Friday, January 05, 2007

Right then. That’s quite enough cryptic randomness to see in the new year. I like to keep you on your toes.

How the devil are you all? Anonymous as ever? I hope so. We have some unfinished business from the Comments section of 14th December don’t we?

Some of the points that were put to me were quite interesting. I thought I’d take each of them in turn.

1. The Metaphysicalist/Literalist distinction is a red herring for people who like breaking things down into simplistic categories. Perhaps this last bit is true, it may be a bit simplistic to say that all new plays fall into one or the other. But I think there must be two broadly recognisable tendencies out there, otherwise why would so many people be agreeing to frame the debate in these shared terms? Most recently I have read Aleks Sierz allude to it in his excellent book on Martin Crimp; he bemoans ‘British realism’ and the hostility of most of his critical peers towards work with a more abstract European aesthetic. It’s an interesting starting point for a discussion if nothing else, and therefore of some merit for that alone. But I think it’s a tag that should refer to plays rather than writers. Surely if we’re worth our salt we should be able to encompass both, and more. Being able to select the most appropriate form for one’s content is an important skill, and part of the reason we get paid to do what we do.

But I do agree that perhaps a preoccupation with form misses the most important point, which is that the content should be of standalone value for its originality, no matter how it’s packaged. More on this later.

2. I should maintain my refusal to name plays that annoy me. Well, we’ll see about that. I have to admit that I am still finding my feet with this blog, and testing the water to some extent. My recent reticence was down to having come under pressure from certain quarters in the past to write diplomatically, during my occasional forays into the pages of the Guardian. But I surely flatter myself if I pretend that this blog is anywhere near the same league.

I do remember getting annoyed during David Edgar’s Playing With Fire and Steve Waters' World Music (both of which I otherwise loved – your can pour your scorn into the Comments receptacle below) when they refused to name the BNP and Rwanda respectively as their subjects, and came up with a made-up name. If you give everyone enough information to get what you mean then what’s the point of holding back at all?

I would like to think that readers of blogs do so for the personal opinions of the writer, and that the writers are able to write in a way they wouldn’t elsewhere, free of legal implications and other tricky business. But then, as I noted before, it’s so easy to get a bad reputation in this industry, as the string of Anonymous comments I get will attest. But could saying you don’t like someone else’s play ever affect one’s own career? Surely ultimately we’ll be judged on our work and our work alone? If we were to live or die by what we said about other people then I can think of several highly successful people in this business who shouldn’t by rights be working at all. Maybe I should stop being such a wimp. Presumably you come here to see what I think and if that turns out to be a bit controversial then so much the better, eh? It passes the working day.

3. Plays don’t need to have a point. Hmmm. To be fair to the Commenter I think this was said in relation to the clunking moral messages of Hare and Edgar, though they did ask in the same breath whether plays needed something to say at all. I’d reframe the question: why do you go to the theatre? I can tell you why I don’t go. I don’t pay £15 and give up my evening and run the gauntlet of British weather and public transport and sit in the dark for two hours and risk getting stabbed to death on the way home (where I live anyway) to be told something I knew already. I’ve got better things to spend my time and money on.

There’s a very definite deal about going to the theatre as far as I’m concerned, and I’d sum it up with another question: why are you telling me this? It’s a question I ask of every play I read or see, or indeed write. Why have you taken the trouble to spend 6 to 12 months of your life telling this story? Why do you think it deserves thousands and thousands of pounds of public money to be staged? Why should hundreds of people pay further money and trek through the dark to see it? The pay-off would have to be pretty special.

And that’s the clincher for me. You’re not writing a novel where you have a one-to-one relationship with an indulgent reader, where the literary form is the end product, which will tolerate all manner of flights of fancy, and where a private profit-making publishing house will foot the bill to produce it. No. If you’re working in the subsidised theatre sector, the entire country is paying you. Why? I would argue that what we’re paying for is an individual writer’s quality of mind. I think that involves a duty to go away and investigate and give considered time for original thought to subjects of importance to us all. Or at least, a sizeable chunk of us. This for me is ‘the point’. It doesn’t have to result in clunking moral message, but I do expect at least a kernel of originality; some aspect of humanity I hadn’t considered before, some phenomenon or area of human experience I didn’t know went on, or hadn’t seen in that way before. Plays that lack this, for me at least, lack any reason to go and see them.

