Tuesday, May 04, 2010


What is Directing?

During the past two weeks I've been hard at work reading a ton of Brecht for my current module (i.e. class) 'Brecht and his Influences.' Meaning I've been reading a ton, and neglecting this blog. Major FAIL on my part since I just set it up, but I decided I would take this time to discuss the question that many people ask me, and I always struggle to find an appropriate/politically correct answer for...

What is Directing?

During the first day of this module our module leader posed this question to us, and sure enough as there were 10 directors in the room, we came up with 10 different answers. Some were variations on the next, some vague or metaphoric, some simple and direct. Essentially, according the the 10 directors in the classroom that day, directing is:
  • Research into human life.
  • Bringing the best out of the actors in order to express what the playwright is trying to say.
  • Creating the world of the play, with actors.
  • Communicating your ideas to actors.
  • Finding a reason to tell the story, and leave a print of your personality on the product.
  • Juggling. Making decisions.
  • Having an overall vision, and finding a way to get the actors to create that vision.
  • Facilitating the creation of performance.
  • Telling the story. Again. And again. And again. To everyone involved in the process.
  • Observing. Interpreting. Acting as the eyes and ears for both the actor, and the audience. (Okay, this one was totally mine... I'll elaborate on this further down.)
If the rest of my classmates weren't stuck in various foreign countries due to the ash cloud that disrupted every one's travel plans this past month, we would have had four more equally different answers. Which is kind of cool to think about, because it means that each director will of course see both theatre and directing differently, leading them to create work that resonates who they are. That being said, I think the answer that no one really wanted to say, but is possibly the most accurate would be that directing is telling people what to do. Plain and simple. Because we live in this age where we're meant to think of theatre as a collaborative art form, we've stepped away from this definition of a director, as it is often inferred that a director who tells an actor what to do is no director, but rather a dictator instead. Um. No. Hitler was a dictator. Benito Mussolini was a dictator. Kim Jong-il is a dictator. A director who does the job of telling the actor what to do...Uh, NOT a dictator people!

I could rant and rave about the unnecessary political correctness (if it can even be called that) which exists in the theatre community when it comes to how some directors label themselves as 'collaborators' as opposed to calling themselves directors, but I instead, I will just assume that the reader understands that theatre, by its nature is collaborative. Therefore everyone involved in the theatre making process, is in fact a collaborator. Fact. Set designers and lighting designers don't run around calling themselves collaborators instead of their other titles. No, they embrace it. They run with it. They're realistic about their role in the hierarchy of the theatre making machine, and no one judges them for it. So why is it different with the role of the director?

I don't have the exact answer. Maybe some directors are too scared to call themselves a director, because it means having an overall responsibility for what ends up on stage. If the show turns out to be horrible, and you've just 'collaborated,' then it's as much the actors (designers, producers, etc.)  fault as it is your own that the show didn't turn out well.  Maybe it is simply that some people who walk around calling themselves a director or a 'collaborator' (insert air quotes here) actually don't understand the role/purpose of the director, and are generally misinformed about the job itself, leaving them more or less clueless. Personally, I suspect it is a combination of the two, plus a variety of other factors. 

Every director will in some way, shape, or form, tell an actor what to to. It is how we tell an actor to do it that sets us apart from each other. That, in addition to a variety of other factors such as skill, talent, tenacity, and overall awesomeness. I am not afraid of calling myself a director. Because at the end of the day, I tell actors what to do. I tell actors what to do in addition to:
  • Interpreting the playwright's text in an attempt to find a way to bring their story to life.
  • Acting as the the eyes and ears of both the actors and audience.
  • Creating an overall vision.
  • Telling the story with the help of the actors, designers, and production team.
  • Acting as a philosopher and asking life's big questions in regards to the script.
For me, these six things make up directing. And while they may not be all that directing is or could possibly be, for me, they are the pillars that hold my process together, and are the straight forward starting points that I can incorporate into every production I work on. Six little things that are simple, easily interpreted tasks that I am responsible for. Executing them will not make me a dictator. Just a director. Who actually knows what the hell they're doing. Now there is a concept.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


'It's Not That Deep,' or is it?

