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SCRIPTS must outlive the performance. That may seem like an obvious statement to make, but it bears repeating for director Sanjin Muftic (pictured).
“You need a good script to transcend the moment. Yes, it’s easier to write a play that references pop culture that gets the audience on your side. But there’s a reason people still do Shakespeare.
“He wrote plays about the things that go on between people, things which still happen so many years later,” he said.
With writer Amy Jephta and other writers and directors, Muftic will appear on a panel discussing the relationship between the playwright and the director at a Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (Gipca) symposium at the end of this month.
This year’s Gipca symposium on Directors and Directing focuses on the existence (or absence) of the written text.
For Muftic, while there is no ideal relationship between director and playwright, the working relationship depends a lot on how well they understand and agree on the ultimate goal of the play.
This relationship, as in most creative partnerships, is often fraught with friction, “but this is no excuse to shut the other person out”.
“You should help each other iron out and embrace the frustrations. Instead of saying: ‘Please rewrite’, you have to find a way to solve the problem’,” believes the director in Muftic.
“You also have to worry about what you want the audience to get out of the play. Tears? Emotional release? Confusion?” he said.
As a UCT Master’s drama student and 2011 Gipca Fellow, he has engaged in lofty academic debate around this relationship, but as a teacher has been brought down to earth by a lack of local work to prescribe for students. He struggles to find local scripts which are supported by textbooks, thesis or even the playwrights’ notes to allow the students to engage with the written forms of discussion around the play.
Muftic draws a distinction between the script as a blueprint and the play which exists in the moment of performance (which is a different play every time a different director picks up the script).
For him, the value of this Directors and Directing symposium also lies in the way it gives people in the theatre industry a chance to look at their work from the outside: “It’s a chance to be objective.”
While he understands South African artists have to do a little bit of everything in order to survive, he finds the concept that “we are theatremakers” to be problematic because it detracts from the role of playwright as a specialist writer.
There are very few South African playwrights because there are no institutions which teach the skill as a standalone subject, and there aren’t many potential teachers either. Artscape’s writing programme is one of the few outlets/ways for scriptwriters to start a project and get meaningful feedback on what works.
“As an independent artist you have to do everything. It’s useful, but it stops you from focusing on one thing: learning to write well,” said Muftic.
• The Gipca Directors and Directing symposium, at the Hiddingh Campus, August 24 to 26. Call 021 480 7156 for info.