Rajiv Joseph is one of my favorite contemporary playwrights. I remember seeing his play A Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo in Los Angeles and being blown away. It was political, yet personal. Surreal, yet plainspoken. It captured a place and a wonderment that I seek to find in my own writing.
In this Broadway.com interview on the occasion of his latest play Guards at the Taj, he describes a lesson he learned about collaboration:
When I was working on Bengal Tiger with Moisés Kaufman, he said actors are the most underutilized resource in theater. He works from a very holistic, collaborative place, and he would bring the actors into the discussion about the dramaturgy of the play in a real way. Actors are investing so much in these lines that I’ve written, so it behooves me to ask them as many questions as I can and listen to them with great attention. It will only help. I trust [Guards at the Taj stars] Arian [Moayed] and Omar [Metwally] as much as I trust anyone in this regard. When they tell me something—even if I don’t agree with it—I try to consider it as deeply as possible. More often than not, I find myself figuring something out with it and the play improves.
I’ve often considered the fact that as an actor, I come in contact to new works far more often than most writers do. I am always reading new scripts, participating in workshops, auditioning for shows that will never be seen, or go on to be huge hits. With this bird’s eye perspective, I’m constantly able to pick apart what works, what doesn’t – what pitfalls writers fall into, and what strengths allow them to rise above.
I remember working with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa on his play Dr. Cerberus at South Coast Repertory. He had a wonderful way of taking feedback from actors. If he agreed, he would say so and make a change right there. If he disagreed, or wasn’t sure whether or not he agreed, he would say, “Hmmm. Let me think about that.” And from there he would go home and return the next day, either having made a change, or recommitted to his initial instinct. Either way, it invited actors into his process, and I have taken this lesson with me as both an actor and writer to everything I work on today.
So writers – I encourage you, as you work, to listen to your actors. They invest everything into every single word you wrote. They have instincts about when something rings true or when it screams false. Take your grain of salt, but take their feedback, too, in equal measure. They are one of your greatest assets.
Are you a writer of plays, musicals, or anything else? I want to know what you’re working on. Share in the comments below!