In the US, theater makers call those who are not involved in the process of creating theater “civilians”. I think I write theater for civilians. I love civilians and going with them to see experimental theater, particularly. The best civilians have a very clean eye, they’re hard to fool, and while they may not be able to pin-point at a given problem within a show, they know when something is not quite right. That intuition of the civilians I find very useful as a playwright and as a friend and it allows me to experience theater from a less jaded perspective.
One of the few things that most civilians get confused about is the difference between a show and a play. Technically is not correct to say that you have seen a play. A show you see, and a play you read. A show is always just an interpretation of a given play, one of many infinite potential versions of what that text could be.
This is why attending the opening of a new show based on one of your plays is an exhilarating but nerve-racking experience. My civilian friends, when they come with me to an opening have a hard time understanding that I’m truly, and honestly as clueless about what’s about to happen on the stage as they are.
A show can make a play one writes so much better. It has happened to me. Or it can make a play one writes, much worse too. It happened to me, too. That’s the beauty of the collective nature of theater shows, a medium in which so many artists come to contribute their own reading and take on a given material. And this is a risk always worth taking.
Being asked permission to produce one of your plays by a total stranger is one of the biggest honors that a playwright can have, better to me that any award or any rave review.
This morning I wake up early to fly to DC, where a troupe called Ambassador Theatre opens tomorrow the East Coast premiere of my play “Smartphones, a pocket-size farce”. On my facebook I find a picture of the cast dressed up for the show. The picture is very promising and a great relief. I sense that the director, and the team have captured, at least in appearance, how I pictured these characters in my mind.
This teaser makes me even more excited and curious about what may be waiting for me Thursday night.
A novelist in Spain once wrote that publishing a book was like giving away your son for adoption. Once you do that, the book is not yours anymore… I feel like that when I come to see a show of one of my plays, when I have not been part of the process. As a playwright to give your play to a community of artist and they make your own show with it.
Something interesting happens to me when I come to a premiere. I don’t remember writing the plays. Smartphones I wrote 6 years ago. I only recognize a few brainy choices that I may have made during the writing process, but most of it all, I remember vaguely as in a dream, and I don’t recognize the material as mine, but rather as something that had been dictated or transcribed. It’s hard to explain and a bit freaky.
This detachment to the play is a good thing, I believe. It makes me wants to go to opening night to be surprised and to see a show that no matter how it may be will be for sure something new and different from any other show or previous productions of that same play. That’s the beauty of theater. From play to play, from show to show, from night to night, everything is the same and everything is absolutely different, and hopefully, always surprising.