True, a large part of the problem is in what gets commissioned, and I’ve written at length about that elsewhere. But what I didn’t say in that piece was that in a time of threatened funding cuts we writers, as the progenitors of the stock of new theatrical stories, need to raise our game too. No-one owes us a living. Vanity-plays about ‘me and my mates’ or ‘me and my love affairs’ have their days numbered if we are going to continue to convince the ordinary taxpayer to fund our activities. I see theatre as having a social role to play in that it should examine issues of collective importance. But that seems to make a lot of people very angry when I say that, and I’ve never been sure why. Maybe you can tell me.

4. One of the plays under discussion failed because the playwright was blinded by political anger at the expense of her drama. Interesting. I think I would agree. I once went to see Pinter at the National read his anti-war poems during the build up to Iraq and was gobsmacked at how crass they were. The man was absolutely blinded by rage to the point where he wasn’t capable of anything other than the literary equivalent of a howl. This is understandable given the circumstances, I have written similar howls after relationship break-ups and the like, but you don’t show it anybody. I think poor Pinter was suckered by a newspaper editor who had told him ‘I’ll print anything you write’. And he did. Write anything. And they printed it. I suppose when you get to his level, or Caryl Churchill’s (oops) it doesn’t really matter. Everyone will admire your beautifully woven birthday suit. But it is galling when you know that writers like me or you couldn’t get away with it.

5. Writers should support each other and, by implication, this entails being less critical of each other’s work than a non-writer might be. This might be true when we’re looking over each other’s work in certain contexts, such as script development or rehearsed readings, because the vision isn’t yet realised and the point of those exercises is to help it along the way until it’s the best it can be. Perhaps we should be a bit more friendly to work that’s been developed under certain budgetary restraints too, such as fringe shows. But once its in full production at a subsidised venue and been through a development process I think the gloves are off. I’d certainly want to know if I was writing drivel, and as the next point says:

6. If we pussyfoot around and fail to criticise inferior quality work then mediocrity becomes the norm, which ultimately drives away audiences. I couldn’t agree more. There’s an extraordinary amount of politeness that surrounds peer responses to new work (less so in the press of course, but then, rightly or wrongly, that’s why they’re there). Maybe the Anonymous comments box is the way forward. During developmental readings I’ve had of my work, the responses in the after-show discussion have been all warm and fluffy and ultimately unhelpful. But stick an anonymous comments sheet on people’s chairs and you get all sorts back.

The most honest audiences of course, are children, especially teenagers. If they don’t like it they’ll shout and throw things at the stage. The last adult audiences to do that lived 400 years ago. That was Shakespeare’s only “development process” and look how it turned out. A lesson for us all.

7. The New Statesman magazine has become crap. I agree. I’m thinking of not renewing my current subscription. But I will miss it. Does anyone have any suggestions for a replacement leftie political weekly?

8. We should be generous when criticising others’ work because someone has put a lot of time into it. Well this isn’t very helpful is it? By that rationale we’d never be allowed to criticise anything. All creative endeavours take time. Ah, but I hear you say – be generous not uncritical. I’m afraid I’ve never been very good at that when it comes to theatre. Scripts in development, yes. They are there to be improved with constructive criticism. Plays in full production – what’s left to be improved? It’s too late by then, and I just can’t see past the thousands of pounds of public money that’s been wasted, and respond accordingly.

9. Sometimes you can only tell a play doesn’t work when it opens, and then its too late to do anything about it, so we may as well be nice about it. Again, I’m not sure this is true. There’s plenty of ways of telling if a script works before it gets to a full production, and even if something only comes to light in front of a full audience then that’s what previews are for, and any writer worth their money will attend every single one and make tweaks. If the problem is too big to be sorted by that stage then someone along the line hasn’t done their job properly, so it’s hard to sympathise if they then get it in the neck.

