Thursday, October 02, 2008

Nigro's advice to the playwright

Advice to the playwright: Never let anybody alter your work. But if they do, and it happens to make it better, be prepared to take credit for it. Never allow directors to intimidate you, but have some sympathy for them. They are professional cat herders and you are why they drink. Strive to be kind to actors, even when they're being impossible. They have a difficult life, and without them, you're a novelist. Praise and blame are illusions. Never take kind words for granted, but do your work. Just do your work. Don't let anybody stop you. Keep writing no matter what. Direct, act, build sets, earn your right to be in a theatre. This will give you insight into the absurdly difficult tasks you set for others when you write. Help other playwrights when you can, even if they don't like you. Jealousy is poison. We're all in the same sinking ship. Calm down. Hysteria is contagious in rehearsal, and life is short. Break the rules. Trust your own instincts. If your instincts now and then betray you, learn from it, but don't stop trusting them. Experience can deepen and fine tune your instincts, but in the end, you have nothing else. It's better to be hated for what you wrote than for what you let somebody else talk you into writing. Write without fear. Love without hope. Never take advice. --- DON NIGRO

13 comments:

RLewis said...

Adam, this all sounds great. I just wonder if his plays have received the kinds of productions that you are seeking? Can you sight some examples of his production success that reflect these principles?

Adam said...

I think that's kind of irrelevant. Either it resonates with you or it doesn't. Just like anyone's work. I happen to think it's good advice for how to try to survive being a playwright without going crazy.

It's a hard life to make work and if anyone's figured anything out about how to not become miserable and bitter, i want to know about it.

For the record though I think you should look him up. He's been around the block. off broadway, regional, a bazillion publications.

Jason Grote said...

Agreed, Nigro's an excellent playwright. I think that he hasn't been more successful by traditional measures because he's a recluse, or so I hear.

Adam said...

I don't know how anyone who wasn't a recluse could write 200 plays. If that was true, it would begin to explain his productivity.

RLewis said...

I was first introduced to Nigro's work when The Present Company was still based in midtown (thanks Clancy), so believe me, I don't need to look him up.

I just think that he, like principles, can be overrated in a colaborative field. Now, I think he writes really well, no I mean very, very well. I just don't think he makes very good plays from that terrific writing. I find him overly monologous - maybe he just doesn't get out enough to hear folks speaking to eachother.

Look, I'm sure he's a fine person, but I just remember a day when I believed all that high-minded talk as I watched others who'd sell their mothers for a deal soar to the top.

btw, I'll give you "a bazillion publications", but "off broadway, regional" - other than small theaters galore, I think you're stretching it.

Adam said...

ok, but I'm not sure what you're saying. Which part of it do you disagree with? "Help other playwrights"? or the part about not letting people talk you into writing something?

RLewis said...

Granted, it is well written, but what’s underneath I find disappointing…

"be prepared to take credit for it." – I don’t think you should let anyone change your work, but if you do, don’t compound that wrong by taking credit for it.
"have some sympathy for them." – who wants to work with someone who’s having sympathy for them. That’s just condecending to directors.
"They are professional cat herders and you are why they drink." – condecending again and self-agrandizing.
"Strive to be kind to actors, even when they're being impossible." – condesecing to actors.
"even if they don't like you." – unnecessarily self-degrading
"We're all in the same sinking ship." – unnecessarily negative; couldn’t it be sailing to Success City?
"but in the end, you have nothing else." – untrue singularity; there are a wealth of things to draw upon other than instincts – they can be wrong.
"It's better to be hated for what you wrote than for what you let somebody else talk you into writing." – dismisses the value of feedback and collaboration
"Love without hope." – I’m a big fan of hope (along with Clinton and Obama). Love I’m not so sure about.
"Never take advice." – self-centered and just wrong.

Enough?

Adam said...

ok. I don't agree but I understand your point of view. I'm not sure that I understand what taking this advice would have to do with success or lack of success however. Most of your criticism has to do not with what he says but your perception of the way he says it. I'm not just being a dick here either. I want success and I want to know what you think the key to becoming sucessful is. (as it relates or doesn't relate to Nigro's advice) Is there some flaw people have that makes them not achieve success or likewise is there something people should do and don't? At the moment I'm watching some of my friends become successful and I see some similarities but at the end of the day it seems like everyone has their own path and we have no real control or input in how or if our work will be accepted.

Jenny said...

Adam -
Thanks for sharing this. It was hugely helpful, now that I'm 2 days into collaboration weekend at Columbia. I'm sure you remember what that was like.

I'll probably repost it to share with others.

*J

Adam said...

Ah yes, Collaboration. Have a good time!

RLewis said...

I would implore Jenny, or anyone else sharing Don's advice here, just to keep in mind his last directive, "Never take advice" - it's sort of the "oh, nevermind" Roseanna Dana twist that I find kinda disengenuous - my personal problem with this text. Nigro is saying that we should disregard his entire statement here; so, by Adam's sharing this so Jenny can repost it - which can only be for others to take her advice to take Adam's advice to take Don's advice - is actually doing just the OPPOSITE of what Nigro himself is requesting - not to take advice!

Adam, do you see yet what you're doing here? - spreading bad advice that others don't understand, which is an age old practice in the theater world and one primary reason why it too often sucks, and keeps so many of us, dwelling at the bottom of life and art. And that's what I care about. And please tell me that you got Don's permission before going public with his words.

Adam said...

Well, I don't think it's bad advice. I did get his permission. And I think the last statement is both ironic but also true. At the end of the day you take what you can use and leave the rest. Advice is good except that it isn't. And everything you learn is specific to what you actually have to deal with and advice has use overall but not specifically. Really, you have to figure it all out for yourself but should take what resonates. Thsi is what the last line means to me.

But seriously, instead of changing the subject, tell me what you meant when you started to talk about success and then dropped it.

RLewis said...

Ya know, Adam, I promised myself that I would not come back to this thread, because I’ve yet to see where any back-and-forth race to the bottom has ever led to any good. And that someone egging it on is just being a dick. But with Jenny’s post above, I thought you might see where posting such advice (without comment) can be not-understood and passed along to the detriment of the community at large and young playwrights specifically.

But if you’ll promise me this will end here, I’ll say that my original point is that someone who is satisfied with his/her success in this collaborative field would never give such advice (I heard Terrance McNally speak this weekend –now, there’s someone accomplished– and he said nothing close); and that when taking advice from anyone (or giving it out to everyone - contrary to the author’s plea), we should have a great responsibility to consider (if not challenge) the source when judging its Value (i.e. learn from the best). Promise.