What does the Director do? You might well ask! I’ve seen many directors at work and some appear to think it is entirely to do with deciding which side to make your entrance from and where to stand when you get there…

These things do have to be decided (to some degree) but there is so much more to do and, like most things in life, we can always defer the hard tasks and meaningful, but difficult, conversations by doing something fairly mechanical (the washing up is always fair game if you’re at home – obsessing on where to place your cast if you’re in the theatre). So .. what is the actual role of the director?

The Director’s job is to TELL THE STORY.
Sounds easy, but it really isn’t.

Precision Pointing Demo from Hugh Farey directing The Real Inspector Hound
Precision Pointing Demo from Hugh Farey directing The Real Inspector Hound. Photo by Tom Flathers

The story must be coherent, entertaining and compulsive viewing for your audience. Your story needs to take their full attention away from their watches (especially their watches .. it is time for the interval ..?) You need to tell the story the author has written and get the best possible performances out of your cast. Your set, sound and lights (if you’re using them) are all part of your storytelling tools and should be used to the best effect (only use a special effect to enhance the story – not to cover up an embarrassing lack of plot/talent/understanding). Everyone on your team has to sing from the same hymn sheet! As Director it is your version of the story they need to be familiar with – and to that effect you need to make sure everyone is in on your vision. You need to be creative, imaginative, organised, happy (nothing worse than a grumpy Director), communicative and authoritative. You need to know every part of the story, understand every character and their role within the play. Then (and I think this is the most difficult part of directing) you need to work intelligently with your cast to get the best possible performances (more on that in future posts).

You are responsible to:

  • The Author: Honour their story. Don’t alter the story to suit yourself (write your own if you want to do that!) Authors sometimes have a list of things they are happy for you to change if you really need to. You’ll need all your creativity to get the story onto the stage – but don’t rewrite it.
  • The Cast: They will rely on you to take them on the journey and you need to have a pretty good idea of the way. You aren’t expected to do their job for them, but you do need to keep performances in line with your vision. Unleash your powers of communication (but don’t ramble or talk too much) and let them understand what you are seeing. You need to inspire, keep order, keep to the plan and make sure the journey is a pleasant, challenging and rewarding one!
  • The Crew: Exactly as for the cast, but within the boundaries of their area of expertise. I like to work the stage crew into the story if the story supports that kind of device, (I hate scene changes – see Elegant Scene Changes for my take on that). Use the talent and expertise you have available, don’t presume to know how to do everything (no one expects that).
  • The Audience: They want to be entertained and it’s the Director’s job to make sure they are. Don’t patronise the audience, they don’t need everything explained or pointed out. Give them a good strong play (why would you choose anything else?). Throughout the rehearsal process you need to watch carefully and allow your cast and crew to work whatever magic they have access to and then push for more.

As we wander through the rehearsal process in the posts to follow I’ll take you through what I think the Director needs to do and how they can do it!

PS. Someone asked me the other day the difference between a director and a producer. The producer, should you have the luxury of one, oversees the whole production and takes care of the management of the event – the financial planning, raising of funds, marketing operations, logistics etc. Producers often have a greater involvement in the artistic side of the production as well, but if you do get to work with someone happy to manage your production you can work out the roles and responsibilities between you. In many small companies, youth theatres, schools and local amdram the director is often the producer as well (not to mention designer, set builder, tea person and actor).

Next in series: Offbeat Directing 5: Trial by Audition!

Offbeat Directing Ideas 4: What does the Director do?