Advice for Theatre Directors: It’s Not Broadway, Part II

Be Understanding of the Need to Explore

Is it fun?
Is it fun?

In Part I of this two-part series, we looked at how theatre directors working with kids on a show may have unreasonable expectations and how those expectations may work against their production. In this second part, we consider what concerns should be foremost in the director’s mind.

School directors may witness high school-age students who are 100 percent sure that theatre is what they want to pursue as a career (they will…hopefully…be the committed ones). Directors will also work with students who are new to the theatre world. If you are not sympathetic to their need to find themself, they are not going to respect you, and furthermore, they are not going to care about the production.

This summer rehearsals were frequently interrupted with sports games, decorating, and prep for other camp activities despite the fact that I advised the cast that they needed to make the play a priority. A week before the show, the disruptions of our rehearsals increased and the quality of the play was not improving. I felt guilty, however, about not allowing them to attend major camp events. The music director and I ended up sitting down with the entire cast and voting on an agreement: they could attend the other activities if they were willing to spend the last couple of days before the show wholeheartedly focused on improving the play. After this meeting, everyone seemed happy with the outcome. The cast had more respect for us and our concerns about the show because we respected their other passions. It is important to establish this kind of relationship with your cast because if you do force them to miss conflicting extracurricular activities without showing any empathy, then they will most likely never try out for a play again.

Comfort before Character

Are they comfortable?
Are they comfortable?

Directors should make sure that the cast is comfortable with the blocking and choreography before delving too much into character work. A little bit of character work in the beginning is fine as long as you are not stopping the actors repeatedly when they are not quite grasping it. Save that for the end when (hopefully) they are able to successfully run through the show without any major train wrecks.

Look at the Big Picture

If you find that you are in a time crunch, and nothing is going as planned, (the blocking is all wrong, actors are singing wrong notes, choreography is messy), try observing the play as a whole. Does the cast seem to be having fun? Are they energetic? Are they projecting? Do they know their lines? This will eliminate a great amount of stress for both the director and the cast.

Determine how it's going for your actors.
Determine how it’s going for your actors.

During my rehearsal process this past summer, I paid too much attention to detail. I was driving myself crazy with high expectations that the entire cast would move to the same beat, and that they would remember every single blocking note. This would not be unreasonable if you were working with a group of paid professionals, but I repeat: these are kids. These are kids of all different levels. Yes, it is constructive to hold high standards, but when you are only a few days away from opening night, you need to set priorities. If an actor crosses the wrong way, who cares? Take note of it, but fix the basics first.

The cast will appreciate it as well since you will not be overwhelming them with an abundance of fastidious notes at the end of their process.

The Director’s Purpose

Will they remember their theatre experience and smile?
Will they remember their theatre experience and smile?

Our purpose should be to provide theatre students with a pleasant experience that they will remember fondly. Some actors may go on to become professional performers, and that is excellent! Some may discover that theatre is not for them, and that is acceptable, too. The most important thing is that everyone has fun, learns something new, and looks back on their time on stage with a smile. We don’t want to be remembered as that “mean” theatre director. We don’t want to be the reason why a student strays away from a life in the theatre. Leave that to the pros. Our job is to inspire.