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.