|Coming back to theatre with a bang: Wormwood|
I had just been involved in an online discussion about the role of the artistic director in a stage play and reading Gillian’s post, it struck me that there are parallels between a good artistic director and a good editor – just as there are striking and unfortunate parallels between a bad director and a bad editor.
Let me get the horror stories out of the way first.
Back when I was starting out in theatre, I wrote a play about the Solidarity movement in Poland and its effects on one family. I was ecstatic to be told that it would be performed at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre. That, though, was where the ecstasy ended. The first time I met the artistic director I realised that we had opposing views of the play. He took the script away and sent it back to me with massive rewrites on every page. He had torn it to bits, deleted large sections and rewritten it as the play he thought it should be. I fought as best I could, and so did the (lovely) cast, but it was a disaster. I was too young, too naive and too inexperienced. He was an elderly bully and it was years before I went back to theatre - with a play about the Chernobyl disaster for the Traverse in Edinburgh.
Later, this time with a novel, I encountered an editor who tried to do something similar. To be fair, some of the points she made were good, but she also made extensive changes to my manuscript without tracking them, rewriting whole chunks of my work in the kind of voice and idiom she would have used herself. By that stage I was confident enough to dig in my heels, but it was a tedious and time consuming business, going through my version and hers, reinstating my dialogue but trying to do useful rewrites where she had made fair points – which she had.
When I thought about it, I realised that a good artistic director and a good editor share quite similar qualities.
An artistic director will hold the ‘idea’ of the play in his or her head. The buck stops with her. If she is on anybody’s side, she is on the side of the play itself as you have intended it to be not as she might have written it herself. Not even as she wishes you had written it. It is her aim to make it as good as it possibly can be on its own terms. She will never do that by imposing her voice on the voice of the playwright. The process is much more collaborative, more fluid, more fascinating than that and since most directors are freelance she will almost certainly walk away rather than take on a play she dislikes. Since editors are increasingly freelance too, the same thing applies.
|Anne Marie Timoney and Liam Brennan in Wormwood|
|Happy days with a very good director: Hamish Wilson|
A good editor, like a good director is both unselfish and generous. But I’ve also come to realise that not everyone possesses those qualities, although they may be learned over a period of years. My genuinely bad experiences - I can count about four and that isn’t very many - involved people who were too ignorant to know how little they really knew. (Youth, though, wasn’t an issue because some of them were old enough to know better.) They were on a power trip, over confidently imposing their own views on whatever work they were editing or developing. It was, I realised eventually, a bit like that scene in the Matrix where Agent Smith converts everything into a clone of himself. Too bad Neo wasn’t around to fight my corner when I needed him.