To reiterate Issacharoff's premise: both scripts and novels consist of two components: dialogue and didascaliae. Since we have a tendency to read scripts like novels, those who ignore the didascaliae are essentially removing the narrative from dramatic texts completely. "Given the semiotic richness of a dramatic text, it is curious that so many critics of drama privilege the dialogue of a playscript, even to the point of erasing the stage instructions" (Des Roches 49). Inversely, how would a novel read with no dialogue? Dialogue isn't necessary; fiction can be written solely as narrative. We recognize that many novels absolutely require dialogue to reveal the nuances and rhythm of human discourse or differences in local inflection or dialect. Just as dialogue can be an essential feature of a novel, didascaliae can be an essential feature of the dramatic text. A stage direction is the author's description of some aspect of that play. Ignoring the stage directions of a play is tantamount to skipping over all the quoted bits in a novel.
While directors tend to agree on the importance of maintaining the dialogue as written, they often consider the stage directions to be suggestions rather than requirements. Some critics and theorists believe that the didascaliae are mostly irrelevant, useful only as an expedient until the director comes along to give the script life. Parvis, for example, argues that "Stage directions concerning the circumstances of utterances are not the ultimate truth of a text, a formal command to produce the text in such a manner, or even an indispensable shifter between text and performance. Their textual status is uncertain. Do they constitute an optional extratext? A metatext that determines the dramatic text? Or a pretext that suggests one solution before the director decides on another?" (89). Performers argue for complete creative license with staging, but seldom alter the dialogue. It is interesting that theatre professionals and students alike can read a script and dismiss half of the narrative (who reads a novel and ignores all of the dialogue?). Somewhere along the way, dialogue became more important than didascaliae in a dramatic text. Digressing from the playwright's written directions changes the essence of the play by altering components like emotion, characterization, physical setting, visual images or emphasis. If the playwright directs a character to stand in a moment of great emotional distress, and a director tells him to sit, they have created two different characters who react differently to the same stimuli. >
Didascaliae presents itself as the only way a dramatist can have any control over the performance of a play without being directly involved in rehearsals. We say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and recognize that a stage picture and the physical relationship between characters can be just as important as the spoken words in a play. "Every producer of plays must know that the action and stage business of the play are often a more effective source of comedy and tragedy than is the dialogue, and that an objective representation is often less tedious than dialogue" (McCague 48). A playwright often composes more than just the spoken discourse, and has a distinct perception of how certain moments should look, sound, or feel on stage. That image is conveyed by the stage directions. Dialogue alone is incapable of succinctly creating the same visual images within a reasonable playing time.
Didascaliae can further plot, show background or local color, tell a story without words through pantomime, provide comic relief, portray meaning and emotions not expressed in words, create suspense, or control attention through visual means. Effective use of explicit didascaliae can solidify the author's intention if he knows how to accurately record his ideas in a way that future readers will be able to convert into mental images or emotions. When the didascaliae becomes as evidently integral to the text as the dialogue, directors are less likely to take great liberties. Most plays are full of generic or nonspecific directions: "pause," "she sits, "he laughs," "they exit," "afternoon light," or "a lovely dress." These generalities require and rely on performers and directors to flesh them out; interpretation is necessary. "Ugly light" is not a direction that a lighting designer can easily reproduce; someone must decide exactly what color and intensity of light will be unpleasant to viewers. Few playwrights meticulously denote every possible detail required to stage the play; instead, they dictate only those aspects of staging that are essential to the play.