There are actually a lot of things I wasn’t told in drama school. But the one that’s taken more time and effort out of my professional life than any other is the amount of time that one spends “dating”- looking for the right director or composer. First, you must connect with them, on some level- not only aesthetically, but you need to be able to exchange ideas and speak freely about each other’s work, with a minimum of hurt feelings. You also need to be able to communicate with each other (harder than it sounds). Second, they need to love the piece as much as you do. Third, and this is particularly true of musicals, they need to think the play is about the same thing that you do.
The connection thing is really, really like a first date. It’s nerve-wracking, high-pressure, “Oh, my God, do they like me?” lunch or cup of coffee. And also like a first date, you watch them to see if they look bored. You notice if they only spew forth about their work, their training, who they’ve worked with. 70% of conversation dominance with a director is okay, but anything more than that and I’m done. Do they ask questions is also key (the more intelligent the better). And the ever-loaded question: whose work do you like? Because if they love the plays of Horton Foote and Richard Greenberg, they’re probably not going to like mine. I’m also leery of working with directors or composers with too thin a skin- if you spend all your time apologizing, it’s hard to get work done.
More times than not, the person sitting across the table from you will not love your play. It’s a very personal thing. Like dating. They may love another play of yours, if you’re lucky. Or they may be curious about the play but unclear about what you’re really saying with it, and once you tell them, they don’t want to devote months of their life to that.
This year, I’ve had some good first dates. I met a director who wants me to adapt two one acts from a book of short stories by one of my favorite novelists- very excited about that. I met another director who loves Brecht as much as I do, and we are intermittently meeting about a Faust adaptation of mine. Heard from her yesterday about how much she likes the music. I’ve also had first (and last) dates with a composer who had more lush nose hair than I’ve ever seen in a man under 70, and had no musical theatre music to give me, either lead sheets or a CD (a graduate of NYU, no less); and a director who’d moved to New York over a year ago, and hadn’t made an attempt to direct anything since.
And unfortunately, as with most love affairs, there are the relationships that come to an end. My favorite director in New York, the best dramaturg I’ve ever worked with, moved to Indiana this summer to start his own theatre. Brave, I’ll grant you, but I certainly miss him. There are two composers I’ve stopped working with because they’re too unreliable. Or the director that simply disappeared (last I heard she was in northern California).
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