Do you ever get an idea that is perfect? I mean, the kind of idea that could literally change your life if you followed through with it and turned it into a reality?  I get ideas like that all the time. Yet,  the ideas  I typically come up with somehow involve writing (a screenplay, a play, a musical, a book, and now... a blog?), and yet I am not a writer. I have a very hard time labeling myself as one, even though I genuinely enjoy the act of writing. I am however, a director. More specifically, I am a theatre director. This is a label I do not have a problem with, and wear it proudly in my everyday life. However, as much as I can label myself as a director, I am not yet the kind of director I want to be, and know I will one day be...

This blog, like many other creative ventures in life started out as a spark. A flickering idea in the back of my head about a project that could literally change my life and launch me into the next phase of my career as a professional theatre director. A project that could take me from an struggling emerging director, to a director that every major West End/Broadway director in the industry wants to hire as their assistant (cause lets face it, I'm still like really young in director years). The problem with this idea is simply that I am still a student and will not be done with my training until Fall 2011. And it is very hard to launch myself into that next phase of my professional career while still in school. On top of having this idea which is so overwhelming that I seriously don't know how I will ever make it come to fruition,  there are very little resources available to aspiring theatre directors. I know we are a rare breed and all, but come on! There are a ridiculous amount of books telling actors how to pick head shots,  agents, monologues, training programmes, etc. in addition to general books on acting. And while there are plenty of books on directing, there are far less books giving directors advice on how to navigate their own careers. The business of directing, if you will. And when you do find one of those books, they usually tell you the same thing. Put on a play (anywhere) to get hands on experience and build your resume (or CV), then write to every director you know (or whose work you've seen) and offer to assist. Do that often. Then write to theatres for work, offer complimentary tickets to your latest show, pray to your god, spin around in three circles counter-clockwise, spit on the ground and  hope for the best. While generally good advice, what these books don't tell you is how to go from assisting to full on directing. Or better yet, how to go from a Fringe/Off-Off (off-off-off) Broadway director (which will probably be shows you rehearse at night while you assist during the day, in addition to your job waiting tables or making double soy lattes at Starbucks) to a Off-West End/Off-Broadway director, and work your way up the artistic latter.  They don't tell you how to make that leap from being a good undiscovered director, to joining the ranks of the great directors of our industry. And that is what I want to know.

My goal with this blog is to explore what it means to be a great director, and really pull apart that label, and explore why we do what we do. To explore what it means to be a working director, how to become one, and hopefully inspire other struggling emerging directors to find a different route to becoming the director they want to be. Because sometimes its not about writing letters, or simply assisting, or going back to school to get an MFA (even though that is what we're lead to believe). Sometimes it's the path less traveled, the road not taken, and having the strength and courage to just get off the road, and run over some trees. As cliche as that may sound (and trust me I'm aware... I did type it out), I am starting to get the feeling might just be true. Oprah would dig it.

When something isn't worth getting upset over, fixating on, or generally just not that important, I tend to use the phrase "it's not that deep." I can't remember where I first heard it, but I imagine it was from one of my sassy gay friends, and I claimed it for my own. Generally, when it comes to almost everything in life, I can adopt this attitude. But for some reason, when it comes to my career as a theatre director, and becoming the kind of director I want to be (I'll elaborate in another post), it is like... mad deep.  Because when you want something so badly, and have been working towards it for so long that it consumes every aspect of your life, it gets deep, and stays that way until you reach the point in your career where you can just breathe. The thing about it is, I know I am not the only emerging director who feels that way.  So here is to making it less deep, more of a reality, and hopefully one day, being at the point in my directing career where I can just breathe.  Word.