Scene4 Magazine: Michael Bettencourt
Michael Bettencourt
Walkabout Thoughts
Scene4 Magazine-inView

December 2011

The following are transcripts of short talks I recorded on my voice memo function as I went on a walkabout around my neighborhood.  The reference to Block and Tackle Productions refers to the new production company that my theater compatriot Elfin Vogel and I have created.  (See

Part 1

I'm walking down the street and I'm talking to myself.  And the thought I'm having is this.  First of all, it's not about me as the writer, not about a career as a writer.  It is about something else.   It's about taking what I write to create value.

That is how it connects to my long-time interest in whatever digital technologies there are for re-creating dramatic narratives.  So I'm interested, for instance, in animation, video-taping and video editing, and even bringing back my interest in photography -- the manipulation of images, with voice-over, in an animated sequence -- even a graphic novel animated, with scripts done specifically for the iPad or other tablet devices, where you could have, as a portion of a script that someone is reading, a link that brings up a pop-window with a short video segment of that particular passage. 

This notion that everything has to be on the page is not necessarily true, it's actually kind of retro, that somehow the device that interprets what's on the page is the reader, when in fact it should be the writer along the director and actors interpreting it for the reader.  And there is no way that things written on the page can necessarily do that, and there is no reason to wait to get into a room with actors and a director for it to happen, there's no reason why it can't happen as the person is reading the script.

Part 2

Back to this notion of the reader of the script as the device that interprets the script.  Quaintly retro as it is, I think this is a notion that can be overcome by the use of digital technologies.  This notion of interpretation should rest in the hands of the creators -- as well as the audience, to some extent -- but definitely in the hands of the creator.

There is an interesting parallel between these thoughts and the reading I've been doing about open and closed systems, specifically from Jaron Lanier's book You Are Not A Gadget.  There are benefits to the open-source software movement.  But as he points out, what it gives you is Linux and Open Office, which are not particularly inventive re-creations of Microsoft Office 2003 and the Unix operating system.  What you end up getting are re-hashed systems that will satisfy people who don't have a lot of money or who are ideologically opposed to giving Microsoft or Apple anything more but don't necessarily lead to innovative approaches to using software to solve problems. 

Whereas a closed system, for all of its authoritarian imperial nature, gives us the iPhone.  Open-source software will not give you the iPhone.  Steve Jobs may have been a crazy, mad, insane detail-oriented person, but in that way he could insure the quality of his inventions.  And there was no need to compromise on quality or jeopardize the performance.

Part 3

I was talking about open and closed systems, and how the closed systems of Google or Apple or Microsoft end up creating not only many bad things but also many things that people find useful in their lives.  Open-source systems never do that.

The parallel is this.  Giving a script over to a literary manager and expecting that literary manager, with all the cultural, age, gender, etcetera differences between the writer and the literary manager -- to depend upon that device is like open-source software.  You may get something that you expect, you may not, but the fact is that you've lost the control that a closed system gives you. 

On the other hand, if you can record and then use that recording to "make your case," then you have a closed system and more control over the elements of that system.  It's quite understandable why Jobs was the tweaker that he was, to use Malcolm Gladwell's term, because he wanted to get it right, get it his way -- and he got it right quite often. 

This is why I'm thinking that rather than move only towards stage production through Block and Tackle Productions -- which is fine in its own way but is also, in a way, retrograde -- move towards efforts to create "interesting innovative dramatic narratives" that people will want to pay attention to.  It's not necessarily having bodies in the seats that makes it a live performance. "Liveness" comes out of something else, and that "liveness" can be individualized on a mobile phone or collectivized in a theatre -- but it's not inherent in bodies in a darkened space watching what's happening on a stage.  I think that's an older useful form but not the only form.

Part 4

Back to this notion of closed systems and quality control.  I also think that it gets to the, perhaps, post-modern notion that there is nothing but interpretation, that there is no ur-text to which everything else can be referred and measured by.  If that's the case, and I think it is, given our battered sensory apparatus and a tricky, buggy system of rationality and argumentation, then interpretation is all there is.  So, why leave the interpretation up to the reader, to the literary manager or artistic director completely?  Not that you have to usurp it all, but on the other hand, there's no reason why they have to have the field to themselves.

The question then becomes, how to deliver this package?  Many theatres still want hard copy -- that means running it off, binding it, sending it in so that they physically read it. Some theatres are using PDFs on Kindles or iPads or tablets (which would be much better, because on a tablet device, you could embed links for video or audio, which you can't have on a Kindle) -- when you email a script in, you could make it a PDF interactive, in which you can insert these links into it, or create it specifically for a tablet for digital output.

But if they want hard copy, how does that get solved?

Part 5

If you have to send in a hard copy, then you can send in either a flash drive (gets expensive) or a disk, labeled with instructions on how to use it -- make it as part of the script itself.  It's a little more cumbersome, but they would be able to see it and (hopefully) use it.

But it doesn't matter what the delivery device is.  The thought behind it is this: the interpretive device for the script has to be the people creating and sending out the script, not the reader.   Of course the reader will experience the script however he or she experiences it, but the quality, type, and range of the experience has to be in the hands of the people who create the script.  Otherwise, you will always always always depend upon the kindness of strangers to get it the way you want to get it.  And they won't -- they simply won't.  They have their own needs, their own way of looking at things.  And that's the way it is.

Part 6

What to do next?  Training, software, hardware, colleagues with whom to work — and money.  Always money. 

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©2011 Michael Bettencourt
©2011 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt is a produced and published playwright and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate" and wife, Maria-Beatriz

Read his theatre reviews in Scene4's Qreviews
For more of his Scene4 columns and articles, check the Archives


Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media

December 2011

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