David Savoy is beginning his third season as Artistic Director of Sudbury Theatre Centre (STC). Previously he was the AD of Showboat Festival Theatre in Port Colborne, ON, and the St. Lawrence Stage Company in Brockville, ON. He was at the Shaw Festival for three seasons, as an Intern Director, Assistant Director, and Director. He recently received his MFA from UBC, where his adaptation of Gogol’s Diary of a Madman was invited to the Setkani/Encounter Theatre Festival in Brno, Czech Republic.
What do you look for in a script?
A good story. Something that excites my imagination and starts me thinking “theatrically”. Can I see it on stage? And I have to look at the logistics as well — how many characters, what are the technical /production demands, and do I think our audience in Sudbury will enjoy it?
How important is the workshop process in developing a new script? And how many is too many?
STC’s original mandate, created 40 years ago, didn’t include a focus on new work or play creation. In 1972, Canadian playwriting was in its infancy and as Regional theatres were created across the country, their focus was on bringing the world theatre repertoire to Canadian audiences, acted, directing, and designed by Canadians. STC was created during that first wave of Regional Theatres and shared that original focus. As a freelance director though, and as an audience member, I have encountered a great deal of new work that has gone through the workshop process. What distresses me is how many works I see or read that have gone through an expensive workshop process but remain deeply flawed or unfocused.
I think it is less about the number of workshops and more about how the workshops are used in structures. I had a meeting with a writer who was a Literary Adviser at the Royal Court Theatre in London. There, workshops were the LAST part of the process and only entered into when the writer and the adviser (or dramaturg) agreed that the play was nearly ready for production. They had a philosophy that writers should write and not rely on actors to do the writing for them. Is that better? A good topic for discussion (and probably heated debate).
From a practical standpoint is there an ideal number of characters or script length?
As a basic rule of thumb, our dramas have a shorter run than our comedies, so we have fewer performances to generate revenue. Sadly, anything over 4 characters would really have to have a strong story that we felt would strongly resonate with our audience, A play with a lot of characters may be considered if there was a way that a small cast could bring all the characters to life (we are in rehearsals for The 39 Steps, which has over 100 characters, but is performed by 4 actors.)
Does script formatting matter or can it get in the way?
As long as it is easy to read, the format is not that important. But if it is jumbled, hard to follow, and doesn’t give me a clear idea or vision of how it may be realized — which is not to say it has to be over burdened with staged directions — it would be a tough slog to get through. And don’t use a font that is too small — some of us have less than perfect eyes! Sending a hard copy is better than an electronic version, but that may just be me.
How do you feel about detailed stage directions?
Only use what you need to tell the story. A lot of writers submit scripts that almost read like a film — telling which way a character’s head should turn, or where there eyes should be focused. Keep it simple, and let the actors and the director do their job, which is to bring your script to life.
What turns you off a script?
A script that doesn’t live up to its “billing” — a mystery that is not mysterious or suspenseful, comedies that aren’t funny. I am not a fan of material that is mean-spirited. It can be strongly opinionated or have a forceful argument, but I am not a fan of things that are just mean.
Does the topic matter as much as the delivery? Or are there topics so important any discussion is worthy of staging?
Being an Artistic Director in a smaller community is a tricky balancing act. My job is to provide the BEST theatrical experience for our audience, which is not always on the same wave length as me, and often sees things very differently than an audience in a large urban centre. Our job as ADs is to take the pulse of our communities and try and make the best match between their interests and the desire to expand horizons and visions of the world.
What bad habits from television / movie scripts does a playwright need to break?
Multiple locations are certainly possible in the theatre, but it can run into technical and financial hurdles. The way people talk in movies and films is different than the voices of the theatre, so dialogue is different.
What is the most important play of the past 100 years and why?
Hmmm. That’s a tough one. I am about to start rehearsals for Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, which is credited with being the first ‘absurdist’ play, and I think set the pattern for a way of presenting a story that is not completely linear or immediately understandable. Nearly 60 years after its premier I think it still keeps us interested and asking questions. What is it about? Who is Godot? Why are we here?
Fill in the blank. I wish people would stop telling playwrights to ___.
Write what you know. It’s great advice, but I would rather tell a writer to write what excites them, what fires their imagination.
What do you think about the state of new plays in Canada at the moment? Are you excited by it?
There are great plays being written and produced across the country, which is a nice contrast to when I was young, when new work was the exception rather than the rule. We are a big and diverse country so the range of voices is equally wide and diverse. I just wish there was more money around so the element of “risk” for a theatre like STC doing new work could be cushioned. Sadly, economics has taken the element of risk further and further from what a theatre like ours can attempt.
If you could give emerging playwrights three pieces of advice, what would they be?
- Read and read and then read some more.
- Do your homework. Learn what types of work a theatre does, learn something about the communities the theatres live in. Get some idea of the budget of the theatre and see if your vision can be created at a particular theatre.
- And keep writing!