Monday, October 5, 2015

Theatre Prof Directs, Reflects

The following post by David Miller of the Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance is reprinted with his permission from his personal blog, Projects and Ponderings. Check it out!

There so many times during my teaching that I think and often say out loud to my students, these are not just theatre skills – these are not only directing, acting, playwriting skills – these are life skills. 

Some of the skills that I teach are simple rules that apply to the course and to life: Don't ask your professor for stapler; Don't explain that you were confused by the guidelines when in reality you didn't read the guidelines (or you didn't read the guidelines closely enough); Don't use comic sans. But the bigger lessons are the ones that I find more fascinating. For example, how are directing skills life skills? I am interested in this question perhaps because I continue to learn the lesson myself. I know that my "director's toolkit" is available to me in my day-to-day life. I may not use it as often as I would like, but it is always available to me.

An visual and textual
approach to Neighborhood 3,
a directorial unifying tool.
A successful director unifies the group. They do so by balancing a strong vision with incredibly active listening. They honor the creative ideas around them and ultimately serve the project more than themselves. They are, in short, effective leaders. An effective leader/director asks lots of questions. The most important question is, "why?" This is a question asked of oneself as well as one's fellow artists. We make a choice on stage – an acting choice, a design choice, a blocking choice. How is that choice serving the intent of the playwright and the specific approach we are taking in this production? How does this integrate with the other choices that we are making? Are we excited about the choice or are we excited about the fact that got choice is right for this play and this production? An effective director must be a conscientious choice maker and lead others to be conscientious as well.

An effective director must integrate their heart into the work. Theatre practitioners are, after all, human. Directors are humans, leading other humans. As J. Donald Walters reminds us in The Art of Leadership, "Genuine leadership is of only one type: supportive. It leads people: It doesn't drive them. It involves them: It doesn't coerce them. It never loses sight of the most important principle governing any project involving human beings: namely, that people are more important than things."

We must be reminded that our stumblings as leaders are allowed and expected. We too are human. We too are concerned that we do well. But as a good director, and by extension, a good human, we concern ourselves with the fears and insecurities before our own.  "Assume that everyone is in a permanent state of catatonic terror." says Frank Hauser in Notes on Directing. This will help you approach the impossible state of infinite patience and benevolence that actors and others expect from you."  It's good to think of the other point of view. That's a directing skill. That's a life skill.

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