There is value in defining for yourself what role you want to play in the grand scheme of a production. Research has shown that a large part of job satisfaction stems from finding meaning in what you do. So, for example, a janitor who sees himself as contributing to the overall function of an organization he believes in is significantly happier in his job than the janitor who’s just taking out the trash and collecting a paycheck. The default job description may meet the minimum requirements, but if we want attract the right people and projects to our world and get the most out of our experience, taking the time to craft a more deliberate intention (even if it’s just for yourself) is a great starting point.
My job as a director boils down to four things.
Establish what the story is.
It bears repeating that the story is not the plot. The plot is strictly the events that happen. The story is how we interpret those events. I decide on a version of the story that I’m interested in telling. If it’s a new piece or something where the playwright is accessible, I then broaden the conversation to include them. How does my interpretation jive with what they intended? What did I read on the page that they didn’t know was there? What did they intend that I missed? If you can find common ground from the outset, you’ll save yourself all kinds of headaches later on. There’s nothing worse than having a playwright come in to watch a final run-through and disagree with the way everything is being done. Next that circle of conversation extends to my designers, and then my actors. This order of operations is purely based on the order in which these players typically come on board. The objective is simply to have a clear direction for the story that everyone understands and can work towards.
Have an answer.
Every production presents challenges. It could be anything from making something magically appear at a certain moment to not having any backstage space to making a character likable enough so that we continue to listen to what he has to say. My job is to scout those sticky spots out early and figure out some kind of solution – a solution that could implement all by myself if I had to. It may not be the right solution. It may not even be a good solution. But that way I know that there is some sort of solution. If nothing else, it’s a starting point. And sometimes even bad ideas can develop into good ideas. What you cannot afford to do is say, “this is going to be a problem – I’m going to hope someone else will fix it” and look the other way. If you are the captain of the ship, you must take complete responsibility for the ship.
Harvest the crop of answers.
In the way that it’s my job to have a solution. It’s also my job to create an environment where everyone else is also coming up with solutions and where those solutions are being voiced. Designers and technicians, since they tend to have rather defined areas that they are responsible for, tend to be excellent at coming up with solutions. I often wish actors were better at it, especially with regard to thinking up solutions outside of the rehearsal room. Yes, wonderful things can happen in the room in the spur of the moment. But research seems to indicate that even better things (more ideas with more variance) result when people think about solutions separately and then come together to share them. Especially, if you (like me) tend to be more introverted. So if we’re clear about where we’re trying to get to and what we’re up against, my job is to make sure everyone is held accountable for being part of the solution.
Edit down the options.
Once there’s a good mix of options on the table, my job is to start trying them out and decide what works – what’s sustainable for the course of the run, what’s practical, what gets us closest to what we need. Don’t get stuck waiting for the perfect answer. Just pick a lane and try it. If the option you thought would be brilliant turns out to be wrong, try the one you thought would never work. You have to be willing to try the wrong option in order to discover the right one.
When I write it all out like that, it seems like piece of cake. Obviously, it all becomes much more complicated in the execution. But in terms of broad strokes to aspire to, I like it.
Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Post them below. The more, the merrier.