Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors
CP: Peter, thanks so much for chatting with DirectorSpeak about your path as a director. I know you’re busy as can be with Signal Failure, so let’s jump right into the questions! Let’s start with a general question: What is it about directing that pulls you to it as a career? What is it that you enjoy about directing?
PD: I first trained as an actor, and worked as such for the first five years of my career, and had some success – though I always had an interest in directing. Ultimately it was a combination of two things: The first being in a room with directors who didn’t understand how to communicate with an actor to effect the change they want. I often found myself in a room with very intelligent directors who spoke very eloquently – but when they stopped, you’re still wondering “what’s the note?” The other factor was that I also found that just my own performance was not creatively fulfilling me. I wanted to have a hand in everything – the other performances, the lights, the music, set, sound! I think maybe I am a little bit of a control freak! But off I went, retrained with a masters degree in directing, and that’s been me ever since!
CP: Tell us about an incident while directing that taught you a big lesson, in either a positive or negative fashion.
PD: I think I could list a lot of incidents – from sacking a stage manager at the technical rehearsal, miscasting actors, an audience member vomiting over the head of the globe theatre in a gory scene- but the ultimate message would be that when I don’t trust my instincts – even if they go against what makes sense in every logical way I totally fu@k up. So the lesson (which I am still learning) is always to trust the little voice in my head (the good one that tells me I can – not the bad one that tells me I can’t!) and the pull of my gut.
CP: How do you feel about the use of design elements in your vision for a production? Do you gravitate toward any specific element more than another?
PD: The look and feel of a production is very important to me – especially when I’m working in classic texts. I have been working on creating fusion worlds – think industrial synths with sampled hurdy-gurdy, vests graffitied with medieval cote-of-arms, and thrones from reclaimed steels. In my contemporary work we have been working on creating cool worlds. I feel if I have a limited budget, I tend to spend it on lights and sound. Having worked extensively in BBC radio drama, I have a huge appreciation for the transformative power of sound. A talented LD and the right colours is a great way to boost a less expensive look! Good lights can save a bad set!! For Signal Failure we commissioned a hip London graffiti artist to give us a strong visual, and our LD has worked with the RSC and the Donmar warehouse – so lucky we have both!
PD: When I read it, I instantly remembered a moment when I was on the district line, and locked eyes with the most beautiful guy, who smiled. We were too awkward to speak, then I got off. I think we have all had a moment like that- if I had written into Missed Connections, I am convinced we would now be married and at least on our first puppy. Next time….
CP: Signal Failure just showed at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. DirectorSpeak just did a series of interviews with some American directors who were taking shows there, so we’d love to have you tell us about your experience at EdFringe. What challenges does it hold for a director?
PD: Edinburgh is toughest place in the world- and the most wonderful! It’s the biggest drama festival in the world – the sheer diversity of work (or competition- depending on how you look at it) is awe-inspiring. Getting your work noticed, getting the right marketing image, getting the right space and slot for your work, are all vital before you even start to think about the rest! Golden rules: keep it technically simple, be prepared for the worst, be able to think on your feet, have a strong image and copy, and bring your best work.
CP: You are no stranger to transferring plays, as your play Githa transferred from the Edinburgh Festival to the West End. Signal Failure has transferred from the EdFringe to NYC – what has that experience been like for you?
PD: Amazing. And confusing. Edinburgh and the London scene I understand, and have my black book of contacts to help me out when things go wrong. Coming to a place where the language is the same but the scene is different, where you don’t know simple things like what things should cost, or where to get what you need, makes it stressful and expensive! However New York is an amazing scene, and every day is thrilling!
CP: Give us a little behind-the-scenes scoop about Signal Failure. Some cool fact we won’t read in the official blurbs…
PD: “Maddy” in the play- and her experience of reading missed connections and thinking a message was for her- going up to a real guy on a train with two cups of coffee to be met by bewilderment and cringe- is a true thing that happened to a friend of the writer! Caution is urged!!
CP: So, let’s end on a fun note. Have you had any stand-out experiences here in NYC? Or any new favorite places to hang out?
PD: I am writing this in a Williamsburg coffee shop, drinking rose green tea, surrounded by hipsters and next to a Diesel Pop-up shop. I feel pretty cool right now.
CP: Thank you for taking the time from your show to give us a “looksee” into your process. Here’s wishing you many broken legs with Signal Failure!