An Essay

About the Theatre

Everything that is written about the theatre without inside knowledge of the theatre is worthless.
Writing about the theatre, or for the theatre, has sense only if the writer lives in the theatre and for the theatre.
From the ancient Greeks, through Moliere, Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, and on to Goldoni, Schiller, Ibsen, Strindberg, and Pirandello, only people of the craft build up the theatre and make a gift to it of usable plays, people who have swallowed dust alongside the actors.
It’s the same with the most significant theatre theorists – they, too, always came from practice (Stanislavski, Brecht, Jouvet, Brook)
Both groups have been consciously in the service of the stage and the audience.
It was only after World War II that we experienced the powerful inroads of the closet writers, directors and critics, who tried to be above the theatre, who emerged from the sphere of theory. Despite all their efforts and the fact that they are frequently undoubtedly well-read and erudite, instead of achieving the position they yearn for of those who are ABOVE the theatre, they manage merely to remain permanently OUTSIDE the theatre.
There is a fine line between the modern and innovative on the one hand, and the trendy and unsubstantial on the other.
Whoever forgets the audience will be forgotten by that very audience sooner or later. Whoever cancels out the actor as the core figure of the theatre, cancels out the theatre itself.
We can imagine the theatre without the writer, without the scenographer, without the costume designer, without the director, without the theatre building and without the theatre management. . . The only two elements without which we cannot imagine either the theatre or the performance are the ACTOR and the AUDIENCE.
Put more simply in the words of mathematics, we can deduce that: ACTOR + AUDIENCE = THE THEATRICAL PLAY.
In making this statement, I have said what has been clear to everyone in this world for more than twenty centuries.
There really cannot be a theatre show without the actor and the audience. All the rest of us can serve some purpose for the theatre and be more or less important only if we respect that simple equation: ACTOR + AUDIENCE = THE THEATRE SHOW.
Even today, that straightforward thought is more than comprehensible to ninety-nine percent of theatre-goers. However, with the appearance of theatre festivals, and the theatre director, the theatre critic, the theatre manager and the theatre author who want to be ABOVE the theatre, we have been offered plays that do not live a natural life; rather, they live from festival performances, theatre prizes and media promotion.
Despite all that, the authentic theatre lives on, eddying between the seductive call of the trendy and inert old-fashionedness.

You are probably more interested in what the theatre authentically IS, rather than what it IS NOT, and in how one becomes an authentic theatre writer, someone respected by both ACTORS and THEATRE-GOERS, the two unquestionable foundations upon which every theatre show is built.
When I am approached by a young writer who wants to write plays and comedies and asks me what he/she has to do to become a good dramatist of comedy-writer, I always give a simple piece of advice – I tell him/her to go to theatre rehearsals and to watch silently the work of the actors on a new play, and that from the first reading to the dress rehearsal.
THE REHEARSAL is the laboratory in which young authors will become acquainted with all the elements of the theatrical mechanism. At rehearsals, they will judge the value of the dramatic dialogue, differentiate between the vital sentences and the unsubstantial ones, observe the faults and virtues of the described characters, learn about the essence of the director’s craft, and will get to know all the creators of a theatrical piece from the scenographer and costume designer, to the dramaturge, composer, lighting designer, sound engineer, stage manager, the nervous theatre manager, the hairdresser, the make-up artist, the wardrobe mistress. . .
The theatre rehearsal is the only place in which we can learn about what the theatre actually is. And only then, or parallely with that, will the young future writer be able to read books of theory that have been written by theatrologists and critics, and the books of memoirs written by theatre practicians. Theory and the writings of these theatre practicians become increasingly more valuable only when the future writer for the theatre can compare them with his/her own personal experience in getting to know the theatre from the inside.
Only to read theory and not to plunge into practice means to choose a useless, barren path that can only distance us from what the theatre really is.

I have often advised young writers to watch one and the same play ten or even twenty times. This is not solely so that they can penetrate into the play itself, but so that they become aware that no two performances are the same. The audience differs every evening and the actors, despite how precise they may be, can never be exactly the same. Hence – there is a new play before us every evening.

The theatre can really be a wonderful place in which we can identify and experience the contemporary world, see a condensed depiction of our disquiet, our fears, ups and downs, familial passions, the peak of humour and intellectual ingenuity, psychological and emotional breakdowns and, through all of that, penetrate into the most profound perceptions of life.
However, we must not forget that this is a synthetic art in which a host of essential elements – from text and acting to direction, scenography, costume design and the audience – must happily coincide, in order for genuine enchantment to be created.
We must be aware that, as passionate theatre devotees, the mathematical law of probability will mean that we will see more poor than good productions. Of these plays, perhaps only one will be excellent, and in keeping with our taste. .
But because of that excellent one, each time we enter the theatre building it will be with the hope that that evening and the play we are about to see will be special, sensitive, and worthy of our attention and time.

To write, to act, to direct – means to interpret this world, to retell it in a wondrous and attractive way, to make people laugh, to ask questions, to provide answers, to uncover lies and human foibles, to search for the truth, to offer emotion, to provoke emotion. . .
To write theatre dramas and comedies – could there be anything better than that On paper, all our sentences listen to us, our castles in Spain are built just as we want them to be. We take pleasure in that jigsaw, in those combinations, and in showing the characters as we see and experience them.
Still, setting out with your theatre text on the adventure of creating a play often means misery, disappointment, and sadness.
There is no sadder person on this earth than a dramatist who watches his play on the stage in a form that he never wanted or conceived, in a form that betrays the essence of his text to such an extent that it changes both the meaning and message of his work.
That sort of thing causes nausea and pain to the writer, similarly to betrayed love, an unexpected rift in friendship, or a sudden manifestation of aversion towards us on the part of people we had felt a liking for.
On the other hand, however, there is no happier creature than a dramatist who watches his text coming alive on the stage in the right, sensitive way, with brilliant actors, intelligent direction with appropriately imaginative scenography, the corresponding costumes, inspiring music, and the atmosphere created by the lighting, the movement, the sound backdrop. . .
I can’t even count the number of times that I have promised myself, after performances that have bombed, that I would never again write for the theatre, or how many times I have been disappointed, barely able to wait for the chance to flee from “my” premieres.
But then again, it has happened so many times that the actors and the director have prepared a pleasant surprise for me, responding to my text in the right way with their creativity, so that for days after I have floated two metres above the ground, feeling that there is no more lovely or powerful art than the theatre play, and no happier creature than the dramatist who has been able directly to feel the audience drawn into his world, touching the love and delight of the people with hearts full, as they who come out from a play they have just seen.
To write or not to write for the theatre – that is the question, now, yesterday and tomorrow. It is a question that is full of doubt, misgivings, hope, rapture, dilemmas. . .
To write or not to write for the theatre is an ongoing question, to which I do not have a prepared response. But, when the intriguing idea for a new play is born, an idea that does not give me peace for days and weeks, when I think of the actors whose playing I have enjoyed, when I think of the theatre-goers whom I care about – the answer to the question becomes very simple.

This text was written in the Autumn of 2008. It has been taken from Miro Gavran’s book: LITERATURE AND THE THEATRE, LJEVAK Publishers, 2008

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