‘What team?’ I hear you say. Quite so. Chances are it’s just you and your best friend. But let’s suppose for the sake of this post that you do have access to people who will design for you – or at least be instrumental in getting your designs on stage in some form.
Part of my ‘visioning’ period (that’s the never-ending period) involves visualising the design of the show in every way conceivable – the set, props, lighting, sfx, sound, costumes, hair & make-up. So, as soon as you can get together with each member of your team and talk through what you want. Show them your diagrams, sketches, design boards, fabric samples – anything at all you have collected whilst dreaming away! Try and find a way to make your design ideas a reality. I tend to be of the opinion that if my designer says ‘it can’t be done’ then I’m probably talking to the wrong person (although I do compromise when I really, really have to).
I’m rubbish at actually drawing a set. I can’t seem to get the hang of 3D and perspective at all. But I know what I want to see on stage and what I need my set to do. So, this is how I go about getting my dream set:
- If it’s complicated and needs an engineering design (the giant peach and my ‘waltzer style revolves come into this category) then search high and low until you find someone who can design what you need in an elegant and economical way. Your set needs to look good, don’t settle for less.
- Be VERY clear about the look you want and what you need the set to do for you. If it has a function (revolving for instance) make sure this is understood! A static revolve would be pretty useless (yes, I know it seems unlikey, but just make sure …)
- Get your Stage Manager involved so there are two of you keeping an eye on the development. Be part of the process. Make sure all is ok in set-build land.
- Timetable it in to your grand plan. You’ll need time to rehearse on set (especially if it’s interactive). Bear in mind your lighting designer can’t light the set until it exists and it’s painted/decorated. Make sure there’s time (when is your first tech run?)
This is where your list making skills will come in handy. A good props person will do this themselves – go through the script and list the props required. However, you may have extra requirements, so make sure you have a definitive list of props & go through it with your props person. Pictures help, period notes, colour, style – anything that will help the acquisition of the correct pieces. If you need to make specialist props – find the right people for the job and make sure they have plenty of time. Meanwhile your props person or Stage Manager should be able to sort out some rehearsal props. This is important. I’ve seen people mime a prop in performance because they’ve rehearsed it like that for so long they forget to take the actual prop onstage.
COSTUMES, HAIR & MAKE-UP
This might be very straighforward (never is for my shows), but don’t leave it until the last few weeks. If you’re doing a contemporary show and the cast are using their own clothes you still need to make sure the costumes are consistent with character! I’m amazed at how little thought people will put into this aspect of the show. I’ve seen some lovely performances that are totally let down by the appearance of the show. Schools will very often ask parents to sort out their child’s costumes. Whereas I can understand the economic reasons for this it means you end up with a mish-mash of styles. It will look pretty awful. With a bit more planning you can get round this and it doesn’t need to cost the earth (more on costuming a show to come).
- Start early – as soon as you’ve cast start collecting costumes. Enlist help if you don’t have a Wardrobe Mistress. If you need to make costumes find people early on.
- Use your design board, give people copies or relevant parts and and allocate tasks. Be clear about the timeframe you have to complete everything.
- Use rehearsal costumes where needed. If actors need to get used to long skirts, fatsuits, masks, wigs – anything that will require them to adapt their physical performance, then provide them. I’m a great believer in rehearsing in costume as soon as it’s practical.
- Make sure someone (if not yourself) is keeping an eye on continuity of style
- Be creative and thorough – people really notice the visual elements of performance
- When you’re creating your costume pics on your design board -include hair and make-up as well. It may not be elaborate but make sure you don’t get caught out the week before the show (‘how shall I wear my hair?’). Find someone to cope with more elaborate hair & make-up – most people can’t do it! Talk through each character and bear in mind the stage you are on and how it will be lit. Small stages do not need much make-up. Some don’t really need any unless it is to create character. On the other hand – everybody needs a hairstyle!
Whatever you have in mind for the soundscape, at some point in the early rehearsal period make sure your sound engineer is on board and able to produce what you need. Do sit down and go through the script page by page – it’s important that everyone has a bit of the director’s time and attention. If you’re using a lot of music/sound (I love having a soundtrack!) either source the music or sound effect yourself or describe it very well! Go through each piece and treat the sound like an extra character. Make sure the entrances and exits are ok! Involve your SM with all technical requirements. Everyone will need scripts marked up exactly the same (no, it’s not the directors job to do that!)
LIGHTS / SFX
Now I’m really stuck. This is one area that I can visualise (well, sort of), but I cannot give precise information to my lighting designer. If you have that problem then talk to your designer about the feeling or atmosphere you want to create. Luckily for me I’ve been working with someone for years who can interpret my ‘slightly less than prescise’ thoughts on lighting. However, before you do that go through the script and mark all the places where a lighting change takes place. I mark the script with a different colour marker for sound, lights, music – anything where I want to be reminded that someone other than ‘acting’ takes place. My scripts are actually a complete mess after the event, but they serve me well! Think about what it is you need from the lights and then talk through ideas with your designer. Lights are SO magical on stage – it really is worth seeking out someone who has a real feel for lighting.Even if your space/stage/budget doesn’t offer the scope for West End type grandiose, stunning lights you can do a lot with some imagination! LED fairy lights (for example) – brilliant! In James & the Giant Peach I used green LED lights in a cotton bag to represent the magic beans (looked very magical on the ‘pulse’ setting). These days I just say ‘I want this scene to be very creepy’ and lighting magic happens!
The MOST IMPORTANT thing is not to leave all of this until the last month of your rehearsals! Get it underway as soon as you can – your technical crew and designers will appreciate being involved as soon as possible.
Phew! Now … onwards to that all impoprtant meeting with the folk who will produce, market and maybe even get you some sponsorship!
Next one ….
Offbeat Directing 7d: Infrastructure!