|The director has two basic responsibilities: (1) to bring about a unified vision within the finished production, and (2) to lead others toward its ultimate actualisation. To meet these charges, the director must organize the realisation of his or her vision. The director must decide upon the interpretation to be given the play; work with the playwright (if possible), designers, and technicians in planning the production; cast and rehearse the actors; and coordinate all elements into the finished production.
To decide upon interpretation, the director must analyse the script to discover the play’s structure and meanings. Without understanding, the director cannot make choices. He or she seeks to know what the play is about and to understand each character in terms of both the script and the demands that character places upon the actor. The director must be able to envision the play’s atmosphere or mood and know how to actualise in terms of design and theatrical space. And, finally, the director must be able to see the play in terms of both physical and verbal action.
Before rehearsals begin, the director meets with the designers. At this time, the director not only gives his or her vision, but also listens to ideas. This highly creative intercourse results in a compromise which often is better than the original vision, for creative ideas interact with other creative ideas. Ultimately however, the director decides upon the interpretation to be used. The director may have specific requirements that would need to be presented to the designers before their work begins. The director must be aware of actor movement when viewing a design. Also, the director must have an idea of what kind of lighting would help enhance the mood of the production.
When casting a play, the director is aware of the physical demands of a character. Physical appearance must fit the character and must also be seen in relation to other characters. The director also tries to discern acting potential. In his book, Theatre, Robert Cohen describes traits that a director often looks for:
Depending on the specific demands on the play and the rehearsal situation, the director may pay special attention to any or all of the following characteristics: the actor’s training and experience, physical characteristics and vocal technique, suitability for the style of the play, perceived ability to impersonate a specific character in the play, personality traits which seem fitted to the material at hand, ability to understand the play and its milieu, personal liveliness and apparent stage “presence,” past record of achievement, general deportment and attitude, apparent cooperativeness and “directability” in the context of an ensemble of actors in a collaborative enterprise, and overall attractiveness as a person with who one must work closely over the next four to ten weeks.
The director’s most time-consuming task is to rehearse the actors. The director must be organized, for he or she focuses the entire cast during this time. The director’s medium is the actor in space and time. Space is defined by the acting area and the setting while time is defined by the duration of the production and the dynamics of the drama The director must be able to see the actor as a person and strive to draw out that person’s potential. Consequently, the director constantly must be sensitive to both the needs of an actor and at the same time think of ways to meet those needs in positive ways.
Directors tend to follow an established process during rehearsals. Initially, the director usually has the actors read through the script. The read-through allows the director to discuss his or her vision, character motivation, and interpretation which will help the actors begin to see their characters in terms of a unified understanding. The director then blocks the actors. Blocking are an actor’s basic broad movements which serve as the physical foundation of the actor’s performance. The director indicates movement such as entrances and exits and positions actors onstage. Often, this step takes preplanning. During this stage, interpretation begins to be worked out, for blocking is linked to a character’s motivation to move or position.
The next step would be to work on detail, which helps an actor discover his or her character. Detail includes working out stage business, which is an actor’s small-scale movement. For instance, making coffee, answering a phone, putting on shoes, or adjusting a tie are pieces of stage business. Hopefully, the actor will originate much of his or her own stage business.
Motivation and detail continue while time is spent devoted to lines. Interpretation of dialogue must be connected to motivation and detail. During this time, the director is also concerned with pace and seeks a variation of tempo. If the overall pace is too slow, then the action becomes dull and dragging. If the overall pace is too fast, then the audience will not be able to understand what is going on, for they are being hit with too much information to process.
Also, eventually, the actors will need to be off script. Once off script and the lines are memorized well enough that the actor is not thinking “What is my next line?” then the rehearsals enter into a very rewarding stage of development. For actors cease to read their part and truly make it living. They also discover new avenues of interpretation once off script.
Late in the rehearsal process, the director often has the actors run through the production. A runthrough gives the actors a sense of continuity from one scene to the next. At this stage, the director usually does not stop the actors but takes notes to give after the scene is finished.
Nearly all elements of the production — actors, scenery, lights, sound — come together at the technical rehearsal. The stage manager, prop crew, running crew, light and sound board operators all rehearse their various parts to play. Hopefully, light and sound cues will be set before the first technical rehearsal begins. A dress rehearsal is a technical rehearsal with costumes and makeup. At this time, the director must give over the production to the actors and technicians. The final dress rehearsal should be the same as a performance.
Nobody is more useless on opening night performance than the director. The director’s job is over at this time and is often lost and feeling alone. The best the director can do is to wish people well, sit, watch the performance, know every flaw during that performance, and sweat it out.