(by Kathleen Schroers)
What makes a person want to direct?
Maybe you’ve acted in a few plays or seen a lot of plays performed and you find yourself thinking, “I would have done that differently” or “I think that could have been done better” or “I think the author was after something else, something that was missed”. You begin to have confidence in your own judgment about how a play should be realised on stage and you want to try it out.
How do you prepare to direct a play?
Preparation to direct a play begins months before rehearsals actually start. It begins with selecting a play, considering why you want to direct a particular play, visualising the play on stage including some ideas about staging, set design, costumes, lighting and even sound. Although you may work with a team of creative people who will be able to make suggestions and work out the details, the style of the play is determined by the director. The next step is to research the play: learn about the author, why was the play written, what is it about, how has it been performed in the past? A director must answer all of these questions before even making a final decision to direct a play.
Everyone has to start somewhere
No one is born with a talent to direct – talent can help, intelligence and a good general education can also help, but directing is fundamentally a craft that must be learned. There are three equal and essential forms of study:
- Learning by watching
Go to the theatre as often as you can, watch the work of other directors. If you really want to understand what they are doing, watch the production more than once. Gradually you will begin to see how theatrical effects and significant moments with impact are achieved with staging.
- Learning by doing
Directing a play reading or assisting a director during production rehearsals are great ways to start out. As you move from directing a reading to a full production and from there onto other productions, you will learn through your own successes and failures. It is almost never possible to realise exactly what you had visualised when you first decided to direct a play, but you can come ever closer if you learn from your mistakes.
- Learning by reading
This is an area amateur directors often neglect, which is very unfortunate as the tips offered by great directors can often save you an enormous amount of time and even heartache. You can read about structuring rehearsals, dealing with uncooperative actors, managing crowd scenes and so much more. People often say that there is no point reinventing the wheel; there is equally no point in a director learning purely through trial and error as this would waste a lot of time and resources for possibly not very good results. There are many handbooks and interesting accounts out there. I recommend The Empty Space by Peter Brook, as well as any of the books on the following the list: The top 20 books on theatre directing.
One of my personal favourites is “A Sense of Direction”: Some Observations on the Art of Directing” by William Ball.
The business of directing
There are two aspects of directing that are equally important: on the one hand the intellectual ability to understand the material and the theatrical craft and on the other dealing with people. Many, if not most, directors are better at one than the other, but it all has to come together for a good production.
Aside from choosing the right play in the first place, the single most important choice a director will make in a production is that of casting. With a good and appropriate cast you are half way home: if you miscast one of the roles this mistake will haunt you for the rest of the production. This is sometimes unavoidable if the pool of actors is particularly small, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.
My passion for directing has given me great pleasure through the years and I would like to offer these words of encouragement to all of you starting (or continuing) down this path:
- Treat actors and the backstage team with respect and they will respect you.
- Stick to your rehearsal schedule if possible and communicate changes. Indeed, communication on all fronts is the key to a successful production.
- Be caring about people’s time and do not call actors to a rehearsal only to leave them standing around for hours.
- Always look like you know what you are doing, even if you haven’t a clue! It scares people to think the person in charge is just as scared as they are. There is always a certain amount of acting involved in directing, too.
- Importantly, remember that you and the entire cast and crew are doing it because you enjoy it. That doesn’t mean having fun is the prime objective – your first obligation is to the author, whose work you are performing and the audience, whose money you are taking. But what greater enjoyment is there than to know that you have successfully entertained and perhaps even moved your audience? I can’t think of any.