Process and Obsolescence

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere. This post is by Maren Robinson, our production dramaturg.

Process and Obsolescence

I wanted to expand on what Paul had said about previews, mostly because he has been a little modest about how unusual their process of working on an adaptation is. This was my first project with Lifeline, so I was not familiar with their process, which is unique to their mission to present adapted works of literature on stage. A few weeks ago, I got to sit in on an in depth discussion of the script with Paul, the artistic director, stage manager and ensemble members.

You should understand that many of these ensemble members are double or triple threats, they are actors, directors and adaptors in their own right and they have a carefully honed ear for storytelling and how it translates on stage. We sat there for a couple of hours, with a couple of bottles of wine and worked through everyone’s notes on the script after seeing it on stage. These were very detailed thoughts or notes about the script, how things translated to the stage and looking for places where the storytelling hit bumps. I was impressed both with the thoughtfulness of the comments and the kindness with which these comments were delivered. It was clear that the priority was making sure that a good story made it to stage and didn’t get muddled in the process.

Last week, I got to watch previews with the design team and more ensemble members all taking notes and comments on each run through of the play. In addition to all of these, Paul also got comment cards from the audience as part of the preview process. Again, I should explain that these were pretty enthusiastic audience members; some standing in the lobby writing notes well after most of the audience had left. The adaptor, Rob, then made more rewrites, Paul, the cast and the design team re-teched certain scenes and there will be more previews this week.

Admittedly that is a lot of cooks in the kitchen (to start mixing metaphors) but, remarkably, there seemed to be no bumps or crashes.

I am looking forward to watching the play again this week, even having seen the play in various forms many times. When you get to see theater again and again you get to see subtle changes in the performances and big changes as technical or design elements change.

At the same time, I am starting to get a little wistful and sad. This is the point at which my role (a shadowy, vague thing to begin with) in the process starts to end. A dramaturg is always a bit of an outsider, a benevolent observer, an information gatherer, a bit of an interferer, a scribbler and but always a fond well-wisher. At certain point, I stop giving feedback and just watch the creature that is a play as it lives, moves, and has its being.