|Me, Bobby Keniston, trying to figure something out in "Silent Laughter" at Lakewood Theater|
Greetings everyone, and welcome to Theater is a Sport. My name is Bobby Keniston, and I will be your host at this blog, where I write down my thoughts on theater, most often for the school and community theater markets, but, sometimes, just theater in general.
Today, I have some thoughts and advice for any community theater directors out there who are feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. First of all, this is natural. You are not alone. In fact, I am writing about this subject today because I am currently directing a production for a local community theater, and I am feeling a little stressed out and overwhelmed. These thoughts are a way of helping me psych myself up, too.
So, let's see...
TIP #1: PAY CLOSE ATTENTION WHEN CASTING
While this is true for all productions, it is especially true for school and community theater. A good number of times, us directors have to make concessions and compromises when casting, or, if we are directing a really large cast play, we may just have to take everyone who auditions. This happens sometimes. But there are important things to take into consideration, aside from person's talent. Do they have a great number of conflicts that will make them constantly late to or absent from rehearsals? Believe me, you want to know this right away. Always have a tentative rehearsal schedule for auditions, and ask for conflicts on their audition forms.
What's their personality like? Do they come off as arrogant or diva-esque? This is important, although, you can't always judge a person in that way from a short audition. However, if a fellow director tells you that you should be careful with a certain person because they were a nightmare in a play they directed, you might want to listen to them. Nothing makes rehearsals more frustrating than a person with a bad attitude. Likewise, if you're directing a play with children or teens, you might want to inquire to others about any behavior issues or anything like that.
Trust me, I would rather cast a less talented person who works hard and has a great attitude, than a good actor who is going to make my life as a director difficult. This might not be true for me for professional endeavors, but at the community theater and school levels, I think it is a good code to go by.
TIP #2 GO INTO EACH REHEARSAL WITH A PLAN
Have an idea of what you think the overall shape of the characters on stage will be. A foundation of blocking when you go into it is very important. Now, this might have to be adjusted or outright changed when you see it on it's feet, but it's still wise to have a plan.
TIP #3 KNOW THE TEXT, KNOW THE TEXT, KNOW THE TEXT!
You should know the script, the way it flows, the characters in each scene, the technical and prop concerns for each scene. Again, some of these things may be added to or removed during the rehearsal process, but you should go in with the a good understanding of what you'll need, and an impeccable understanding of the story, and how it is told. Have an aesthetic vision, and make sure the cast and crew know what it is as soon as possible!
TIP #4 YOU'RE IN CHARGE, SO BE IN CHARGE
This isn't an episode of "Who's the Boss?," and you're not Tony Danza or Judith Light. You're the director--- you're the boss. Does this mean you should be an unflinching, draconian automaton? Of course not. You should encourage some collaboration, and, yes, actors should be allowed some ownership of your characters. But a production needs a leader, a number one person, and you are it. If actors in the play pipe up when you're giving notes, make it clear kindly, but firmly and without question, that this decision is yours. If they want to talk to you at another time, that is fine, but not when you are giving direction, and not in front of the rest of the cast. This goes for parents, volunteers, and pretty much anybody. You will never get anything done, and the cast will feel like they can direct themselves, if you open up every bit of direction to a town meeting.
TIP #5: HAVE A GOAL TO ACCOMPLISH FOR EACH REHEARSAL.
You may not accomplish them all, but that's okay. For rehearsals that you don't accomplish your daily goal, say, blocking pages 12-18, make notes as to why the work couldn't be finished in the allotted time, and minimize those reasons, if possible, for future rehearsals.
TIP #6: ALWAYS HAVE AN ANSWER, EVEN IF THAT ANSWER IS "I'M CONSIDERING OPTIONS TO TRY"
Directors are asked a lot of questions. That's what being the leader gets you. Actors, designers, crew members--- they all have questions, and many of them good ones. Always give them an answer. It's good for your confidence, and it inspires confidence in others. And instead of having an answer be "I don't know", say "I'm considering different options to try out." Doesn't that feel good to say? Warning: don't use that answer too much, though.
TIP #7 BREATHE AND TAKE A BREAK
There's no shame in reaching a saturation point at a rehearsal. It happens. If you get to a point where you know you're no longer being productive for yourself or the cast, take a break. Give them five or ten minutes, to give yourself five or ten minutes. Breathe. Ask everyone to refrain from asking you questions during the break. Separate yourself from the group if need be and allow yourself to think without all those expectant eyes looking at you, waiting for direction. You're only human.
TIP #8 FIND WAYS TO MAKE DIRECTION A TEACHABLE MOMENT
If you're directing for community theater and schools, you will most likely have a wide variety of skill sets in your cast, some very high, some very inexperienced. It is okay to phrase your direction almost as lesson with young people and inexperienced adults. Don't condescend, of course. But this isn't Broadway... sometimes you need to teach. Sometimes a person's first play is like their Intro to Theater 101. Don't be afraid to be their professor.
TIP #9 MAKE PEACE WITH HAVING TO BE FLEXIBLE
You're going to have to do this. Something like this is bound to happen: you have planned to rehearse Jimbo's big scene, and, at the last minute, you get a call from Jimbo that he's not going to be there. You have to quickly find a way to make rehearsal valuable for you and for those cast members called. Take five minutes and figure out what other scene you can work on with the people who are there, with the least amount of fuss.
TIP #10 YOU'RE GOING TO GET STRESSED OUT AND OVERWHELMED
"Heavy is the head that wears the crown" and all that. It's going to happen. It just is. Welcome it, feel it, and keep moving. Remember you do this because you love it. And, if you find you don't actually love it, don't do it again.
I hope you find these thoughts valuable. I would love to hear thoughts from others as well, in the comments below. I'll take all the help I can get!
Until next time...