To Direct : To take charge, to make decisions, to have the final say.
David William (former Stratford Director) “The Director is responsible for everything”.
The Director’s job is to provide a framework of planning, organization, interpretation and guidance. He/she is a schedule maker, a creative thinker, an interpreter of text ‑ a guide who knows which direction to take.
The Director has a vision which is realized in a sense of purpose and structure.
Peter Brook describes the directoral concept as “The image that proceeds the first day’s work”.
The Director is responsible for the entire stage production. It represents the considered directoral choice. Though part of a collaborative team of production, technical and acting personnel who give input, help modify, even transform the initial concept, everything on stage has the Director’s stamp of approval.
× The moment the play is selected, the Director’s preparation begins. Whether there are months or weeks of lead time ‑ this is the period when the Director pencils in the foundation of a solid production.
× It is to the Director that the creative team looks to for the vision and the understanding of the play.
× HINT : Do your homework before the first day’s read through. Become as familiar with the text and the world of the play as you can. The research of the political, social, economic and cultural life of the characters, and their time enriches the production.
THE PLAY’S DIRECTION LIES WITHIN THE TEXT OF THE PLAY.
THE DIRECTOR’S JOB IS TO FIND IT.
× The pre rehearsal work gives the Director the resources and awareness of all the possibilities that exist in the play ‑ the directoral vision. From it stems the Directors’ freedom to give help when it is needed, and the confidence to encourage exploration of character, text, movement and relationships in rehearsal.
HINT : Without adequate preparation, rehearsals tend to become chaotic. It’s easier to be free within a structured framework.
× Christopher Newton : “I try not to impress anything on the actor’s for the first bit, see what they bring. They are another source”.
HINT: It’s from the Director’s first ideas that the actor invents and interprets the role.
DIRECTOR AND DESIGNER
× Peter Hall: “No concept of a play can surround a wrong design or a design that is not clear or doesn’t mean anything”.
HINT: The design must work for the actors ‑ as well as the audience, it needs to be practical as well as visually pleasing.
× The design concept is as important as casting the principal role. It is from the designer’s response to the text that certain guide lines are drawn. The Director (if he is fortunate in his choice of a designer) is able to make concrete his ideas out of argument and discussion. Together Director and designer share the responsibility of the play’s statement. Often a play’s meaning is rooted in its visual design.
× Are held during the planning as well as during the rehearsal stage, and must include the whole production team ‑ producer, SM, ASM, AD, sound, props, lights and wardrobe. Everyone has input in the production process, has time to voice concerns, and as much lead time as possible is given for technical aspects of the production.
HINT: The final dates for the addition of technical aspects of the show should be staggered. Actors tend to panic if faced with too many new elements at once. In the scheduling the Director gradually adds props, certain costume elements, some sound and lights. This goes a long way to diffusing anxiety during technical rehearsals.
HINT: A play which demands more than minimal set changes should have rehearsal time built in for just this purpose during entrances and exits.
HINT: Through preliminary reading and analysis of the text, the Director gains some idea of how much rehearsal time is required for each scene, and can make up a flexible schedule i.e. one that is SUBJECT TO CHANGE.
× The Director plots the schedule, working back from opening night, a date that cannot be postponed.
× In the technical rehearsals which precede the dress rehearsal and previews, attention is focused on that side of the production. Levels are set, cues refined and the Directors’ attention is away from the actors.
× Working back from the opening on the 11th of the month, the 9th and 10th would be previews with an audience, the 8th would be a dress with an optional small invited audience. Likely the 7th would be a night off after the technical dress rehearsal on the 6th. The 5th would be an all day cue to cue. If the first read through took place, say on the 2nd of the preceding month, that allows a full 5 weeks of acting rehearsals prior to the tech dress.
× The Director, in consultation with his stage management team, decides how often to call rehearsals, and how long they should last. Four nights a week, most of Sunday, evenings from 7:30 to 10:30 are adequate in a community setting. Much depends on the complexity of the play, and some Directors might choose to work more or less. The scheduling must allow for unavoidable changes: sickness, weather, the unpredictability of how long a difficult bit of business or blocking may take.
× In general however, the schedule reflects the pattern of the rehearsal, outlining times for blocking of each scene, detailed and ‘fine tuning’ rehearsals, stop and start and non stop runs, as well as times when the company is expected to be OFF BOOK for Act 1 and Act 2. The schedule should also note start and finishing times, and call actors only when needed, to save frustration and energy.
× Changes which are made for the next session go up on the call board, and everyone checks with the Director or Stage Manager before leaving the rehearsal, to get the next call.
× The Director may seek the advice of his producer and/or assistants at the auditions and call backs ‑ but in the final analysis, casting is the sole and final responsibility of the Director.
HINT: Whatever kind of auditions are held, whether they are prepared monologues, a song, a sight reading or a prepared scene, if there is any doubt about the actor’s capabilities, suggesting a different way of doing the speech to see how approachable the actor is to taking direction works in most cases to help the decision of whether or not to cast.
HINT: Sometimes it is better to cast a competent actor who will be a “good” company member, than a brilliant one who is a trouble maker. If in doubt, check around!
HINT: Make sure before casting that the actor has looked at the schedule. Too many conflicts and rescheduling may not be worth the effort!
THE CORE OF THE DIRECTOR’S WORK IS WITH HIS ACTORS.
