"In the absence of defining information, people project what they believe should be there. People are emotional and they want to engage with emotional characters. They will often engage their own psychology to do that. They will assume causality and infer narrative."
This past weekend I had the great pleasure of working with Sharon Cavanagh on her new play The Final Word. It's the story of an aging poet who has come to the Minister of Culture to demand a statue be erected of him. The language is poetic and offers a discussion on the nature of art and politics. While working on the play, questions came up on a couple of occasions regarding how a moment was to be played. Where I, as the director and dramaturg, understood a moment one way, Sharon understood it differently when she wrote it. Neither interpretation was incorrect, based on the material Sharon had written, even though they were in direct opposition of each other. On each occasion I deferred to Sharon. After all, she should know the answer as she wrote it. But on each occasion it became clear to the both of us that there was a lot of room for interpretation. So the question I posed to Sharon was "Have you provided a director or actor with enough information to ensure that your choices become their choices? If you wish them to approximate your thoughts and interpretation, have you given them enough information to get there?" I love this play and nothing stated above is meant as a criticism of the work. (How's that for clarity? Notice how I used Bold and Italics to be clear about this point. You should be able to infer how strongly I believe in that statement.)
While I don't think one can create with this quote in the front of your mind, it is an interesting thought to keep in the back of your mind when working on your next great play. A play can be overwritten as easily as a play can be underwritten. The overwritten work provides no room for interpretation by the artists or audience, while the underwritten provides no defining information and can be anything to to anyone. On a theatrical spectrum you could put Norm Foster at one end and Samuel Beckett at the other. Where does your work live? One interpretation or many? Are you generating the meaning of your work or is the audience? Are you providing us with enough of a context for thought?
So where did this quote come from? Shall I keep that a secret and have you infer it came from a writer? Well I won't. The quote wasn't from a writer at all. The quote came from David Mark an expert in Artificial Intelligence, speaking at a gaming conference, about creating video game characters.