Edward Albee on Directing

Adapted from: Who’s Afraid of Edward Albee?

Joe Levine, Johns Hopkins Magazine, June, 1984

I work in the practical areas of theater because a play is not a theoretical thing — it must be rehearsed, acted, and seen.

I realized there was something to be studied in the craft of directing, so I watched others around the world direct my plays. I learned by osmosis. My teachers were Peter Hall, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Louis Berreault, and Franco Zefirelli — it was a pretty good faculty. They didn’t mind my sitting in. They didn’t know I was going to take their jobs away.

There are only naturalistic plays — even Ionesco is naturalistic, though he may give the impression of being different. If a play does not admit of subtext, then it is either too superficial or too much at odds with itself.

The actor should create subtext. But the director needs to inquire about the actor’s sub-textual choices only if he suspects they may be at cross-purposes with the author’s intentions, and, therefore, hurting the play.

I once declined an offer to direct a revival of Tennessee William’s Sweet Bird of Youth because the second act is atrocious. If I had directed it, I would have had to sit down and have a long talk with Tennessee, and say, “Look here, Tenn . . . ” Well, you just don’t talk that way to the dean of American playwrights.

First of all, I only cut and clarify. I don’t ask anyone to change the nature of a play, although I do sometimes prod them to write about what they really mean to write about, instead of what they they think they mean to write about. Besides, I’m only doing to their plays what I do to one of own when I’m thinking it out in my head. I carry a play around for a long while before I trust it to paper, and at this point, when I bring one into the rehearsal period, it doesn’t need much rewriting. Too many young playwrights rush into print too soon.

When you’re writing a play, you’re attempting the impossible. When You’re directing it, you must do only what is possible, and the impossible must vanish.

As a director I have a rather strong authorial personality. I want to do to others’ plays what I would not permit anyone to do to mine.

This is one in a series that will post  on Wednesdays. If you’d like to read more about what people like Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous playwrights (also some not so famous), have to say about the art and craft of writing and directing plays, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.

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