Direct And To The Point: Slice and Dice

If there’s ever any issue around time (eg. being part of a larger evening and needing to fit within a certain amount of time, trying to run without an intermission, just being too darn long, etc.) do your cuts before you get into the room.

I didn’t think I would need to remind myself of this, but I recently made this exact mistake. It fell into the category of “I thought it wouldn’t be an issue, so I didn’t worry about it.” Admittedly, you can’t worry about everything. There are only so many hours in the day. But this particular instance wasn’t about a lack of time. It was laziness (and perhaps false security).

Script cuts are not something I feel comfortable doing on the fly. They can be emotional for the playwright, who worked very hard to make the lines sound just so, as well as the actors, who are working hard to memorize and shape them. When working on a new piece, my ideal scenario is that I think through the cuts by myself, then discuss with the playwright, then let the actors know what the new landscape is (and allow them to petition for anything that they feel strongly about). For an established script, any cuts should be done before the actors ever see the production version of the script.


It’s my responsibility to be smart about what I think should be cut and why. It’s also my responsibility to avoid wasting our time in the room (if at all possible) while I suss that out. And ultimately, it’s my responsibility to make the piece work within all of its confines. Limits are limits. You’re welcome to be creative within those limits. But if you refuse to accept reality, it’s only going to come back and bite you in the end. Nobody wins a Tony for the potential of their idea. They win a Tony for how their idea is executed.

Make the cuts that should get you where you need to be. Then take a second pass and make the cuts that will get you well beyond where you need to be. If you can make it work with the more severe version, go with that. This applies to any cuts you need to make regarding time or money. Cut early and cut hard. It’s significantly easier to add things back. And once you’ve tried the lean route you’ll have a better sense of what would be most beneficial to add back in.

Only taking action will get you the information you need. If you make the cuts, you’ll learn whether they are too much. You’ll learn what’s crucial to this story. You’ll learn what’s crucial to this production. Giving yourself the opportunity to think through those choices beforehand will help you make a decision about a direction to take. (Alternatively, being forced to make a choice in the moment forces you into guessing. Sometimes you make the right guess, but that’s definitely not the lane I like to travel in.)

I will repeat. If there’s a possibility that time might be an issue, plan your cuts. If there’s a possibility that you might not be able to afford the production that you’re hoping for, plan your cuts. Maybe you won’t need them. But if you do need them, you won’t be guessing. You’ll have a plan. Part of your job as the capital of the ship, is to anticipate and plan for what could go wrong. And time and money are reliably sparse in this business.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Post them below. The more, the merrier.

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!

Direct And To The Point: Play The Cards You Have

I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell, and specifically his book David and Goliath. David and Goliath is a case study about playing the cards you’re dealt to the best advantage possible. It explores the possibility that the thing everyone else views as your weakness may in fact be the root of your competitive edge. I love this concept on many levels, but I think it’s a great thing to remember in the realm of directing.

There will always be limitations and things you don’t have – not enough time, not enough money, no say over who gets cast in certain roles. Very rarely will we ever have carte blanche. And I think that’s a great thing. Embracing our limitations can really help us get clear on what is most important in our story and get creative with how we accomplish that. Dream your dreams about who you would cast or what kind of crazy effects and costumes you would have in your ideal world. Then take a step back and look at the essence of that ideal. Get creative with how you can manifest that essence. Talk to you team in terms of those essences.

Playing Cards

If your ideal set would be a magnificent castle, what is the importance of that castle? Is it to convey the cold, stark environment of being surrounded by stone? If so, can you convey that in a stripped down space and a desolate color choice? Or maybe a looming throne made of cinder blocks? Or maybe even harsh florescent lighting? Is it to convey the grandeur of being a royal? Could that be conveyed through some choice costuming and one really luxurious element, like an enormous stained glass window?

If your ideal leading lady is sexy, what are the ways the woman who’s in that role is sexy? And how can that integrate with the character? On some people, it’s their intelligence that makes them sexy. On others, it’s their sense of humor. On still other people, it’s their drive. Comedians talk about how the material that one comedian can kill with can fall completely flat with someone else. Both comedians are funny, but they’re only funny in their own style of humor.

If your show calls for a big dance number and you don’t have a single dancer in your cast, choreograph to the level that your cast can do. There are dance moves that look easy which are actually very hard and dance moves that look hard that are actually pretty easy. The best ones will always be the ones your dances can do. And a lot can be done to make arm movements and moving within certain patterns look impressive. If George Balanchine can choreograph for elephants, surely something can be done for those that happen to have two left feet.

Look at what you have at your disposal and work from there. As artists, we’re always looking to see how we can tell our stories in new and compelling ways.We’re always asking what unique interpretation we can bring to the mix. What you can’t do (or what you don’t have) is a great way to force yourself to think of other solutions. The core of creativity is being able to generate an array of strategies and perspectives. Any time we become fixated on solving the question in only one way, we’re selling ourselves short. Knowing what is essential in order for the pieces of your story to click, and being able to talk to your team in those terms will help everyone have a clear picture of the end goal is and help you get there in a way that’s unique to your production.

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