10. An honest, but generous response is more useful than one that papers over what you think. Useful’ to what end? It certainly wouldn’t be useful in raising the overall quality of our theatrical output. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being generous where generosity is deserved. I admired many shows which got panned – Tim Supple’s adaptation of Midnight’s Children springs to mind – because for all their failings I could tell they were grasping at something huge and important and unique. But it’s hard to be generous when so many shows simply seem to be so impoverished in their quality of mind. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it here; we need to train our new writers to be original thinkers alongside teaching them the craft of playwrighting. It’s a unique job in the modern world in that it’s the nearest we have (in this country at least) to fully paid up philosophers. It’s not enough just to write well-made plays. I want to be intellectually stimulated too. These aren’t mutually exclusive, nor does their combination result in dry work. It’s a question of stretching fledgling writers by giving them access to others who will broaden their horizons; communities beyond their own, social theorists, academics, scientists, theologians, leaders in their fields.

I go to the theatre to see original thought about the world around me skilfully mounted in an enlightened dramatic form. What other reason is there?


Anonymous said...

I don’t feel you need to justify your directness. I read your blog and enjoy the sense of someone exploring what theatre can do and be for them (I haven’t seen your work on stage yet – please make sure you save some juice for that). Yes, you might put your foot in it sometimes, might include some embarrassing stuff occasionally, but it’s real and I enjoy it. I’ve read some of the hissy fits that your comments sometimes elicit and I wonder what kind of fragile working world these people inhabit.

And elsewhere in theatre blogland it’s all a bit toothless. There’s the writer chap with his dog who seems to count everyone as his mate and for whom every show is great. It’s a beautifully written blog but what’s the point? There’s a soft belly there. It’s not benign because it’s reflected in his work – work that now manages to consistently pull its punches. And I agree, it let’s us all down. I hope this is relevant to your point – I believe it is – but I think this writer is indicative of several others around at the moment (the recently crowned panto queen would be another) who seem to have too much fat on their plate. As their girths get widen they seem to feel it’s their place to lord it over theatre land with flabby plays, blogging and journalism. Sometimes it’s worth putting the pork chop down and waiting till you’re hungry.

And I do I agree with you about naked emperors with an interest in astrophysics. But instead of a nice fat chop I suspect this writer has been sucking on David Grieg’s ‘Cosmonaut’. I saw the play - I did think this writer suffered from wind.

Look, I’m not exactly stick thin myself. I’m being figurative.

All the very best for your blog. Really enjoying it …

David Eldridge said...

Hey commenter why don't you fuck off and drown yourself in the blogosphere? I would make personal comments about your appearance but I don't know who you are you cowardly Anonymous cunt.

My blog my rules you dick-head. I'd rather say nothing at all than slag shows I don't like.

If you don't like my blog then don't read it and if you don't like my plays then don't go to see them in future and don't come back you yellow twat.

If you're so unhappy with theatre blogs or playwrights' blogs why don't you come out of hiding and ditch your mask smart-arsehole?

Dear Fin please forgive my intemperate rage - I am enjoying your blog but disagree with some of this stuff. I do feel a spirit of generosity amongst playwrights is important (though this of course does not mean endorsing substandard work...)

Hey Anonymous one for the road - FUCK OFF!!!

David Eldridge said...

Too angry... I meant to say... 'If you're so unhappy with theatre blogs or playwrights' blogs why don't you come out of hiding and ditch your mask and start one yourself smart-arsehole?'

Fin said...

Okay this is a bit much guys. My intention here is to encourage constructive debate, not play host to slanging matches.

Please can we keep things less personal and abusive? Otherwise I'm going to have to turn Comments moderation on, which I really don't want to have to do.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Liz said...

Many of the responses I've read to your blog Fin are indicative of the sensitivity to criticism within theatre-world. I'm an outsider to the industry, but a regular theatre-goer with friends who work in various roles in the arts. It’s frequently struck me how overwhelmingly polite (and often pathetically gushy) everyone is about each other’s work and I find it nauseating and often cynically dishonest.

Part of the deal when outing your work in public is to be adult enough to realise that not everyone will like it. The work you produce is intensely personal; I admire writers, actors and directors etc for being brave enough to put themselves on show in this way. However – if you have enough of an ego to believe that people want to see and hear what you have to say, you must be able to accept that a) not everyone will value your opinions; b) your work sometimes will be thought of by some as crap or at least not to their taste.

