Friday, 26 November 2010

You Know It When You See It?

I recently had dinner with an actor-friend of mine, Joe Jameson. Amongst the 'oh how's so-and-so doing? Any castings coming up? How's the family doing?' chat, the conversation found its way round to the difficulty of knowing, as an audience member, critic, or awards-judge, what impact a director has had on a production.

I mean, unless you've ever been in a rehearsal room (which vary enormously from production to production, company to company and director to director), how can you tell what a director does?

What does a director do?

In some ways it might sound utterly bizarre for me, as a director, to even raise the question. But I have often found myself watching the final runs of a play I've been working on for weeks/months and wondering where I finish and the work of the actors and production team begins. The line is so blurred. Theatre is so collaborative, you feed off each other's ideas and imaginations, and - quite rightly - the actors and stage managers/hands must end up with ownership. They, after all, have to live that show night after night.

For me, I think the role of the director really is as a visionary (apologies for the poncy-ness of that statement) and facilitator. You have to have the idea for how to approach the production in the first place, choose the actors, and facilitate them towards their understanding of the text/character/world. Also, you work closely with designers (set, costume, lighting, sound) to create that world. For me, the audience experience is particularly important - I like to plot the experience from the moment they enter the auditorium, using particular lighting, soundscape, music, even pre-show movement with the actors, to create the atmosphere of the play. When I was working on 'Someone Who'll Watch Over Me' I specifically remember agonising over the choice of exit music, as I dithered over the way I wanted people to feel as they left the theatre. I was adamant that I didn't want silence, and after the ordeal of the play I felt that music with some kind of uplift was essential.

But all these decisions are not necessarily always made by a director. And once the show has opened, it can take on a very different form after a period of performance - as a natural response to how it's been received.

So does that make my job redundant? And how do you assess the quality of a director?

I guess you know it when you see it.

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