripts differently.  If a playwright wants to record a particular choreography or production there are many ways of doing that – on paper or on film.  However if he wanted to insist on it, I suppose he could too, but I imagine that would be pretty unusual.

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