I agree wholeheartedly with you Fin when you emphasise the duty of the playwright to say something important in their work. The public do subsidise the arts and then pay again to come and see a play. On the other hand, why should writer’s blogs have to be only about issues related to writing? Why do some of you feel that it’s somehow a writer’s duty to only talk about their work in their blogs? You all have other interests and aspects to your personality. David clearly does and I don’t see anything wrong with him wishing to talk about matters other than theatre. Fin, your blog is great – I admire how you prompt debate and wish to engage with others in your field of work. They’re important issues that you’re (bravely) raising. David’s blog is completely different, but what’s wrong with that? Blogs do not have a duty to anyone to be topical or to raise debate. If people don’t like what they read, they don’t have to bother returning.

Finally, I don’t believe it’s Fin’s intention to start a slanging match. Some of his points are controversial but constructive, rather than bitchy or personal, in the way that some of the readers’ comments are becoming. It’s a shame that some of you feel the need to use his blog to make anonymous stabs at each other. Clearly in your world of polite smiles and false praise, there is a suppressed urge festering away, to be honest and criticise. Using this comments box as an anonymous opportunity to voice criticism so negatively is cowardly and doesn’t do anyone any favours. Grow up, learn to take and give (constructive) criticism and you and the industry will all be the better for it.

David Eldridge said...

Sorry for losing my cool in your comments box Fin - I won't do it again I promise... A few sensible comments now that the red mist has cleared.

Firstly Anonymity. This debate comes up again and again on the internet (and in fact I heard someone on Radio 4 banging on about the point on Friday). While finally I think it's liberating and can free up a better more honest sort of debate (especially in a small sensitive village like the theatre) it's easily abused by the embittered, dispossessed and never-possessed and the spineless sneak to express views they haven't the courage to stand by openly. I have no problem with anyone slagging off my plays. In eleven and a half years working in the professional theatre I'm well used to it. With a few exceptions people tend to love and hate plays in equal measure depending on whom you speak to. Encore manages to stay the right side of anonymity but few others manage it with such aplomb and actually wit and generosity.

What I do object extremely strongly to are personally abusive comments, critiques and half-arsed speculation that's related to my personal being and life. As the comments by critics, commentators or gossips are inevitably ill-informed (as they never know the facts) they never amount to more than hurtful bitchy tabloidism. And just like tabloid journalists it seems more often than not the anonymous of the blogosphere like to give it out but can't take it back...

It's a sorry onus that in the chat rooms, discussion boards and blogs comments pages that the anonymous accuser is free to spray around all manner of shite and the responsibility lies with me (or another) to disprove these accusations or let them gather creedence unanswered (again just like tabloid journalism).

That 'brave' comment which had a pop at me initially had a go at the subject of my blog. As Liz remarked it's my blog and I can write what I like on my blog. And it does exactly what it says on the tin 'Blogging to keep in touch with mates, share random thoughts, discuss ideas and tell you about my super dog Rascal...' Just as Fin does what he says on the tin 'I'm a playwright. At this stage in my career it doesn't allow for very many other interests. If you're not interested in playwrighting, you'd better leave'. Mine is different and written for different motives. Don't like it don't read it.

The 'brave' writer then suggests there is link between the tone of my blog and my playwriting. Well they're entitled to their view. I would also point out that I have also recently been attacked for being much harsher and bleaker than in my early plays... So depending upon who you are you can hate my plays for being too harsh and too soft-centred.

As for the personal comments and scurrilous link between my girth and the 'the brave writer's' comments about my work, I would say this. A smug personal dig at my personal appearance is below the belt. And that's a fact. What it implies is that some how that I'm now too comfortable to write well.

All I would say to this is that you have no idea of my personal situation or the conditions I have written in or write in. My blog gives away very little real private information about my life and circumstances as I guard my privacy and space to create seriously.

As for lording it over theatreland what a load of bollocks! The 'brave writer' may not like it but the facts of my working life are that I've worked in nearly all the major new writing venues, am more established now and I'm busy so I have full and plugged in professional life. The theatre world is a small village and you get to know most people very quickly indeed. How's that lording it? It's like having a pop at an air steward for travelling all over the world...

You even take expection to my happy-go-lucky tone. Well I must say you're the first person in my life to critique me for being 'a-pints-half-full-type-of-bloke' and not going through life bitching about the things or people I don't like...

You question my integrity for blogging yet my main reason is to keep in touch with my friends who see precious little of these days. You claim (wrongly) I'm seeking to lord it over theatreland but if that was the case surely I would have accepted the Guardian's two offers to publish my blog on their theatre blog?

