Image credit: Bahman Farzad Creative Commons
My official role within the theatre is a director. Sure I act too but most of my time is spent at the back of the auditorium making notes, drinking coffee and reviewing the script. The Stage did an article not so long ago revealing that it has been known for directors to earn as little as £1 an hour for a production. It is a cruel irony, since it’s arguably the director that gets the audience into the theatre in the first place.
For those who spend the majority of time on the stage, directors can appear to be your worst enemy. I felt exactly the same when I first started out: my first real director knew exactly what she wanted and wouldn’t hesitate to jump in to correct us. Admittedly, it was a pantomime with a vast range of ages and I understand taking a slightly more dictatorial approach when working with the younger ones; by that I mean five to twelve year olds. When it came to us older ones however, this approach was a prime example of why people can come to disapprove of directors. And yet, the audiences kept rolling in, despite the somewhat tense atmosphere behind the scenes. Why? Because we had an outside eye.
To make this point a bit more clearly, I recently visited a village near to my home to watch their annual pantomime. It’s done as a bit of light entertainment and nobody takes it as a serious thing, yet despite this they produce some genuinely amazing productions. The 2013 and 2014 productions were especially good: it’s just a coincidence that I was directing! This year however, being at university my title was given back to the writer of the show that up until my little reign had been the tradition.
As I sat there watching Aladdin, it quickly became apparent to me that there was a small solar-system effect onstage. By this I mean a strong sense that there seemed to be one character that was orchestrating the lot, somebody the cast ‘revolved around’ when performing. That person was the dame, who was also the director and writer. It was then I began to realise that outside eyes are vital for a production. They prevent a performance from being stuck in one little bubble and restraining some of the actors too. It’s also a lot easier to identify areas for improvement. A bit like Sauron, just a lot less scary and thinking constructively, not destructively.
So, my lesson for today is: yes, us directors can appear to be a little ruthless but we are actually nice people, I promise. We have to be a little tough to distance ourselves and not get so involved in a show that we lose ourselves into set ways. It’s this that keeps a show alive and fresh and lets actors ‘breathe’. And on that note, I’ll have a latte with two sugars please!