Direct And To The Point: Taking The Leap to Kill Off Your Darlings

As a director it is your job to have a vision for the piece – to have an idea about what you want to communicate and how to get there. This is the phase where everything is a possibility for you. After that it’s your job to actually get everyone there, safely and within the allotted restrictions of time and budget. Often this means a lot of thinking, planning, and dreaming well before any of the physical components are in place.

However, once those physical realities start taking shape, you will need to kill off some of your dreamy darlings, and the faster the better. Because until you move on, no one else can either. It’s only once we move on that we can start figuring out what will work. Too often we waste time clinging to one magical vision that we have about the way we think a moment should go or the way we think a set or costume should look like. Sometimes those ideas get dragged all the way to opening night, never quite achieving what they were meant to. Prompting the response we weren’t willing to see, that it wasn’t the right choice for our production. The story of the Emperor’s New Clothes is not that the Emperor was fooled, but rather that the Emperor was too afraid to see what was in front of him.

In any given process, what are the things that we can’t fix? What are the things that we can’t change? (This is kind one step beyond the notion of playing the cards you have.) Is there a structural pillar in the middle of your playing space? Figure out a way that you can incorporate it. Find the possibility. Can it become a tree trunk? Or the post of a front porch? Or a telephone pole? Or a place to hang props? How completely can you integrate what you can’t change into the world of your? What if your options for lighting are spartan (at best) and you were longing for something to rival last year’s Super Bowl? Time to shift directions. Rob Lowe in his book Love Life talks about how it’s always the one line in the script that he hates, that he doesn’t initially know how to deliver truthfully, that eventually unlocks the whole character for him. While you’re focused on what you can’t do, someone else is figuring out how to work with the exact same thing. The unique challenges that you face will point you in the direction of solution that is unique to your production.

The Catch

We are in the business of blending reality and fiction. Taking fictional characters and making them relatable. Taking true events and crafting them into compelling narratives. When we ignore our physical realities, we can’t possibly a fictional world that allows our audience to suspend their disbelief. When we build those realities into our narrative, suddenly everything makes sense. Accept what you can change and exploit it to the best of your ability.

Creativity is born out of limits. There are a multitude of ways to tell any given story. If there weren’t, scripts would only ever be produced once with one cast . There’s an anecdote I heard at some point where some famous innovator basically said, “what do I care if someone ‘steals’ one of my ideas, I have millions of ideas and I make more every day.” (I cannot for the life of me remember who it was about. Maybe it was about Disney? Tesla? Edison? Someone prolific. Google has not turned up anything to help me pinpoint it. Which ) Regardless, it’s great reminder.

Musicians spend years drilling scales, dancers spend years at the barre – honing their technique, so that when it comes time to perform they can forget all of that minutia and trust in their instrument. You must do the work of dreaming and planning, so that you can let it all go and trust that new dreams will come. There are no short cuts. But unless you leap, there’s also no reward.

Questions? Questions? Comments? Post them below. The more the merrier!

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