You also talk about features? Well you would have to ask Ravenhill about his journalism but personally speaking I've only written three pieces in my career. Once to take on Billington, once on behalf of the Monsterists and once about my play at the NT. I have turned down all other offers (and I get a fair few these days you know...) precisely (as my blog implies) because I don't think people like Hare do themselves or playwriting any favours being in the papers all the time. Again how's that seeking to lord it over theatreland?

Dear Brave Anonymous feel free to slag off my plays and even my blog if you hate them but stay away from tabloid-like bitching, gosspip and specualtion of which you know nothing.

Fin this is long comment I will be back to comment on the other serious playwriting issues later.

john d said...

I agree with the comment about some responses being "indicative of the sensitivity to criticism within theatre-world". But I think the qualification "within theatre world" is redundant.

I have worked both within and without theatre in a variety of jobs including physical work, administration, teaching, and working on a shop counter. In all of these very different environments people are sensitive to criticism. There's nothing unique about the theatre in this respect. People with different temperaments react differently to criticism, regardless of profession.

Similarly, the comments about (forgive the paraphrase) 'the ego required to believe that people want to see your work should mean you are big enough to take criticism and accept people will think you're crap' - true enough, but again, I don't see how this is unique to theatre. Surely taking on any job means you are claiming you are competent to fulfil that role. Are you implying that putting work in front of people in the theatre requires a greater ego than than claiming a similar competence for one's rightness to do jobs in other fields - if you do, I don't agree.

No one likes being told they're crap at their job, particularly after working very hard at it. I think the issue is simply how to tell people you don't like what they've done with both honesty and sensitivity - this is just good behaviour isn't it? That said, I have heard a fair whack of gushiness and praise being given in the theatre. And, if you'll excuse the turn of phrase, I've done my share of gushing. But I have also experienced very tough criticism. Tougher in fact than appraisals I have had in any of my other jobs. Politeness and pathetic gushiness is found in all sorts of work places. I've had plenty of jobs where people slack off, don't pull their weight, are carried by other people, and no one will criticise them for fear of rocking the boat. Working in theatre shouldn't exempt you from criticism. But neither should it grant exemption from being treated with a generosity of spirit and sensitivity I would wish on anyone in any context.

I have an issue with a playwright having a duty to say something 'important' - specifically because I have no idea how we define what is important. I have very different ideas on what is 'important' than other people I know. I am not sure I would wish to prioritise my notions of importance above those of others. In my own work I write about things I care deeply about, and I try and write something I would like to see if I went to the theatre - but I've no idea how to adjudge if it's important or not. I think it's important to have plays that the writers believe in - is that enough?

As for our responsibility to the public - the 'public' does not exist as a solid and easily definable mass of people. I am the public as much as you are, as much as a Mail reader, a Guardian reader, a Tory councillor, a bicycle courier, a single father of three children, and so on, and so on. I pay my taxes. I subsidise theatre. And I too pay to go and see plays. But I would be very sad if subsidised plays and playwrights that were not critical or commercial successes on their first outings were strangled at birth because they did not adequately serve an imagined notion of 'the public'. Along with the dross this selection process would rid us of, you might also find a lot of gems. Pinter, Stoppard and Beckett weren't instant public smashes. Many modern classics had uneasy beginnings. The problem is it's much harder to discern the dross from the gems than you acknowledge, and the reaction of 'the public' is an unreliable initial indicator of quality, partly, because as I've said, there isn't really any such thing as 'the public'. But also because advances in form and thought, really challenging plays that change the way we think, are by their nature going to be divisive and or threatening. Great art can teach us to think differently. If this is the case it follows that great art will often - not always - be missed when it first appears.

More than anything else though Liz, I am pleased you care enough to post with such thought and feeling – I hope you will forgive this particular outburst of gush.

Anonymous said...

As the aforementioned “anonymous so and so” I would like to offer a couple of apologies here. Fin, I’m sorry for straying into personal abuse on your blog and for (what probably appeared as) implicating you in my line of argument. Sincere apologies to David also for the comment about his weight. I was intending to be figurative but I went too far in that respect. I think Liz was spot on with her comment – and I recognise the ‘festering’ that she refers to. Perhaps I can clarify one or two things to continue the collective effort at taking this discussion forward in a more appropriate and adult way.

