Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On What the Director Actually Does...

Finally have an opening date for Praying Small. The West Coast Premier will be June 11, 2010. The play will run until July 18. I will be playing the lead role as we had planned. The original director, James Mellon, will not be able to do it because of some rather hefty scheduling conflicts. So...I've got to find a director. There are three in the company I'm drawn to, unfortunately one is on a world cruise, one is making a feature film and the last is in Denver.

The ideal candidate, and my first choice, is out of the business and teaching high school english classes in Colorado.

In other news, I'm putting up one of my red-headed step children, a quirky little play called Bachelor's Graveyard, for a reading in the very near future. Gentle Readers of this blog from my hometown of Fulton will readily recognize the title reference.

Also will be playing a role in a one-act for the next mainstage mounting of SANITY, a night of short plays at NoHo.

And for the month of April, I'll be teaching acting classes at the theatre...it is Shakespeare month and the entire company will be working on pieces written by The Bard.

All good things. I'm pleased. But back to this finding a director business.

What exactly is a director supposed to do? What are his duties, his job? It is sometimes a nebulous position. The layman doesn't really understand the role of the director. They don't understand that his vision, his concept, is the driving force behind any play, even more so, I dare say, than the playwright.

Some directors think their job is to block the play. Of course, that's balderdash. Blocking has about as much to do with directing as memorizing lines has to do with acting. It's such a tiny, almost casual, part of the job. Now, yes, if a director is doing The Passion Play on a stage the size of a football field, then yes, it's a pretty important part of the job. But generally speaking, no, it's just not that important.

I once attended a seminar with Mike Nichols, the legendary stage director. He said this, "If you cast the show exactly right, 95 percent of your job is done." Hm.

I recently asked a friend of mine, a very good actor, to think about possibly taking the reins to Praying Small. He gave me a really great, really candid response. He said, "You know, I'd love to work with you as an actor and playwright. I'd probably even have a little fun. But the truth is, I'm an actor. I just don't enjoy being a director that much." I really appreciated his honesty. Most actors leap at the opportunity to direct.

I also don't want to choose someone that doesn't act to direct this piece. A director that doesn't have an understanding of what it is actually like to BE ON STAGE, under fire, in combat itself, does not have my trust. I trust other actors, other stage warriors that have been out there, suffering the slings and arrows. I don't trust administrators who spend half their day behind a desk and another half of their day moving actors around onstage. A director must be filled to the brim with passion for the piece.

Having said that, I recognize that I am not an especially good director myself. I don't like the first two weeks, if that makes any sense. The readthru, the blocking, the finding the beats, the one-on-one actor/director relationship. As an actor, I just wanna skip all that and start working on the acting. I don't have the patience for all of that other stuff. I just naturally assume that other actors understand the play as I do and I always want to skip all the talking and yammering about the "meaning of the piece." I want to just get on with it.

I used to be intensely interested in the process. As I get older, it just bores me. I always have to stifle my desire to say, "Let's stop talking about it and just DO IT."

I'm meeting this morning with a potential director for the play. One of the things that came out of my long meeting yesterday with NoHo was directing approval. I'm really happy about that. Praying Small has had a pretty good professional life both in the midwest (Chicago) and on the East Coast. I have seen quite a few productions of it. Only one director, out of dozens, has "gotten it." I have reluctantly handed the play over to a gaggle of pedestrian directors. I don't want that to happen to this production, especially since I'm playing the lead role myself.

I've got a little time to think about all this and choose the right man or woman for the job.

But you know what? When all is said and done, these are GREAT problems to have.

See you tomorrow.