Whilst dialogue is sacrosanct, all the playwright's other notes about a character's actions, emotional state or the setting of a scene are often seen as at best optional, and at worst, things to be actively ignored.Wilkinson goes on to defend stage directions, pointing out that they can communicate a huge amount about an author's intentions and even have a poetry of their own.
There are a number of reasons for this. It is partly historical - after all it is widely assumed that most stage directions in Shakespeare are not the author's own (though some may have been added by colleagues) and therefore not authentic. And sometimes, as in most Samuel French playtexts, the stage directions in a script are little more than a record of how the play was originally staged.
Yet for many actors and directors, there is a fundamental reason for ignoring these authorial notes - they are seen as an attempt by the writer to muscle in and do their job for them. And some writers even seem to agree with them - Tom Stoppard recalls having spoken with one young playwright at a workshop who described stage directions as "fascist".
Thursday, July 10, 2008
On The Guardian Theatre Blog, Chris Wilkinson explores the significance of stage directions in play scripts.