David, the anonymity issue is part of the territory. I don’t really understand why you are using such macho language here. I have unfortunately demonstrated its unwelcome side but its many benefits have been amply discussed here and elsewhere. I wonder if it occurs to you that my very anonymity seems to have given you the license for your extremely undignified and unpleasant outburst. Were I to (as you have called for) make my comments face to face, then I doubt that you would not have been quite as abusive. There’s a coward in both of us, I suspect.

Of course you were right to defend yourself against what was actually unreasonable in my original comment. But your work? Well, through your blog and your plays you are in the public sphere, and it is both sad and unwise to display such fragility. If I love and admire a great film such as Festen, I have a right to express anger that you have failed to do it justice on stage. I do think your work is weak. You will have to live with the fact that others might agree and console yourself, if you need to, with the fact that others don’t. I shouldn’t have mentioned your weight in imagining why your work might lack a certain clout but your very public and personal blog does offer an insight into your character and I’m sure I’m not the first person to have drawn some conclusions from what you have to say there.

I do hope you don’t feel the need for another point by point defence of your work but if you do, rest assured, I won’t be responding – this is already embarrassing enough, even for someone who’s anonymous!

Brac e said...

I count myself as someone who doesn't think David Eldridge's work is at all weak. I thought Incomplete and Random Acts was very underrated.

I also enjoyed his 'macho' put downs.

RE: New Statesman. How about The Economist? Not lefty, but Worldly. And less dry than it used to be, eg. the wry tone of the recent article asking how much one can learn about Russia from its seven major airports. Real Answer, of course: Nothing at all. Journalist's answer: About a thousand words.

The Fabian society have a magazine or a newsletter or some shit like that. I think.

David Eldridge said...

'Brave Anonymous' you ask why the 'macho language' - duh - it's because you insulted and offended me you idiot and I have every right to my anger.

If you made such a personal comment about my appearance to my face I'd still be furious and respond strongly - though I wouldn't use such strong language because it wouldn't be as cowardly as your action here.

Just because you acted singly without courage don't assume others are lacking that same courage. Let's be clear there's only one person in this comments box with a white feather in his cap.

I might be an out of shape writer these days but an upringing in my family and on Romford Market ingrained me not to let people treat me like shit - or take unreasonable behaviour - from anyone whomsoever or wheresoever they are. So I don't. Even if I walk away literally or metaphorically with two black eyes...

As for the second half your post you pretend - duh again - I made a point by point defence of my work.

No you idiot read it again I simply replied to your offensive post and mainly your offensive smart arse comments about my appearance and the issues related to it.

It actually says 'Anonymous feel free to slag off my plays and even my blog if you hate them but stay away from tabloid-like bitching, gossip and speculation of which you know nothing'. It also says 'I have no problem with anyone slagging off my plays. In eleven and a half years working in the professional theatre I'm well used to it. With a few exceptions people tend to love and hate plays in equal measure depending on whom you speak to'.

Why is it that people so resent playwright's replying and having a voice beyond/alongside their drama (and often seek to prevent them having the last word)?

People expect us to be noble, passive victims of directors, institutions, critics and the general public somehow.

If we speak out on anything we're having 'a funny turn' or 'being prickly' or 'being fragile'.

I'm not like this and neither are most of the playwrights I know (which is quite a lot ). But still we are portrayed in this way.

Director Rufus Norris says I have a core made of iron. Actually it's not specific to me. You have to be like that to write for the stage.

You don't like my work or my blog or my FESTEN but so what you fool. You're not the first. You won't be the last.

I am unashamed and openly stand by my words. I object to the cowardly attack you made on me (and to be fair have partially apologised for) but you should feel embarrassed and ashamed.

Sylvia said...

