1 MC & 1 DJ: An exclusive series of discussions between the AD and GM of Monkeyman Productions… two men of letters. This edition’s topic: Godzilla & Jet Jaguar – A Playwright/Director Team-Up
Monday, August 15th, 2011 – 7:39 PM
MC: So, here we are again, Mr. Sylvis… I was thinking, this time around, of using the title: Godzilla & Jet Jaguar.
DJ: But then which is which? Do I want to be the star of the series … or a robot that grows a hundred times in size?
Monster or robot … truly a question for the ages.
MC: Well, I was doing a little bit of research into the aforementioned robot… and I learned that Toho wanted to make a robot movie, but didn’t think he could command an audience all by himself.
DJ: More fools they!
MC: So, they called upon their trusty giant radioactive lizard.
DJ: That just sounds dirty. :P
Anyway, enough about the monster in the room (or the monster at the end of this book).
MC: My point being… other Godzilla team-ups were often an old adversary, like Mothra, begrudgingly joining the King.
DJ: This is true.
MC: So… we don’t necessarily have to assign who’s who… I just wanted to try and set a cooperative tone for our discussion of the team-up of playwright and director… particularly the way you and I have done it thus far.
And, of course, it’s a healthy nod to our first collaboration.
DJ: Ah, yes. The director and playwright, advancing boldly across the field of battle.
MC: And anything we say here isn’t going to help the unknown director who wants to do established work of great, often dead, playwrights… Nor the playwright who signs off on a script once it’s written.
DJ: Let me ask you this: I know I hadn’t worked anywhere near this closely with a director before Godzilla, and I’m guessing you hadn’t with a playwright. Was it anything like what you expected?
I guess I’m just curious what you thought the process would be like when we were all a bit less experienced.
MC: I can’t say that I really “expected” anything in particular. I definitely brought my own script-related ideals from my acting into my directing.
DJ: Yes? That’d be interesting to hear. I don’t think I’d ever thought of myself as anything but a playwright, even when I acted extensively.
MC: I’ve always been the sort of actor who tried to be word-perfect.
DJ: And we playwrights appreciate that. ;)
There’s nothing like banging your head against the wall because the word a whole line revolved around simply disappears.
MC: And so, when it came to directing, I became pretty exacting with actors about their lines.
Exactly! And I recognized that as an actor when other actors did it. So, being able to actually… climb the mountain and inquire about tweaks being made to what had been engraved in the tablets was a pretty new experience. And a power I was careful not to abuse.
Working with you… and the fact that our first play together was, indeed, a script that required some development – or cuts, at the very least – I tried to learn which lines were about the words and which were about the spirit of the line.
DJ: That’s an interesting distinction – because there are certainly enough playwrights, from Mamet on down, who would insist that every line is about the words. But I know what you mean, and I’ve always been on board with tweaking and touching up as required.
MC: Well… as someone who values the words above all, I agree. Without playwright contact, they’re all one has to build characters.
DJ: And I suppose in a situation where you have no possibility of playwright contact, that kind of has to happen. But we’ve been lucky enough to be able to shape our plays in some pretty major ways as part of a collaboration.
MC: In a way, working on that early Godzilla on Sundays script, I had to be a dramaturg before I was a director.
Even though I didn’t know that word at the time. :P
DJ: I think I started out from a position where I more expected to hand the script off – I certainly had before – and only speak when spoken to.
MC: Oh, the perfect storm… two theatrical types with a script too long for its time slot.
The script was never the enemy – the clock was. ;)
DJ: That was definitely a challenge to start off with! Um, for those of you who don’t know the Monkeyman history, we started off with a full-length play, and decided instead of doing an excerpt to attempt to tell the entire story in half the time.
And I honestly didn’t know how we were going to manage that.
MC: …did we manage that? ;)
DJ: I think we did. It wasn’t an ideal telling of the story, though we got to that eventually, but I think we gave the audience the entire dramatic arc.
In a way, the very challenge of it threw us together and we had to find a way to collaborate. It was sink or swim, and we each only had one paddle.
