How do dramas presented in writing, on stage, or in visual media, like movies and television differ? Do any of the forms present the playwright's "intent" more effectively? Besides the elements of the drama (plot, characterization ect.) what craftsmanship issues are involved in drama?
Drama that is written is meant to be presented. Upon writing, its intent is to visualize it with players. If it were not meant to be displayed in such a manner, it would remain as a written narrative such as a story. The moment it is written in dramatic form, it moves into the realm of a staged production or a recorded one as in television or film. Some distinct differences exist between drama on stage and drama presented in another medium such as television or film. One such element would be the aspect of presentation, itself. In drama that is rendered on stage, there is a live aspect. It is in front of an audience and being rendered live helps to foster an immediate and intimate connection with the audience that might not be as present in the recorded aspect of television or film. Drama that is presented in the theatre harkens back into the past, whereas the recorded element of television or film is more modern in its approach. This becomes quite relevant in drama that was written with the live audience in mind, such as Greek or Elizabethan Drama. At the same tie, the technological element is more pronounced in recorded drama. For example, the presence of the camera or multiple camera fundamentally changes the presentation form in television or film than in the staged aspect of dramatic presentation. The inclusion of a camera changes focus in a recorded version of dramatic presentation because it chooses what the audience sees and absorbs. In a live presentation of drama, the audience's perception is wider because of the absence of a camera lens.
It might in this regard where the differences in terms of playwright intent can be seen. It is difficult to state with certainty which form of dramatic presentation is "better." The craftsmanship issues are the same in both. Actors and actresses are needed to breath life into the lines and make characterizations compelling, bringing the audience into the playwright's understanding. Direction in either medium is needed to ensure that the audience understand the drama's messages. Technical elements such as blocking and lighting on stage or editing and sound production in the recorded form are meant to assist and enhance the effectiveness of the work. In either live or recorded manner, the technical elements of presentation have to capture the playwright's meaning and purpose. This is where an artistic understanding to enter the playwright's mind is essential. Regardless of the medium, when this is understood, the playwright's meaning is displayed and when it is not, the playwright's meaning is lost.
Yet, in terms of "better," this might reside in the realm of personal choice. One part of this calculation would have to reside in intent. For example, we know that dramatists like Shakespeare and Sophocles understood that their work was to be performed on stage in front of a live audience because of their time period. This is what makes seeing works like Antigone or King Lear so meaningful on stage. At that instant, the audience member is partaking in the experience that the playwright desired. The effect is tangible and can be understood. Yet, this is not to say that such productions cannot be put on recorded medium. One can only contemplate what Shakespeare would have done with the use of a camera during a Macbeth soliloquy or what Sophocles could have done with a close- up on Oedipus as he stands on the painful threshold of revelation.
Let's use Shakespeare to examine this question.
Every highschool student is required to read a Shakespeare play at some time or another, and in many cases they dislike it. This is partly due to the nature of Shakespearian language, but it also has to do with the medium in which the play is presented. Plays simply were not meant to be read. Watching a production of a Shakespeare play in addition to reading it sheds a lot more light on the themes and characters. However, the nature of theater gives the directors and actors a measure of artistic licence that may complicate authorial intent and interpretation. For instance the reading of hamlet in which he has incestuous feelings for his mother stemed from both Fruedian theories and Laurence Olivier's performance in the 1948 film Hamlet. Whether Shakespeare actually intended Hamlet to have that characterstic is unclear. While watching a drama is much more engaging than reading one, it also adds another level of interepertation (the author's intent, the director's/actor's interpertation, the viewers reaction).
As to whether or not movies/TV differ from live theater, I believe it depends on the work at hand. If we continue to study this topic through Shakespeare then I believe live theater makes a huge difference. During William Shakespeare's life there was no film, only live theater. Based on the use of a chorus, who speaks directly to the audience at times in many of his plays, I would say Shakespeare intended his plays to be viewed rather than read. Audience interaction can add an element of whimsy to any production and many renditions of Shakspeare use it, such as the 2010 Globe Theater production of King Henry IV part 1.
Regardless of whether the drama is on stage or on set the actors and directors have a responsibility to treat the work in question with respect, and do their best to interpret it as faithfully as possible. It helps if the writer is still living and can be involved in the process, but other wise the responsibility of delivering a truthful work of art falls solely on the cast and crew.