Stage Directions. Do we like lots? Do we wish for none? Do we follow them? Do we black them out? Do they help our understanding? Do they hurt? Are they part of the play or aren’t they? What happens when a playwright includes an impossible stage direction – Exit pursued by a bear….. This is a conversation that has been bandied back and forth for years. The Guardian posted an article on Impossible Stage Directions last week.
Some playwrights are known for their stage directions. Tennessee Williams and his vividly coloured bowling shirts. Eugene O’Neil. The estate of Samuel Beckett is intensely assertive in making sure his works are presented as written. I remember reading a play of Sarah Kane’s that had such a violently described stage direction, I threw the book down on the table.
Personally, I’m a sound stage directions writer. I have a very specific vision for the sound, the pace, the rhythm of dialogue. If it’s integral to the characters and the story I’ll be very specific with those kinds of stage directions. And in fact it does drive me a little crazy when they’re not followed. (SOAP BOX ON – To me a pause is part of the dialogue. Don’t ignore my pauses. SOAP BOX OFF)
As for the stage pictures, I’m happy to leave a blank canvas. In many of my plays there are a couple of cubes on stage and that’s it. The stage directions are limited to entrances and exits. I believe that blocking is a director’s medium and I’ve been so thrilled (and sometimes….surprised) to see how my work is interpreted. I think it’s the sign of success when the same script can have a multitude of different stage pictures derived from it.
Should you follow the stage directions in the script? I think it’s all about intention and flow. If those stage directions clearly highlight the intention of the playwright, then yes they should be followed. In those situations, it’s more than likely that they were written by the playwright and thus are part of the play as a whole. If you can maintain the intention of the play while creating your own vision then do so. As I said, I love it when my script is respected while being presented in a way I never imagined.
What are your feelings on stage directions? Do you appreciate a road map or would you rather find your own way?