× Alex McOwan : “I like a Director who by the fourth week of rehearsal will say ‑ “The way you were doing it the second week was best””.
× And about Michael Rudman : “His best notes are his last ones.” ‑ He said “You don’t need that pause, you don’t need to strive so hard for that effect”.
× Judi Dench : “Trevor Nunn makes me feel free”.
× Anna Massey : “The Director made us aware of our relationships with each other, so that all the blocking came out of the actors. I like that. Max Stafford Clark (the Director) sort of says he doesn’t know how to do it, but of course he does”…..
× Lucy Peacock (At Stratford for several years) : “The Director must be in control of the complete whole, so every actor knows what play they are in, and everyone is in the same play”.
× In rehearsal the Director is both sounding board and a creative organizer of creative guidance and ideas. The mystery of being a good Director is the rapport between actor and Director; knowing when to help or to leave free, when to take control, when to let go.
BASICALLY THE JOB IS ABOUT TRUST BETWEEN ACTORS AND THE DIRECTOR
× The Director’s relationship with the actors is crucial. He must know how to solve acting problems on a very basic level at least : voice, interpretation of text and role, stage movement and stillness.
× The relationship between actor and Director needs to be a balance of firm conviction, sensitivity and flexibility. The Director’s job is often just saying the right thing at the right time. The Director must create an atmosphere where creation can take place, always, or course, within the concept of the script.
× On a practical level the Director is both audience and critic, who tells the actor when he can’t be seen or heard; when energy or pace need adjustment; he also makes sure that the actors conform to the agreed style or world of the play.
× The Director and the actors work together to build the truth of the character, the relationships and to interpret the authors’ words.
– Stanislavsky said “The most important function of the Director is to open all the potentialities of the actor, and to arouse his individuality and initiative”.
THE FIRST READING or SHOW AND TELL
– Includes introductions, stage management talks, orientation to the theatre, safety and general “housekeeping”.
– The designer explains his set model and there may be costume sketches and measurements.
– The Director’s talk to the company which normally precedes the first reading, covers the theme of the play and the style the company will be working towards. Also the text cuts. Most if not all of the production team are present at this first reading. It will likely be anywhere from a week or two before the play is “staggered through”.
– There is a great deal of information to absorb at this early read through, and anxieties are high, some Directors prefer to leave blocking to the next meeting, others like to get the actors on their feet for at least a few pages of text.
– Once actors have familiarized themselves with the floor plan, blocking begins. The inexperienced actor will, of course, need more help with ‘moves’ than a seasoned performer. Normal practice is for the Director to outline a loose commonsense arrangement. The more detailed blocking plan is arrived at with the actors out of character relationships and the physical demands of the text.
HINT: Going in with a general kind of structure gives something to build from, even if it’s later discarded.
HINT: The actor needs to leave rehearsal with a sense of something accomplished, and an objective for the next rehearsal.
HINT: Tell actors “Don’t Act, think”.
– Once blocking is completed (though fine tuning of moves may occur even as late as dress rehearsal) the Director guides the actors through an in depth exploration of each movement of the play. Scenes now, do not need to be rehearsed in sequence. The Director comments during or after each rehearsal of a scene.
HINT: Don’t press the actor too soon for a finished product.
– Throughout the rehearsal process the play is run to solidify each stage of the rehearsal, e.g. after blocking, after detailed work, when the actors are off book. Runs give everyone a sense of completeness. Each run also shows the Director where more work is needed. Towards the end of the rehearsal period, there need to be sufficient runs to make the actors feel secure. The more technically difficult a play, the more running it needs.
– This is the time when what has been discovered is made ready to present to the audience, in a setting of doors that open and close, lights that illuminate and set mood, costumes that enhance the character, sounds that happen on cue.
HINT: A technical rehearsal needs four times the length of the play to accomplish everything.
HINT: Towards the end of the rehearsal period read a clean unmarked script. Go back to your first impressions.
– Make time for the cast to sit quietly and tell – speak through the play. It is good at this stage to hear and speak through the story simply.
There is still time for the Director to ask, “Is this story being told as simply as possible?”
SOME QUOTES ON THE JOB OF DIRECTING
Bertold Brecht: “It is very difficult”.
John Neville: “If the actor’s creativeness can be put in the context of a mutually critical and helpful company – perhaps the director is unnecessary”.
And in moments of crisis “Coffee”.
Peter Hall: “The dress rehearsal is a time when actors often act with greater freedom and a greater sense of risk than at any other time. They are freed from the boredom of technical problems, – at last the play is returned to them”.
Charles Morowitz: “The play’s direction is inherent in the play – and essentially the Director’s work consists of not giving a direction but of finding one”.
John Van Druten: “When the final dress rehearsal is over, the Director’s job is done and he spends opening night impotently watching like a coach on a side line”.
Stanislavsky: “The Director must not only know how to analyze the play, how to advise the actors on playing, how to use the sets the designers give him, but the Director must know how to observe life….”
The Director’s instructions during rehearsals are notes, but informally, note giving is never ending. It goes on even during coffee breaks, because every moment of communication between actor and director is an opportunity for artistic interchange, even when the conversation seems to be trivial.”
HINT: Let the show go. Once the show opens the Director’s job is done.
Compiled by Irene N. Watts