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Why Directors are Important

March 23, 2013

While I’ve been planning on getting my MFA in Directing for quite some time, I recently learned precisely WHY directors have such an important role in the theatre through experience. Not the experience of working on a show but as an audience member for one. An audience member for a show that I had multiple friends involved in and a show being one I was interested in seeing. The actors were for the most part strong. The stage management team made sure everything is conducted as planned on a timely fashion. The set was beautiful along with the sound, costumes, and lighting. However there was one massive flaw that made the production terrible: the lack of directing and dramaturgy.

A good starting point would be that I had no idea what time the play took place. The set suggested 1600’s (the text is originally set in that time), costumes and sound was all contemporary, and there were projected videos from the 1950’s (which weren’t seen very well from the set design). All the technical aspects were good on their own, but none matched one another. Also in the matters of hair and make-up, some of the characters were referenced as old, and had the older physicality, but didn’t at all look old.  This proves two massive errors: one being that the dramaturgical elements didn’t implement a place as to where this particular production took place; and two that the director had failed to keep the designers on the same page by creating his vision of the play which would have unified the whole production.

Then the casting/blocking. There was a lot of blind gender and race bending which if the decision was justified wouldn’t bother me. However, from the lack of vision and the amount of actors available, the choices made didn’t make sense. To add to the lack of sense, he made the first half of the first act entirely done on half the stage. Looking at ten actors practically piled on top of one another when there was plenty of space is weird. However, I didn’t judge it too much at first thinking maybe he is just sectioning off locations as part of a visionary concept. Then for the rest of the show, the entire “sectioning” thing was never done again. It didn’t make any sense and had no connection. Plus, any “rule” created within the world of the play should be maintained. When I asked the Stage Manager (who is wonderful and another friend of mine apart of the show) as to why that choice was made, and she told me that he thought the other half of the stage was apart of the house for another character, and felt it was “different” utilizing more of the stage afterwards. We both agreed that answer made me sense at all. Having a different space on stage for each scene should’ve been followed completely or never done at all. What made the blocking even worse was that the beautiful set that was configured was never even utilized. It made no sense as to why that set was there, and it took away so many possibilities that it should’ve been used for.

The first time I explained this fully to someone who didn’t see it I actually started crying. Because as both a director and someone being trained to be a theatre educator, I feel that this director didn’t at all do his job. Asides from the lack of vision, he didn’t make his actors feel safe and confident in their work. He didn’t put them in the best light which each and every actor deserved (although ironically, the lighting was beautifully done, which I think the lighting designer figured out the lack of direction and tried to work within it). Those poor actors that most of them were so talented despite this hot mess had to do this show within any proper direction or theme, which did lead to people leaving at intermission. The stage manager told me the night I went was a good night, since only 1/4 of the house left at intermission. One friend left saying she was sick. Another left claiming to be hungry. The main reason I stayed was because I wanted to support my friends that were apart of this production, since they needed and deserved that support.

I felt embarrassed and ashamed personally as a director just sitting there watching this, because I felt my career choice was mocked by this lack of director (I just can’t call him a director anymore). On top of that, the man is a professor of theatre and has a PhD from my program and did this. For the first time since starting NYU, I felt embarrassed to be in my program and having that association with this lack of director. Doing Educational Theatre to train people NOT to do what he did, and watching it was like taking a knife and stabbing me in the heart. I almost emailed him asking if we can meet so he could explain his vision and choices, but I didn’t because I knew everything I wrote in this post would come out in a much angrier way.

However every cloud has a silver lining, so here’s mine. As I mentioned before, we learn more from the mistakes made in the theatre then the successes. Needless to say that this 3 hour direction nightmare taught me a lot. Asides from the fact it shows why having a good director on board is important, but it taught me a lesson about giving everyone involved with any show I do confidence in the work they do. I now carry that program inside my bag, and for every new show I work on, for both the first production meeting and the first rehearsal, I’m going to tell them this nightmare story, and give them my word that even though I’m not perfect, that I’ll do my very best to make a vision that everyone can work within so everyone can be seen in the best light.

sarah sig

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 23, 2013 10:12 am

    You are so right! We are in preproduction for our first “big” show and I am so happy I have a director bringing the designers visions to a concrete whole. It’s too much to produce an act and schedule and fundraise AND make sure there is unity within the world created onstage during development. All of the good shows I’ve seen off-off Broadway and elsewhere have had a director guiding the ship. Thanks C.T.A.!!

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