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On letting the right people fill in the blanks

April 17, 2013

I read a really interesting article by Nicholas Hytner (the direction of the National Theatre) about why plays need to be performed.

The play needs actors to complete it.

Looking at the words on a page will never bring them to life in the same way that a skilled professional can; the bits that are actually written down are just a starting point for the actor to create the character.

In particular I was struck by this paragraph:

The desire of literary critics over four centuries to solve Iago as if he were a puzzle seems to me to be missing the point. The solution is the actor. The playwright writes from the premise that the dots can’t be joined on the page, and writes with the confidence of an actor who knows that, if they are any good, his colleagues will do the rest of the job for him. Shakespeare knew what he was doing, and what he knew was that he had no idea who Iago or Cleopatra – or even Snug the Joiner – were going to turn out to be.

He also talks about (and I paraphrase) how Shakespeare wrote, as an actor himself, confident in the knowledge that the experts would be able to flesh out the details. This meant that he could be more concise – which is why Othello fits into a slim paperback and doesn’t look like War and Peace.

This got me thinking about two things:

a) 4 years of studying Shakespeare as literature may have been a little wasted…

b) and, on a more related note – isn’t this how an ideal creative brief should work?

We (planners, account people, clients, whoever) need to give creatives just enough of the detail for them to flesh the direction out and breathe life into it themselves.  We don’t need the 5 chapters Tolstoy would write – just enough to be the jumping off point.

At the same time, we need to put more trust in creative people to hold up their end of the bargain, rather than trying to make sure that our own personal hobbyhorse or idea is coming through, because otherwise you are putting too many constraints on the person whose expertise you are seeking.

Would we still be watching Othello now, and thinking that it is relevant to our times and our concerns, if Shakespeare hadn’t created a loose enough framework that future generations had the freedom to create meaning and interest?

Probably not.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2013 7:40 pm

    Great minds etc. I recently decided that One Page Creative Briefs were the way forward. It’s working so far!

    • April 22, 2013 6:05 pm

      One page briefs … aka the art of knowing what to leave out 😉 not sure I’m at one page yet. More practice needed!

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