Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors
The Opening Beat: I will never forget the opening seconds of BAM’s production of The Cherry Orchard. Lights, music, focus and tension all worked in unison to build a cohesive world right off the bat. I relaxed into the production because that opening beat let me know I was in good hands. Look closely at the first 30 seconds of your production, and start counting 10 seconds before the first cue is called. How do you want your audience to feel during that 30 seconds?
Transitions: Playwrights create each scene. Actors inhabit each scene. But good direction can be spotted in transitions. Blackouts, blue-outs, choreographed scene changes, curtain moves, exits & entrances, sound that travels around the room – what tools are you using to keep your audience engaged between scenes? Many directors don’t use anything at all – a bit of a light fade maybe, reliance on the “button” text to let the audience know a scene is over. Perhaps that works best for your production, but did you REALLY consider it, or did it just end up like that? Plan your transitions!
Sight & Sound: If the audience cannot see or hear an actor, they will check out of the production. And there’s no way for an actor to make this determination for themselves. The director has to be the first “audience” and be on guard for a lack in visual or audible clarity. Move around your house, see and hear the play from lots of different seats.
Pace: More good plays have been ruined by bad pacing than anything else, in my opinion. Too fast, too slow, too many pauses – problems with pace can kill an otherwise good scene. The director is the lynchpin of pace, because it’s a thread that goes through every part of the production. You have to be the conductor and give each character the pace setting that is best for the entire production at each given point.
A love of story-telling. This is so basic and so critical. If you don’t get a thrill out of connecting with another person through the art of story-telling (however you define it) then you probably won’t enjoy directing. From the time you first encounter a story to closing night, your main goal should be to find the best way possible of sharing that story with an audience.
Compassion: In my opinion, compassion underlies the work of any true artist. Yes, there are angry artists that may not come across as compassionate, but I’d contend that it’s difficult to be angry about something if you don’t care about it at some level.
Empathy: Can you put yourself in another’s shoes? Directors need to step into multiple shoes and connect with many people: you connect to the playwright through their text, the producer through their budget and parameters, the actors through their voices, bodies, heart, mind and soul. Directors connect with designers, marketers, technicians and of course, the most important element, the audience. Can you place yourself in seat G12 and experience the play through that person’s eyes? You have to want to try….
A Love of Puzzles: Directors don’t direct plays, we direct productions. And productions consist of many, many moving elements, and your job is to put them together in the best way possible. But what is “best?” Ah, therein lies the rub – you get to decide. Good puzzles often have several possible solutions, and it’s the saying yes to one and no to others that lies at the heart of the job of the director.
A Theatrical Education: Whether you get it from real-world experience, or through institutional programs, its important to become knowledgeable about the existing world of theatre. Reading critically about what’s come before us, and what’s going on now, as well as going to SEE theatre helps a director to reinforce their own vision as well as broaden their horizons.
A Connection with the ‘Whole’: Directors need to be involved with the totality of a production. Actors can afford to go into great depth with their character, but a director has to be curious about the wider picture. A lighting designer should fight hard for their design choices, but a director has to factor in the impact that the choice has on the production as a whole. Most directors come to their art with a strength in one area, but it’s always beneficial to improve your knowledge in other areas as well: love text? study movement. Adore costumes? play with light. Feel comfy in a proscenium? direct “in the round!”
Ability to be a Leader AND a Manager: All leaders are not necessarily good managers, and few managers have the ability to be good leaders – work to cultivate the best of both. Good managers utilize the strengths of others in support of a common goal; Good leaders create an environment that challenges others to go beyond those strengths. Good leaders give clear vision and conviction to a group; Good managers make sure everyone has all the resources they need to support that vision.
Value and Utilize Others Strengths: Directors may sit at the hub of a production, but it’s the spokes that support the rim so that it can rotate. It is not necessary for a director to know what a leko is, or what grade of plywood is needed to support the weight of 10 pogo dancers, but it is important that a director know the value of a designer as a fellow artist and create an environment that brings forth their best work on the stage. When you can feel as proud of the accomplishments of the others involved in the production as you do of your own work, then you’re on the right track.
Ability to Create Strong Outlines: To me, one of the prime jobs of a director is to create a cohesive production – a production who’s whole is better than it’s parts. Each contribution to a production must be funneled through the same filter, so that each element builds a foundation that is not only strong, but also cohesive.