Are you interested in directing plays? Would you like to find out more about how to get involved in this fascinating activity?
Directing is one of the most creative and interesting aspects of working in the theatre, certainly one of the most satisfying, but also one of the most demanding. Taking a play from page to stage asks you to envisage the final product as well as the steps that get you there.
After many years of directing plays, I am happy to offer a few observations and recommendations to you, the budding director.
“Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.”
– Meryl Streep
There are hundreds of books on “The Art of Acting”, hours of online video tutorials, workshops, training opportunities and (of course) personal testimony from actors of all ages, eras and backgrounds.
Whilst they all can inspire actors & expand their knowledge, for many of us keen amateurs this wealth of advice, guidance and instruction can be overwhelming, intimidating and, sometimes, contradictory.
As a (sometimes) actor, a frequent director, and a dedicated audience member, all I want from the actor in front of me, is that they are honest to the character.
Learning your lines, getting on and off the stage at the right time, and not bumping in to the furniture are all good too – but unless you can find the soul of your character, truthfully convey their deepest feelings & motives, and allow their joys. fears and dreams to be your own – you cannot hope to convince the audience to care.
STAGE AND TECHNICAL SUPPORT
During the performances there are many roles that are needed to support the actors on stage. Firstly, the Stage Manager has overall responsibility for the performance in the theatre. This includes that the audience is in the theatre on time, the performance starts on time, the actors are on stage on time and the audience leaves the theatre on time. The Stage Manager has the overall responsibility for the performance as well as the safety of all those who are in the theatre. The Stage Manager is the first point of contact for an emergency in the performance. The Stage Manager holds all the strings of the stage team in the theatre but, as always with managers, should not really do any of the actual work!
The Stage Manager can only effectively work with a good team of lighting and sound engineers, prompts, backstage crew, front-of-house team, ushers on the doors and construction contact. During the performances the director only has sit back and enjoy all the months of preparation, supported by a professional stage team.
Costumes design is an essential part of the theatre, it helps actors and the audience to feel the mood and period of the piece. Costume designers work closely with the directors to design costumes for the cast that matches their overall vision and they work with closely with the cast to enable them to feel comfortable in their costumes so as to deliver their best performance.
For The Bonn Players, this is an exciting role to take on as it means that you get to work closely with the director, cast and production teams in ensuring a cohesive look and sticking to budget, whether it be a period or modern piece it is a challenging, creative and rewarding role.
The Bonn Players have a cache of costumes (everything from stockings, to dresses, to shoes, to hats) for use during productions and with the increasing importance of sustainability and the ever-present need to keep costs down, another challenge is to try to recycle, re-use, and re-purpose old costumes, buy recycled, hire (or buy new when it is necessary) costumes to suit the production. The challenge of finding the right costume for the actor and the production can be lots of fun and to be a costume designer you need to have creative vision and while sewing skills are not necessarily the basics can be helpful.
MAKE-UP & HAIR
Illusion is the stuff of theatre but it’s not all smoke and mirrors. Before the curtain goes up, the buzz in the make-up room contributes to the well-being of the actors and the success of any performance, requiring a balance of care and close attention to detail. Actors need to leave their daily stresses behind, bond with the team and gradually merge with their stage personae.
Pre-Covid-19, being made-up was part of this process; the current restrictions force us to forgo this group experience. Make-up workshops and personal advice enable all actors to do their own – but we need to discover how this ‘special time’ can still be achieved. A lighting check under an experienced eye will ensure that all is ready.
Make-up needs to be considered at the start of the creative process – according to which play, genre, era, characters or special effects are needed – together with costume and hair.
SET DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION
During a performance the actors on stage use props, which are the things they use for their part, such as fake guns, cutlery and plates for eating. A general rule is that you only have props on stage which are needed for the play. Everything else on stage is decoration to support the presentation of the play, which is called the set. The set consists of everything that creates the illusion for the audience about where the play is taking place. For example, an island or a train or inside a dining room, in which case the set will consist of a table and chairs and a background depicting walls, windows and doors of a room. How the set is designed is agreed between the artistic director and the director as soon as the production has been selected and the costs have been approved – then construction can start. We prepare our sets in The Bonn Players workshop in Friesdorf.
Whatever is needed to create the illusion of the location of the scene is built using wood and material screens and then painted. The set is built in pieces transportable in a van and finally constructed on the stage prior to the technical rehearsal. It is important too, that sets are designed and constructed in a way that they can be transported in their parts for construction on the stage and just as easily dismantled to remove again after the performances.