I recently finished directing my first play. It’s a two-actor drama by Christopher Shinn called Dying City, and it’s being produced by Second Thought Theatre. For about a decade I have been working professionally as an actor, writer and administrator. It was with some trepidation that I entered into the directing arena. Would my skills and experience translate into success as a director, or would I find myself drowning in a sea of my own incompetency and doubt? Now that I have hindsight, I can see the mistakes I made and the lessons I’ve learned. Below are my new rules and assumptions for directing theater:
1) You can be as late as you want. They can’t start without you.
2) Actors like it when you get up and act out the scene for them to show them what they did wrong.
3) When speaking with a lighting designer, it is important to use clear phrases when describing the lighting needs of the play. Use phrases like, “Not too bright, but not too dark” or “Lots of color but make sure it looks stark – colorful and stark” or “can it be more moody?”
4) Yelling makes you feel better and scares the actors into not being bad.
5) Emotional manipulation is expected and required. Use secrets from the actors’ past they don’t know you know about to get them to cry better and yell louder.
6) Connect key moments of the play to obscure historical events. This makes you seem smarter.
7) DO NOT STAGE THE PLAY UNTIL THE LAST POSSIBLE MOMENT. Because chances are you have no idea where they should walk and what they should be doing, so the longer you put it off the better.
8) Yell at a producer in front of people. I like to yell at Second Thought co-artistic director Steven Walters because he’s taller than me.
9) Base all of your scheduling decisions around what time the Mavs are playing.
10) When the actors are boring in a run through, play Ninja Fruit on your iPhone to demonstrate disappointment.
I hope these rules and new assumptions make a difference for the aspiring stage director looking for a quick guide to calm those first rehearsal nerves. These lessons were hard fought and hard won, and I should really be charging for them.
And come see my play.