How to Direct a Play

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Where to Start

In The Empty Space famous British director Peter Brook says that he wanted to direct film but as a young man while waiting for his film career to take off, it was suggested to him that he might direct a play. Being a control freak he mapped out the play ahead of time within a inch of the play's life. Everyones moves were planned out. Famously, after half an hour, he threw away his notes. What Peter Brook learned as must all directors, actors are human beings, and as much as directors might wish for Gordon Craig's uber marionettes, actors cannot be bent totally to the director's will


Get out and get involved. Community theatre groups are always looking for volunteer help. A director must know all the components that make up a production. You don't need to be a great actor to be a great director, but it is a useful experience to have been on that side of the coin, to have acted. Offer to assistant direct. Offer to stage manage. Offer to do lights, or sound, or build a set. Get to know as much about theatre as possible. As a director, you need to acquire a team. It is invaluable to learn each job in the theatre before you start directing. Work in the trenches before you sit in the director's chair. A director is responsible for everything in the showl good and bad. A director who can't accept that responsibility shouldn't direct. Get experience in as many facets of theatre that you can

Know the Play

Before you start, know the play. Read it. See it. Plays on film are a poor substitute for seeing it live. Plays are full of words which fill an empty stage. Film is a visual medium which suffers under the weight of too many words. Plays are difficult to read because they are meant to be spoken out loud, so if you have a script, at least read parts of it out loud, to get a feel for the lines.

Communicating your Vision

A director and an actor have to build up trust and communication. What might be in a director's head has to be communicated to the actor, to the set designer, the lighting designer, the sound designer, the stage manager, the costume designer, to the many people of your team which will make the play a success. As a director you need to be able to communicate your vision. But you have to break down your vision into easily consumable pieces for each member of your team. I am a big believer in the idea that each member of your team only needs to know their part of the puzzle. Only you as director needs to know how each piece will fit together. Each member of your team only needs to take care of their particular piece of the puzzle.

Picking your team

You need to work with the members of your team from 4 weeks to two months or even more. You need to pick people who know what they are doing. It makes your job much easier. But you also need people that you can work with and communicate with. Some of the people you work with will know more about their field than you do and you can lean on them to give you guidance and other members of your team will be relatively inexperienced and you will have to guide them.

Casting the Play

Casting is the most important part of the puzzle. If you cast the right actors, you can almost leave them alone and they will do a great job. Only very insecure directors try to interfere with what is already good. Avoid actors that are irresponsible; drinkers and drug users. Avoid actors that have a spotty attendance record. Avoid divas. If you don't know an actor, someone will know them; will know about them. Do your research. Auditions are a useful guide for who to cast, but the best auditioner is not always the best actor. I have certainly cast actors that didn't audition as well as others because I knew that they were the right ones for the job. All things being equal, the best auditioner should get the part.

In Conclusion

As a director, make it easy on yourself. Prepare by knowing the play well enough that you don't need a script in your hand during rehearsals, get involved in community theatre. Learn all facets. Create a great team and your work load will be lessened. Lean on the theatre experts in your team for guidance. Be kind to the less experienced. Learn to communicate with your team. Casting the play right means most of your work is done. You have to trust your actors to do the work. As a director, you are responsible for everything that happens on stage. Don't blame anyone else for the plays failings. Be deprecating in accepting praise. You want people to work with you again. Don't show stress to your team. No one wants to follow a stressed out general into battle.

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