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 it’s 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).
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.
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 before getting up.
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.
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.
Tech and Production
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.
A theatre director has a lot on their shoulders, but when it all comes together it can be a very rewarding experience.