MC: Well… sinking wasn’t an option. And, from early on, I knew I wanted to tell that story… so I was very much on board.
I don’t want to put words in your mouth(fingers?), but wouldn’t you agree that stripping down to that bare-bones arc ultimately served the script well for when it was reconstituted in a longer version?
DJ: I do think so. I think we were forced to explore just what was actually serving the story, and what was superfluous.
It was a trial by fire (to mix metaphors even more than sink or swim with a paddle involved) … but I’m not sure we would have created Monkeyman afterwards if we hadn’t all come to know just what our combined forces could do.
Like the Justice League. And I’m Batman.
MC: Oh, thank goodness… I was worried you were going to go in a Wonder Twins direction.
DJ: Heavens to Gleek, no.
I think a lot of what’s made our collaborations work – from the first week of Godzilla onward – is the fact that you were always happy to have me in the room. Sometimes, I could have been in the room more quietly … but a lot of our process is based on pulling the playwright down off that mountain and throwing him/her into the rehearsal process.
MC: Well, I’m just glad that, while you were in the room, you were open to tweaking on the fly… That’s your style as a playwright, too: being very active and engaged any time your script is being read. So, as a director with a script that wasn’t set in stone, I knew that you were hearing what I was hearing and while I would’ve supported acting choices that made sense, based on the words in the script, I was also happy to support a rewrite when you saw things veering off the course you had intended.
DJ: …though I think part of what’s made that my style is working with people I trust, and knowing that, as you once put it in an email, we’re all working together to make these plays the best that they can be.
MC: Trust or not, it takes a certain humility to work collaboratively in the first place. But I’m glad your love for monsters spills over into your creative work so that you agree multiple heads are better than one. ;)
DJ: I’ll be Ray Milland if you’ll be Rosey Grier.
My mental images were much more in the Harryhausen vein.
DJ: Oh, I was much more likely to watch the crappier type of B movies when I was a kid.
And on that note, we sort of have our collaborative process down to a ( mad ) science by now.
MC: Mad science, indeed… but despite the fact that Monkeyman has a formula, it’s not a secret formula. And with the Simian Showcase we’ve started to encourage the work of other playwrights and directors to find ways to have fun and develop scripts… So I’m digging the fact that you’ve started a blog at djsylvis.com to share the things you’ve learned and continue to learn along the way.
DJ: There are a lot of theatre blogs out there, but oddly enough I haven’t run across many blogs specifically about the process of playwriting. So I thought, hey, I may not be a big name, but I’m doing it – maybe I can spark a bit of conversation by sharing the Great Space Coaster of ups and downs I’ve been through.
I actually feel like I’m really lucky. I’m able to do the thing that I love most, and that I’m hopefully getting pretty good at, with people I love and trust and feel really get me. I’d love to encourage other people to find similar situations.
…and, I get to make B-movie jokes while I do it. If I could live on ice cream, it’d be my ten year-old dream.
MC: Obviously, the Monkeyman website will have production-related updates… but, because this is a script-in-progress, I think it’s neat that visitors to your blog will get the behind-the-scenes playwright angle on the production.
Mmmm… Ice cream.
DJ: I hope it’ll add to the process, and to the audience’s sense of participation. We do love our audience, and this is our way of giving them special features. ;)
MC: …it’ll be interesting to see the tone of our playwright/director dynamics once we’re actually in rehearsals. We’ll have to revisit this topic in a future edition.
DJ: …oddly enough, Harryhausen movies bored me when I was a kid. I may lose the classier side of geek cred by saying so, but at least in those days I’d take a rubber mask over carefully positioned stop-motion any day.
I think we should. After all, the pixels are free. ;)
MC: This is neither the time nor the place for me to defend my Harryhausen obsession. Let’s just agree on the goodness of ice cream.
DJ: I like gelato. ;)
And there goes the whole carefully-developed sense of director-playwright solidarity.
Monday, August 15th, 2011 – 8:53 PM