A theatre director is in charge of the creative vision of a theatre production. Their goal is to bring out the best performance from the actors and tell the story of the play in a compelling way. A theatre director also oversees creative choices on set, costume, and design – though those decisions are made in conjunction with the other creatives involved. Theatre at its best is a collaborative process and a theatre director will put together a great team to support their vision.
A theatre director must first cast their play. Casting a play well solves many of the issues later on when directing. If the actors are comfortable and right for their roles the directing work becomes more collaborative and less didactic. Good actors, or actors that have been well cast, should be nudged not pushed. If you are trying to get something out of an actor that wasn’t there to begin with it can be tough going. Most theatre directors take their time to make sure actors are right for the role. As theatre also has long rehearsal periods theatre directors often look for what an actor will be like to work with on a personal level. (So for actors – don’t be difficult).
As the director, it is always best to have a decent early understanding of the characters from the play. This will keep you more alert if you find someone that will offer something great and appropriate to the role and your vision.
It’s the director’s responsibility to set the creative vision for the play. Having a clear vision helps the rest of the team tell the story better. Theatre is storytelling. The director also sets the emotional temperature of the rehearsal room as they are seen as the one leading the production. Theatre directors must try and set the culture of the production. If actors see that the director is disinterested their motivation will slump.
It is often best at the beginning of every rehearsal to do some group exercises like breathing meditations or theatre sports with the cast. This always initiates a team environment that is usually a critical component to a strong production.
Usually most rehearsals start with a read through of the script. The director will guide this read and may ask the actors to bring a certain energy to it. Some directors spend a lot of time around a table, working through the script, whereas some like to get up on the floor. Either way can work, though I like to do at least 2 reads of the play and some discussion on the text before getting up.
This part of the process is director dependent, however I have found that the best result for performance usually come from breaking down the minutia of each scene with your cast. Together, you can explore each scene with the actors locating the playable specifics, units of action/beats, character objectives and obstacles. Getting on the same page before getting the actor’s on their feet to play is an invaluable tool for any director as it invites unity, collaboration and understanding as you move forward.
Directors work with actors to block the play (where everyone stands and moves). Some directors are very prescriptive and others tend to work off actors impulses. Either way, blocking is an important part of the directing process. The goal is to make it as natural as possible so that it doesn’t look like blocking. I don’t like to set the blocking in stone too early, as I find that the process of rehearsal allows for even more familiarity with the text and evolution for the story through the actors work.
Once the play is blocked and the scenes are beginning to take shape, it’s time to start doing runs. Runs of the play, or of certain acts, helps actors get the flow of the play and help the director see where the issues are. Often these are referred to as “stumble throughs” because they can be a pretty messy business.
Messiness is all part of the process. The period of rehearsal is a great place to make those mistakes, experiment and develop as a group. Don’t be afraid to try new things and challenge your vision, yourself, and one another to delve into other options that you may not have immediately considered. This is the safe space to do something and see if it works or if it doesn’t.
The director is heavily involved in the technical side of the production: choosing lights, adjusting sound cues etc. After all, it’s their vision. “Tech week”, as it’s often called, can be arduous and at times frustrating, but it is an inevitable part of any production.
By the time you get into Tech week, you all pretty much have most of the decisions about the performance itself sorted. Again, don’t be put off by the fact that it may become necessary to adjust set decisions for technical reasons. It’s all in service of the greater good of the production.
Once a the play is up and running, it is, again, director dependant on how they would like to proceed with their involvement. Some like to be present for the entire run of the show and give light to heavy notes along the way. As an actor, I enjoy the general guidance throughout the run, although too much can be overwhelming. Other directors believe that once the show has an audience it is officially handing it over to their cast and crew and they may not even attend the performances. Then there are those directors who float in and out, occasionally offering feedback if and when they find it helpful.
A theatre director certainly has a lot of their shoulders, no doubt, but they are the tellers of some of histories most beloved stories, the crafters of a timeless art form, and a leader to their fellow artists. When they can make all the elements come together it can be one of the most rewarding experiences not only for their audiences, but also for the director themselves.