Whilst the SSC is very fortunate to have a number of members willing to direct plays, it is important to encourage even more members to do so. It is a considerable responsibility but the reward, seeing your 'vision' come to life, is well worth it. So I thought I'd put the following 'checklist' together to encourage those of you 'sitting on the directorial fence' as it were to consider directing more closely. The list may look daunting, but it isn't. Common sense and forethought is really all you need - along with a good play!
Remember, be shameless! Not only assume you can do it, but that your vision is right! Secondly, assemble a small production team to help share the roles and support you throughout the production. It's really helpful to have people you can discuss the development of the production with and to help keep you on track and energised!
Considerations - not in order of importance:
Choose a play that you love, which has something challenging to offer you and your actors, and will give you all a sense of satisfaction when it is done.
Does the script need cutting? If so why? Cut with a pencil and read and re-read your cut version. Does the story still work? Ask others to check it through for you.
Presenting the play to the committee: they will want to know why you want to do it, how you see it staged, whether you will cut the script and how, what venue you want to stage it at, a budget and income forecast (see old AGM minutes for format), whether you think you can cast it, who will be helping you, and what previous experience you have.
When will you set the play? Will you use the time it was originally written for or take the time forward or back? Does the story still work in a different time? The period will also dictate to some extent whether you can change the sex of some of the characters, this will have a big impact on your ability to cast the play and, from a social perspective, how well you can involve all members of the group.
Costumes: having chosen the period will you be able to costume it? Where will the costumes come from? The SSC has a costume store, but will some additional costumes have to be made or hired? Remember you can't make costumes until the play is cast - so that doesn't give much time. Check with a committee member for the latest costume resources known to the group.
Setting the stage: what is essential and what is feasible. What seating/acting space arrangement do you want to use? Is a box set necessary, is there someone to construct it, can you store props and furniture backstage? (The venue will dictate many of the decisions here). Can you make do without a set, with small props only? How else might you decorate the stage?
Venue: Of the venues we use, which would you rather stage the play in and why? Consider both financial and space perspectives. Are the committee considering using any new venues which might appeal to you more?
Sound & Music: What music and/or sound effects does the play need? Can you add more and if so how? Will recorded music do or do you need musicians for the performances? If songs have to be sung, then how well? Will this be a casting issue? Sound equipment: what has the company got, what do you need to use? Who will operate it for you? What will you use in rehearsals?
Casting: who will be on the casting committee? Which sections of the play will you use for audition pieces? Do you need to hear people in groups and if so which characters is this necessary for? Choosing your cast - will you play safe casting members in roles you've seen them handle before, or will you be adventurous and cast against type? This will determine what opportunities members have to develop their skills. Will you take a chance on new members you've not seen? If so how will you satisfy yourself they have the commitment you require and the ability to handle the role? How will you balance out the experienced establish members and the new ones?
Blocking the play: you need to decide on your entrance/exits which will to some extent be dictated by the venue. How will this fit in with the work of your backstage crew and space for furniture and props?
Acting preparation: how do you see each character and their behaviour scene by scene? What is it you want from your actors, how will you communicate this? What body language should they be using, how should they walk and sit, react to each other? What body language do you NOT want them to use? Tone of voice is very important, as is the pace of delivery which should vary to suit each speech. Do your actors understand all their lines? If not you need to decide and agree the meaning of the lines otherwise their delivery will be robotic. What analysis of the character do you want your actors to undertake? Do you see the character in the same way? If not, this needs to be ironed out early on to avoid conflict. Always be open to ideas and suggestions - they may be better than your own! Equally, though, be prepared to keep to your original vision if you think the suggested change would not work for the play overall.
Rehearsal schedule: draft a schedule accommodating as many needs as you can. It's usually better to decide on which nights to rehearse after you've cast the play to ensure all the cast members will be available when needed. Allow for extra rehearsals or 'emergencies' and working in small groups. Don't call cast if you don't need them - there's nothing more exasperating for an actor than to be called and not used!
Business Manager: if well chosen, an invaluable source of help. BM's will usually check your budget with you, look after the rehearsal and theatre bookings, bank rehearsal fees, pay expenses, organise front of house staff and publicity (with the PubSubCom), and more if you ask nicely....!
Lighting: what effects do you want to achieve, who will design and install your lights? Will the venue have the resources you need or will you need to bring in additional lights /special effects?
Backstage Crew: do you need one? If so, who will be your crew, how many do you need, when do they need to come to rehearsals, who will gather and keep props etc before the performances?
Motivating and energising your cast and yourself - techniques for this are important. The more obvious your own enthusiasm for the project the more energised your cast will feel. Encourage and praise them, and talk constructively about things which you don’t' feel are right. What's their perspective on the problem? Perhaps there are other issues you're unaware of? How will you support your actors and help them give the performance you want and believe they are capable of? Equally, will you know when to back off and accept that the performance they're giving is their best even though it may not be quite what you wanted? In amateur drama keeping people's enthusiasm and commitment is the most important element of all. If it isn't fun, why do it?
Technical and Dress Rehearsals: when and where will you hold these? Technicals, of course, can only be held at the venue, but how many technical runs would you like? Would it be wise to have more than one dress rehearsal and, if so, when and where will you hold them?
Get In & Get Out arrangements: Planning is key. Who do you need for how long and to do what? Check how long your technical people think they need and check that their understanding of your requirements is the same as yours.
Well, brain dump over! I think I've covered most things. Any of our experienced directors will be happy to discuss the role of director with you I'm sure and, of course, all will have different perspectives, so it really is worthwhile speaking to several of us. The committee will also be an invaluable source of help. So dust off that idea you've had for ages and give it a go. Directing really is a very satisfying and enjoyable experience - barring the odd crisis - and what's more you'll learn a great deal in the process too!