Making the text come to life

When the director and actors start work on a text, it’s their intention to bring the writer’s words to life. That requires rehearsal and the exploitation of all the performers’ skills, as well as the work of the backstage and design teams.

There are three aspects that relate to the realisation of a performance:

  • the play
  • the audience
  • the theatrical company

Type of play

What type of play is it? Is it a comedy? Is it a realistic piece? Does it have elements such as musical or physical theatre? Is it political in tone? If it’s a comedic piece, you need to ensure you get your laughs from the audience. If it’s a serious or tragic piece, make sure that you don’t get laughs from your audience!

This isn’t the same as a novel, where you have the text and the reader. Here, one part of the formula, the audience, changes every night. They in turn are in the hands of live performers, therefore a play in the theatre is not a fixed artistic creation. This makes it more exciting but also more unpredictable. The writer has to bear in mind that the audience and the actors could interpret their work in a different way. If an actor ‘plays up’ to a particularly rowdy audience, could you argue that they aren’t being fair to the playwright?

Some would argue that once a writer has presented their work, that the play no longer ‘belongs’ to them. Plays can be interpreted and performed differently by different companies, but the playwright’s intentions are always the same. A good production carefully considers what the playwright was saying and will try hard to achieve the aims of the piece.

Look at these clips from Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. One is an extract from the film version of the play from the 1950s, the other an extract from a 1980s TV version. Listen to Arthur Miller's reactions to each of them. Can you sympathise with his views?