Wherein I freak out, geek out, and freak out again

First rehearsal in the bag!

Does any director walk into that first rehearsal NOT petrified? The whole time I’m thinking, My god. A point will come in the incredibly near future where I start talking, and they start listening. What could I possibly have to say that is worthy of all of our time? Mine included? Thus far, I’ve managed to come up with something, I just fear in the future this well will run dry.

Maybe it’s the fact that before anything else theatrically, I’m an actor. The first rehearsal is almost like the first day of class. There isn’t a huge difference between a script, contact sheet/rehearsal schedule, and the class text and syllabus. And somebody, director or professor, standing up front and telling you how it’s going to be. And now here I am, after dozens of shows, in charge (somewhat) of how it’s going to be. The question is: do other people like the way I like it to be? Does it matter? I mean, I think it matters in that I want to create an environment where actors feel comfortable yet pushed. Safe to make big choices, but uncomfortable enough to make calculated risks.
Robert Redford once said, “As an actor, I’d hate myself as a director. As a director, I’d hate myself as an actor.” Whoever was transcribing what the man said failed to mention how he accomodates all that, but at the risk of sounding pretentious, I know what the man means…and yet, thus far, I think I’ve been living up to my own standards…I think.

So, as an actor, what do I want in a director?
Well, I want someone who is organized and has a plan. I also want someone who will allow me to explore the stage and the dynamic between myself and the other actors and “discover” appropriate blocking. While I understand the benefits of “pre-blocking”, for the way I work, I just can’t do it. I need to see how my actors take and use a space.
I also like a director who is reasonably accomodating. My family plays a big role in my life, and I like to be able to be there for them. I don’t get paid enough (or is there enough money?) to ever sacrifice that. When it comes to family, sometimes the show doesn’t go on.

While I often squirm and writhe in my seat when I hear the word “organic” (don’t get me wrong, environmentally friendly produce, etc. is important….it’s just…why do the people that talk about it the most make my toes curl?) I like stage movement to develop organically, from the source: the actors. I WANT ideas from my cast. I want them to own this show as much as I do. Sure, it will be riddled with my stamp, but I want it to look like an old suitcase – comfortable, familiar, and covered in everybody’s stamps. By comfortable I don’t mean “easy”, I just mean that the actors feel at home in it.
I’m taking some biggish risks (as big as a ten minute piece allows) with this play. I will NEVER change a word of the playwright’s, but sometimes I feel a sense of a character that may need to be really enhanced. An actor asked me, “So you’re thinking, not as realistic…” And I actually thought to myself…”Realism…what? Oh right. Right. I suppose that’s an approach,” and then I said, “Realism is out the window.” I don’t function realistically in my everday life, so I think if I attempted it onstage, it might appear even more bizarre than my normal approach. (Now that’s something to think about: Me using realism. I think the response would be, “Wow. That was the weirdest family dinner scene I’ve ever witnessed…I need to take a shower.”)
I have inherent trust in other artists because it’s in our nature to be creative, and what other people come up with often blows my mind. In rehearsal, I’ve said, Okay…we need business here. But I don’t know what, and then here these guys come with the perfect “business.” Sometimes I can see in my mind the pace of what I want, yet I don’t know what the action itself is. Last night, I knew that I wanted something occurring in my periphery, but that’s all I knew. Brilliant actor solves problem. Is that a cop-out? Am I making them do my job? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. But I do know that when someone is doling out the genius, it HAS to be my job to let them do that. Right?
Another thing is…I really almost think of myself as an “editor.” I feel more comfortable working almost as an acting coach. “I know what you are going for here, but it has to be 10 times bigger for it to read.” I think Viewpoints training lends itself to this “editor” type behavior. And sometimes I don’t formally run open Viewpoints, yet I still am thinking okay, this spatial relationship needs some work. I want a certain pace here….that sort of thing. I am firm believe in choreography, not necessarily in the sense of “dance” but in the sense that if ten people onstage all turn their head at the same time, well…it’s just f*^&*(#ing cool to watch. And then MY job is to make it actually make sense within the show. I’ve seen many a “cool to watch” series of movements that had NO connection to what was actually happening in the play. You have to take the next step.
The real question is, can I take that next step?

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One thought on “Wherein I freak out, geek out, and freak out again

  1. What CAN’T my Betsy do?
    You are a fantabulous director/editor. Believe you me. Go forth and, you know, be fabulous some more 😉

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