For five years we ran a small theatre company. Between children plays and main stage adult plays we produced up to twelve shows a year. I had a BFA in Techincal Theatre; however, the experience as a teacher, director, technical director, actor, and executive director forced me to quickly improve all my skills.
The Theatre Director’s Curse
I’m embarrassed to say how bad our first productions were but my skills I did improve over time. Now, I find watching a play is a constant effort to try and enjoy the action of the stage while suppressing my analysis of the work of the director. I deliberately avoid attending plays because I often can’t enjoy what is happening on stage.
My worst experience as an audience member was when I saw King Lear in Stratford-upon-Avon on a theatre tour in England. A Japanese director had violated several basic responsibilities of staging. While his work had been given high praise by many, I found myself looking for a nice pub after intermission.
What Not To Do
Here are some basic mistakes of novice directors:
An audience member cannot focus on the entire stage at once. It is the job of the director to guide the audience’s attention. Normally that is to the person talking, but it also includes key actions that give the audience information nonverbally. Blocking is the term used to describe how the director uses the movements of the actors to give focus (release the audience’s attention) and take focus (draw the audience’s focus.)
No movement on stage should be unplanned. If an actor is wandering aimlessly on the stage it is the director’s failure to give clear guidance to the actor. Blocking also requires that a director knows at least five ways for an actor to give and take focus. If they don’t know this, the audience will miss keys lines and action that establish the story.
Plodding Scene Changes
OH…MY…GOD! Any scene change that takes more than ten seconds is a failure. The play is a story and the scene change has NOTHING to do with the story. It actually breaks the concentration of the audience and the actors. The scene change is choreography. Everything must be rehearsed over and over with the lights down. Once the scene change is perfected, it must happen exactly the same way every time.
Bad Actor Management
During the rehearsal process, the director will begin to notice which actors may not be capable of handling their role. It is the job of the director to manage the actors and address performance issues. The director must either coach the actor, cut lines, transfer lines, or take other action to resolve the issue. A bad performance is the director’s fault.
Over Designing the Show
Scenic, costume, and lighting design enhance the play. They do not tell the story, and they can often be distracting. Actors are the alpha and omega of a play. Light them, dress them, surround them with a set to perform on, but never forget that a great actor can play a character on a bare stage, with a candle, in hu’s* underwear.