A lot of people (mainly other parents at the park) ask me what exactly a director does. As an actor, of course, I would say: “gets in the way of my instinctual genius.” But as a director, I can tell you that that isn’t the only thing we do. Oh, sure we do that, but sometimes that’s for the best.
A director is responsible for the look, feel, and shape of the show. Directors cast the show, block the show, and oversee all the design elements and bring them, hopefully, into a cohesive shape. That shape is the vision of the show, and usually the success or failure of a production is equally proportional to how well the director balances all these things.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? I was contracted to direct “All’s Well That Ends Well” this year. The first thing I had to do was read and understand the play. Many experts call this play a problem play, so I had to ignore that nonsense and solve that right from the start. Since this play is Shakespeare, and because we have a strict 2 hour running time because we are in the parks, I also had to cut the play. I won’t lie to you when I tell you that sometimes cutting Shakespeare’s lines causes me physical pain. But this isn’t my first bard-hacking rodeo, so I strapped on my big-boy pants and got to work. What I ended up keeping helped me in telling the story as I see it (vision), and what I cut didn’t necessarily move that story along.
The next step is maybe the most important. Somebody once told me that 90% of directing is making up for the mistakes you make in casting. Getting the right actors in the right roles, more than any other aspect of directing, is vital. But like the NFL Draft, which is going on this week, there is no formula to assure oneself of success. So how does somebody get in one of our shows? Here’s a little behind the scenes look for y’all.
A call was put out online, and to former SBTS’ers to come audition for these two shows. The actors then submit their headshots and resumes for consideration. Stephanie and I comb through the tons of submissions and call people in to audition. How do we choose who to call in, you ask? Well that’s a very good question. Every director is different, I think. For me, I look at training, experience with Shakespeare, and who people have worked with first. This may not be the best way to find talent, but like I said, there is no formula. Sometimes an actor will have a look that interests me, but if the credits don’t match the photo, they probably won’t get a call. Makes it tough to get started. But we’ve all been there.
The next step is auditions. An actor will prepare a 2 minute monologue, come in and do it for me, Steph, and Lisa. In those two minutes, we are looking for the ability to handle verse, make interesting choices, have a good voice, move well, and not be a crazy person. We take notes as to whether or not call them back to another audition, and if so what roles they should prepare for. Does this seem harsh? Two minutes to make a mark? Well it is. And as an actor of 30 years I’m ok with it. And as a director, I can tell you it takes less than 30 seconds to know if you are interested in that actor. Believe me, we want every single person that walks into the room to be amazing! We are on the side of the actor–and a director like me who is also an actor is doubly so. But if it was easy, everybody would be an actor.
Callbacks are a little different. There are scenes from the play (called sides) that the actors will have a chance to look at, and then people will be paired up to read together. At SBTS, one director sits in the Little Fish Theatre, and the other is in the upper lobby. While poor Lisa has to run between to keep up with what’s going on. The actors come in, I give some sort of direction, to see if an actor can actually take direction and we cycle through everybody we called back.
After everybody has been seen Lisa, Steph, and I huddle together and talk it through. We are not only casting a show, we are casting a season. Everything is taken into account. Is the actor available to do both shows? Are they right for both shows? How many actors are going to be in each show? Are they crazy? And if so, what kind of crazy? Because quirky and brilliant is ok, whereas decent and treats our stage managers poorly won’t do at all. And we hash it out.
Lisa, our artistic director, has final say. That being said, she is wonderful in a casting session. She is able to point out plusses and minuses and still lets us make our own decisions. So, we make a list of every actor we want for each role, and then we make our backup list, just in case an actor turns us down. And the calls go out, and we wait with baited breath for the actors to respond.
We were very lucky this year. We had an amazing turnout. Unbelievably talented folks who are excited to do our shows. So, now we move on to rehearsal. I think there’s a longer wait between casting and rehearsal this year, or perhaps it just feels that way because I’m directing a show this year and am terrified that one of my actors will book a movie before we begin and fly off to some exotic locale and leave me high and dry. But I am chomping (or is it champing?) at the bit to get rehearsals underway. Get my hands on all these talented people and make a play!