Monday, March 21, 2005

what I do

Philucifer, (aka Charlie Willis, aka D. Piddy, aka EveryMonkey) recently made a reference in his blog to a comment I had made about the process of directing. Thought I would answer it here (hey, it’s as good a use for a blog as any, and this page has been silent for too long now).

When I see a production of an established text, I’m primarily interested in what the artists working on this particular production have to say. Any established text that has risen to the point of name recognition has already been dissected in dozens of reviews, critical essays and college bull sessions. The script in and of itself rarely interests me while watching a stage production. On the other hand, I’ve never been much of a fan of concept productions, where the script is completely ignored because the director felt like setting Othello in space so he could make a bunch of Star Trek references and show a bunch of scantily clad women. What I do find interesting are the places where the director and actors shine a new light on a text. To put it another way, I enjoy those moments of symbiosis where text and action work together to accent ideas or images that are only partially realized or alluded to in the script itself.

The first three plays I directed were by ‘established’ playwrights, i.e. plays that I found in a book somewhere, that had been staged in professional productions before. As I left college I switched over to directing new works by playwrights that I knew. At the time I said to anyone who would listen that this was because I didn’t have to pay royalties (which my college/local theatre had covered for me in the past). Closer to the truth, I was fortunate to know a number of very talented playwrights who were kind enough to let me take their new babies out for a spin.

When I started working with playwrights that I knew, my initial feeling was that I had an obligation to stage a ‘pure’ version of the show. The premiere of a new piece is often looked at as the definitive version; if nothing else, it will most likely strongly influence subsequent productions. I still think that there is a huge level of respect that must be brought by the director to a first production, but as I’ve grown as a director I’ve realized that at the end of the day, all I can EVER bring to a show I’m directing is my own point of view. I don’t need to bring the playwright’s point of view to the rehearsal table; if they are skilled at their craft, their ideas will be evident in the text. What I do is to take the ideas, philosophies and emotions of a script and use them as the beginning of a conversation.

This conversation starts in pre-production with the playwright, grows with the addition of actors and designers and eventually becomes fully formed with the inclusion of the audience into the dialogue. One conversation, taking place over the entire length of the production. Often conflicting ideas will exist within the same piece… this friction is one of the essential elements of drama. In Nosedive James generally sets the topics we talk about, but many different opinions and ideas on these topics emerge throughout the production. My job is threefold: first, to begin the initial dialogue with the playwright (or with the script itself in the scribe’s absence) by bringing my own ideas about the topic into the mix; second, to facilitate this conversation as we bring the other artistic elements into the fold; and third, to ensure then when it is presented to the audience it is of a whole cloth.

And yeah, I do most of this consciously.

Signing off for another six months,