Friday, December 01, 2006

Roleplaying: The Long (and sadly un-sordid) Story of Stolen Chair's Co-Artistic Directors

So last night marked the final revision of the final scene in Kill Me Like You Mean It. It has been a long developmental process (more on that in our next blog posting), and it's good to feel "done" (a few minor pencilled-in changes will happen up until opening night, I'm sure), but last night was special for other reasons: it reminded me how incredibly fluid the roles of playwright and director are within our company. Some of the lines we were happiest with were written by our director (me) and some of the stage moments we found most satisfying were directed by our playwright, Kiran Rikhye.

Kiran Rikhye and I (Jon Stancato) are the Co-Artistic Directors of the company and have been since its inception, but our specific roles have been in flux since we started collaborating nearly 8 years ago, and I think it's a rather unique theatrical partnership.

A brief Stolen Chair history: A Tale of Two Writer/Directors

Support Group: We began working together as partners in an undergraduate playwriting class; we were from opposite sides of the tracks: different theatrical passions, different processes, different personalities. Soon after, we were the only two students in a directing class at Swarthmore College; we supported each other's work as two novice directors each trying to develop our own visions. After the first workshop performance of our pieces, Kiran's parents remarked on how very different these visions were: I was all about space and physicality and Kiran focused on text and character.

Piecemeal: Kiran and I co-directed a production of The Tempest, using each other's strengths to balance our respective weaknesses. We more or less took turns directing. I would take the first few passes of the scene until its spatial dynamics were roughly established, and then Kiran would dig into the subtleties of the text.

Contract Labor: For my directing thesis, I commissioned an original adaptation of The Dybbuk from Kiran. I gave Kiran specific instructions for each scene: plotting, key lines, tone, etc. She delivered a script; I directed it.

Partnership: Stolen Chair was founded shortly thereafter and ever since then, Kiran has been specifically credited as the writer of each of Stolen Chair's performance texts and I have been billed as the director. This is more or less accurate insofar as there is no way that I could have written any of those scripts and there is no way that Kiran could have conceptualized and staged them. That said, I am in the room offering suggestions during nearly every single moment Kiran is writing, and Kiran is in the theatre during nearly every single minute of rehearsal, offering suggestions to me or directly to the actors.

Over the years (going on 5, happy birthday to us!!!), Kiran and my diametrically opposing styles as writers and directors have nearly merged into a (much more interesting) synthesis. A little part of me burns up everytime an audience ooos and ahhs at a moment that Kiran directed and, for her part, my (admittedly less petty) partner always feels a little bit sorry that my writing contributions remain uncredited, but at the end of the day the divisions of labor are as right as they are wrong...

And who knows? Maybe we're just being lazy and neither of us wants to take on more artistic responsibility...At 11:45pm last night when we are all getting a bit punchy, we (only half-jokingly) asked one of the performers, Tommy Dickie, to stage manage and direct the scene he was acting in...

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