Theatre Thoughts: Ethical Considerations

While conducting research for my inquiry, I became fascinated by the study of ethics, and how ethical practice can be considered in the context of professional theatre practice.

Definition of 'Ethics' from

Considering the ethics of theatre practices has, conversely, been quite confusing for me. If ethics is a moral principle governing an activity, then what is the morality of theatre? 

In beginning this task we were advised to think about this free from reference to documents or discussion, relying wholly on our own thoughts. So here goes...

* Theatre is Art, therefore do ethical considerations have a place in art? I'm not so sure... if the purpose of 'art' is to make us think, advance a change, shine a light on society, or simply entertain then surely we don't need to consider what is supposed to be 'right' or 'wrong' in the eyes of the audience?

* The ethical consideration of the artist is to follow their own sense of morality: if the playwrights' purpose in creating a play is to expose, say, domestic violence, then the writer must be guided by their own sense and experience. If they draw upon any others first hand experience they must respect the privacy of the person in question and take into account their thoughts on the staging and presentation of the subject. The consideration to the audience must be to make it clear beforehand the sensitive content of the production; the difficulty here would be in making the content explicit without patronizing a potential audience, or giving away the crux of the play.

* A director or producer has an ethical duty to the playwright: to stage their works in a way that stays true to the script and original intentions of the action. However how would this work when making changes to the original? Any editing must be done in a sensitive way so as not to loose the messages conveyed through the script - if a director takes a different message from the piece than that which may have been originally intended, it must be supported and carried through the whole production (i.e. Lady MacBeth can be portrayed as either a Machiavellian manipulator, or a fame-hungry 'wannabe' or as a sympathetic character: whichever interpretation Shakespeare originally intended has been lost through time, yet whichever the director chooses to take, they have an ethical duty to adhere to their interpretation)

* A dramaturge working with a writer has an ethical duty to listen to the writers intentions: if they are advising on a script it must be with the consideration of the writers original ideas and they must not try to change or alter the direction of a work based on their own prejudices or preconceptions. When reading a new script they must adhere to the same code, and approach a new work with the same openness of thought. When working with directors they must respect the directors vision and not try to change the shape of the production (maybe unless they felt the directors vision was veering too far from the writers intention, especially in the creation of new works)

* Those working in any aspect of theatre and production surely have an ethical duty to the theatre itself: to make the production the very best in can be regardless of personal issues.

All of the (very rambling) thoughts above are very much a 'code of practice' as opposed to a 'code of morality' - what is interesting to me is that often a practice may be in conflict with an individuals sense of morality. For example, a dramaturg working with a playwright who may be writing a production that shows, say, a paedophile in a sympathetic light. The dramaturg may be morally opposed to this interpretation, yet must put personal ethics aside and adhere to the ethics of their profession which would be to approach the work with an open mind, free of prejudices.

What do you think is greater? Personal or Professional ethics? There have been many documented occasions when the two collide (Catholic nurses refusing to carry out abortions, for example). It's a fascinating subject with very few 'black or white' areas.

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