What are you best and worst experiences with a Director?
January 27, 2013 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm a writer who has two one-act plays on in a theatre. I am also directing them but this will be my first time working as a director. What do you think makes a good director? What positive and negative experiences have you have and what could I do to make this go brilliantly?

The project is slightly weird, but at its heart, it is an evening of two one-act radio plays that will be performed live in front of the audience. This isn't intended to have a visual element (in fact the audience will be given glasses with blacked out lenses) so I don't need to worry about that. But What kind of things should I expect? How can I make this a positive experience for everyone?

If it matters (maybe in terms or attitude or what is reasonable for me to do/expect), everyone is giving their time for free. Any profits from the sales of tickets will go back to the production company to allow for more productions in future.
posted by Nufkin to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I always appreciated a well-organized director, so that the time I was spending at rehearsals was justified. It may be less of an issue with one-acts, but try not to have actors called to rehearsals who have to sit around for hours while you're rehearsing scenes they're not in (especially at the early rehearsals). The rehearsal schedule shouldn't really follow the script chronologically, for the most part, but be organized by which actors need to be present.

I also very much appreciated directors who spent a lot of time with us going through the script and helping us develop our characters, almost like a close reading. As the writer, though, make sure you give the actors the chance to make the characters their own and don't just dictate your own vision.
posted by jaguar at 10:55 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Remember that, while you're still learning and need to develop a rapport with your actors, YOU are the director. You may be their friend and collaborator, but you are the ultimate authority of who goes where and when.

YOU have a vision for the show. Jaguar's correct when he says you should let the actors make the characters their own, but if it clashes with your overall vision of the big picture, you need to have the strength of your own character to say, "Right; that won't work." If everyone truly makes their character "their" own, you'll have just that: a bunch of characters, not a complete story and show.

The big thing, too, is that if you try to be liked rather than simply getting things done, you often end up alienating people more than if you'd just been straightforward but clear. Being professional may sometimes involve making some people grumble a bit, but if you're consistent and clear you'll be able to keep track of things easier and keep the production on track. Because god knows actors will do their best to run it off the rails AMIRITE PEOPLE???

The worst experience I ever had was with a friend who was directing his last production (Pirates of Penzance) before leaving town. I understudied a principal (Ruth) who couldn't come in until the final weeks, but had done the show many times before.


The director was often unclear about things, assuming that he would just make new things up and I would go with them. We ended up choreographing entire major scenes ourselves ("Climbing Over Rocky Mountain," with at least 20 women and girls making a cranky, half-hearted group decisions), because the director just couldn't make up his mind but wanted to let us have "input." That went double for me, because I was his buddy and he knew I could learn new ideas quickly. We changed entire scenes almost daily.

Of course, then the real principal arrived, who had acted and directed the show multiple times. When she saw the disarray, she basically took over and rearranged everything. We desperately needed it, but... she wasn't actually the director! He let her run the show, but he was still unclear about who had the actual decision-making power.

Even at the end, the show changed every night, until the final scene's "Yes, yes, with all our faults, we love our queen..." involved several minutes of the director mincing onstage dressed like Queen Victoria.

Awful, awful, awful.
posted by Madamina at 11:39 AM on January 27, 2013

Best answer: Your job is to shepherd them into the world of the text. Their job is to create the people that walk around in it. For that reason, I think the best directors are those that don't worry too much about how they go about doing that, but rather focus on making sure they have a handle on the milieu and the social constructs that may inform or dictate their behavior. You have to be a level above the hand-to-hand interactions that take place within your piece, and let them play with the interpersonal stuff. They may surprise you by coming up with a novel or superior interpretation of the scene.

And never, ever tell an actor how to say a line.
posted by mykescipark at 11:41 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

(By which I mean, it's OK to say "I think maybe you could find a little more frustration at that moment," but it's not OK to hand-hold them phonetically through the exact way you want them to say the words.)
posted by mykescipark at 11:43 AM on January 27, 2013

Best answer: I used to do some stage management and design back in undergrad and worked w. all kinds of directors. The good ones always had a clear idea of what they wanted the piece to say and were open to the production team and actors figuring out how to best communicate this to the audience. Since you say there's no visual elements, this means you can focus on helping your actors tell the story you're looking to tell.

My worst productions involved very similar issues to the one Madamina raises. Decisions made for no reason, no clear vision, no opinions on anything--it guts great scripts and handicaps good actors.