Bit gruesome this thread but fascinating in a Big Brother kind of way. It’s very odd to follow wave after wave of defensiveness but it’s useful to see it in relation to the actual point of this thread. The wounded playwright has a right to defend themselves but it’s interesting that this writer mentions their desire to have the last word. It highlights the fact that any artist never can. Their last word is the play and then it’s in the public domain. In behavioural terms the artist inevitably comes across as someone who’s taken their toys into the public park but doesn’t want the other boys and girls to play with them. I think there’s a lot that’s revealed here about the struggle of the writer in managing the ego. It can be deeply moving when artists arrive at a position of humility in understanding their own small part in the life of their work. I think this writer Struggles with this and an unedifying defensiveness is the sound of the ego raging against the world. Looking at the abusive language employed, it’s an attempt to destroy thought – to undermine, not only the critic but, unconsciously, the fertile ground where the artist might otherwise consider the truth about themselves and their work. It’s rare to see this so conspicuously played out and both sad and uninspiring to witness. A successful artist has to be better than this. In the end children have to let go of controlling the world around him. When the child or writer rather likes the look or sound of their words this can be harder. What’s revealed is an absence of both grace and self-awareness, hardly ideal grounds for creativity, but also frightening when considering the public context. Everyone observes the behaviour except the writer themselves. It’s a gruesome spectacle worthy of its place in Big Brother.

john d said...

Sylvia, I agree with what you say about humility being a good quality for a writer to have, but I think you make too much of your point. Anyone worth their salt will struggle for something they believe in, whether it's something as grand as a cause, or as small as a football team. Or even a play.

Forgive me if I've misunderstood but from your post it sounds like you see a writer struggling to maintain what he knows in his bones to be right (however unreliable that 'knowledge' might be) as a bad thing. Did I get that right?

Can I suggest you're buying into a slightly mythical idea of 'a writer' - you seem to envision a figure of a writer aloof from the world, possessed of huge self-awareness, calm, self-deprecating, of even temperament and saintly character. I like the idea of this writer too, and personally I would take the bold humility of Caryl Churchill over the stridency of say, a David Hare, but I don't think you have to fit that particular model of the artist to write well. The very great David Storey used his bulk to threaten a gaggle of critics who had reviewed his play poorly. You may consider this poor behaviour on Storey's part, but it certainly doesn't detract from the force, generosity and self-awareness of his writing.

As you rightly say, self-awareness is a valuable asset for an artist. I think it's a valuable asset for anyone. But at times, is a little one-eyedness to be desired in a playwright? A bit of spirit in a writer is a good thing, surely? Don't we want writers who feel strongly enough about their work to get uppity when someone criticises it? I take your point about wanting to allow a fertile landscape for audiences to respond, but I think you're overegging the pudding a little talking about this thread being "frightening".

Also, I think David said he's been working as a writer for 11 years. His work has included several adaptations and translations - this doesn't sound to me like the work of a man who cannot let go of his own vision.

I agree there have been some unedifying elements to this thread - but 'anonymous', as he or she has graciously acknowledged, made an ill-judged personal attack. I found David's response a bit much too, but that's more to do with differences in temperament than anything else. To put it another way, if you call someone an unpleasant name, I don't think it ever justifies someone lamping you, but I also don't think you can be surprised when they do lash out.

That said, I think we all owe Fin a debt of gratitude for his tolerance as a landlord. Spats between the regulars, outsiders offering unheeded advice, and me - a dull but well-meaning stranger everyone wishes would shut up so we can all get on with a proper ruck. It's almost like a real pub. Gentlemen!

David Eldridge said...

Sylvia (or whoever you are...) exactly what planet are you living on?

An artist is not cast in aspic seperately floating apart from the flesh and blood person who eats, shits and watches crap TV from time to time like the rest of the world.

It's completely rubbish that writer's should some how remain apart/aloof from the debates surrounding their work or the culture they exist in.

Or somehow that the only state a playwright ought to exist in is a state of passivity like a strange installation sitting across a gallery from the play they created.



But I am a flesh and blood real person who has passions and flaws as well as good qualities and the capacity for good grace, deep thought and compassion.

What you suggest is that any artist is not a person but superhuman. Do you think that Shakespeare, Brecht, Chekhov, Ibsen and in fact any great playwrights even were these ethereal figures?

Why is it defensive or about my ego to feel strongly and experience anger just because I'm a playwright?

Oh my God some theatre types are really removed from any sort of everyday reality. You try to place me on the couch but do you have any idea how ludicrous you sound?

Having worked in theatre for eleven and a half years do you really think it's possible for a playwright to control anything so entirely (even before an audience makes what they will)?

I mean there's director, actors, designer, the marketing, blah, blah, blah...

Nothing has made me as mad as some of these lunatic views for ages.

Fin said...

Okay people, I'm going to give David the last word and draw a line under this debate. You've all heard what everyone's got to say and I just don't think it's productive to let it drag on.

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