Speaking of which, will you have a stage manager? If so, they should actually be the one figuring out who gets called to whatever rehearsal based on the rehearsal schedule you draw up.
posted by smirkette at 12:04 PM on January 27, 2013

Best answer: I always appreciated a well-organized director,

This probably more than anything.

Show up organized, with a clear plan in mind. It doesn't mean you have to stick to it absolutely. It doesn't mean you should just shrug off any good suggestions, ideas from others. It does mean you'll have a solid starting point, that you'll have clear answers to questions.

This last bit is key. Often in life, it's cool to not have answers to questions, to just shrug and honestly admit your confusion about something. This doesn't cut it when you're directing. This is one time when you must be clear and confident.

And if you really are confused -- the best way to get past it is draw up a plan. Even if it's not the right one, it's at least a step toward it. It will give your cast and crew something to question, to respond to ... and so on.

Break a leg.
posted by philip-random at 12:19 PM on January 27, 2013

Best answer: Nth to organizing rehearsals according to who needs to be there.

One really bad experience I've had with a director was in high school; he scheduled 2-hour rehearsals during our exam period. That was not cool for two reasons: 1. We had exams to study for. 2. If we didn't have an exam that day, we would have to come to school just for a 2 hour rehearsal. We still had lots of time to prepare before the performance date, so it's not like we wouldn't be ready without those exam-time rehearsals.

We all spoke out against that and we nearly made a group decision to just not show up at all. (We were also at the end of our rope with this director...it was too long ago for me to remember why but we were frustrated...) In the end we did come, but when we did most of us sat around for an hour and forty-five minutes while he worked with two or three actors. To spend 20 minutes walking to school and 20 minutes back for 15 minutes of rehearsal when we needed to study or rest? Not cool.

Of course rehearsals are important, but please plan ahead so you don't need to have rehearsals during exams or family holidays like Christmas or Easter.

The other bad experience I had with a director was the complete other extreme where nothing got done. The show was a compilation of different shorts directed/written/acted by different people, so we only had one scene to rehearse, but it was bad. We would come to rehearsal, the director would chat with us for 15 - 20 minutes, we would rehearse the scene twice (with no real direction), and then she would tell us rehearsal was done. The other actor in the scene was also kind of apathetic, so we went on stage grossly unprepared.

Good experiences I've had with directors is when the director mixes in compliments with the constructive criticism. Have a plan for how far along everything should be each week so that you're not all scrambling at the end (well...at least less so). If one actor isn't pulling their weight (not knowing lines when they should, not showing up for rehearsal without a valid reason, etc.) talk to them about it - it isn't fair for them to let other people down. Also, as an actor sometimes you'll lower your standards for yourself if other people aren't pulling up their socks ("so I forgot my lines twice in that last scene, but Joe messed up every scene so I guess I'm doing ok...")

Break a leg!
posted by Jade_bug at 2:35 PM on January 27, 2013

Best answer: Our first play we had a director who'd done lots of community musical theater take our series of loosely related sketches and, working with us and the cast, collaboratively turned them into a wildly successful show. He understood our sensibility and really worked well with the actors. The show sold out every night of a six week run.
For our second play we had a big-city director (Circle In The Square with 4 or 5 Off Broadway productions) come in to town to direct. We were writing Marx Brothers, he was directing Mamet. He had us doing re-writes up to a week before opening, and during every rehearsal he'd finish off a fifth of vodka in a Big Gulp cup. Opening night I had to physically restrain my collaborator from murdering the asshole, which is probably the worst artistic decision I've ever made in my life. No jury would have convicted him, and the world would have been a much better place if I'd let him finish the fucker off.
posted by Floydd at 2:55 PM on January 27, 2013

Best answer: A good director provides a vision for the show and gets the production team (cast and crew)excited about the show. Take the time at the beginning to carefully lay-out what you want to achieve, and then use the rehearsal process to encourage the cast and designers to contribute to your vision.

Don't micromanage people's contributions--allow yourself to be surprised by other people's creativity.

Watch and Listen first. If your direction doesn't work or the actors aren't getting exactly what you've imagined in your head, then your job is to try 400 different ways to articulate what kind of effect that you want the show to have on the audience.

Nthing the "be organized" advice. If the cast is volunteering their time, you have to be very respectful of that time. Work efficiently and don't get too bogged down in the details early on.

Make sure that you know everyone's names, that you thank them for helping you out.

break a leg!
posted by geryon at 8:57 PM on January 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. You have all been brilliant and helped a lot.
posted by Nufkin at 2:47 PM on February 10, 2013

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