Thursday, June 3, 2010

What does a Director do?

The job of the director is to effectively communicate the imaginative and creative vision of the script. Many people have the idea that a director is a dissatisfied obsessive-compulsive person who constantly calls “cut” and yells at the actors for missing a mark or line. This is just not the case, especially with Drama Ministry. The director serves, in many ways, as a creative manager who can both motivate the actors as well as create an atmosphere of controlled chaos. The director must tell the actors what to do, but at the same time allow for the actors to offer creative input to the scene. This is why the director must not be married to any one specific idea. The director should place himself as a sort of team leader to the group. The idea is that the scene being created is a group effort with many equally important members. The director is one of the members who drive the creative bandwagon to its desired destination. If the wagon goes off track, it is the job of the director to get everyone back on the same page, sometimes literally. The director is also a sort of cheerleader to the group. If an actor is experiencing difficulty with a scene or line, the director must encourage them to keep at it and give constructive criticism. Many times the director will offer differing ways of playing the scene. The director can also be a source of information for the cast. For example, an actor may have a question regarding some of the material in the script. The director must be able to explain what is intended and how to best achieve the goal.

The first thing the director must do is read the script. If the director is also the writer of the script, they must look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. While writing is the process of creating a scene in ones head, the director must turn what is written on paper and transform it into a reality. The number one question that should be on the mind of every director is, “How can I make this work?” While the director is reading, he must begin to visualize what he wants it to look like on the stage or on camera depending on what sort of media the director is working with. Many times it is helpful to close the eyes and imagine what the scene will look like. What kind of mental pictures pop into your head as you ponder the scene. Do not let limitations such as cost or availability of resources come into play during the brainstorming session. Thinking is free and the resources are limitless in a brainstorming session. Really let your brain go to town while you imagine what the scene will look like. You may want to ask yourself several questions as you brainstorm. The following are only several questions that can be constructive during this time. You may come up with more as you think about turning the written words into a performance that will be seen by an audience. Do I understand the overall themes and message of the script? What is it saying to me? What sort of emotion is the script conveying? How do I translate the feelings and emotion of the script to the stage? What do I want the set to look like? What do I want the actors to wear? Where do I want them to stand? Where do I want them to enter and exit? What kind of characters are these people? How should these people sound? Do they speak with any specific vocal pattern? How do I envision the scene playing out?

The second thing the director does is cast the show. As we have mentioned in earlier articles, Think Creative Ministries does not hold formalized auditions. This can be a blessing and a curse all rolled into one. While it is true that as a ministry we want as many people as possible to try their hand at acting and being involved in ministry, this also allows all levels of experience to be brought into one show. This kind if situation puts much more work on the director than if a traditional audition had taken place. The director must spend time with the less experienced actors to ensure that they grasp what they are to do. This is why the director must be patient at all times.

For many, participating in Drama Ministry will be their first time doing any kind of theater performance. As the director and team leader, you want this to be a positive and encouraging encounter. You want to model the idea that although performing a drama takes work, it is a fun activity and is all for the glory of God.

The fact that Drama Ministry exists for the soul purpose of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and giving Him praise must be emphasized at all times. As a director, you should pray with your cast before they go on stage. This will curb any last minute jitters and assure them that no matter what happens on the stage, God is the one who gets the credit.

Now that you have your actors, you must assign roles for them. If you know your actors well and know their level of experience, this can be relatively painless. You simply plug them into roles in the script that best suit their level of skill. For those whose skill level is unknown, you may want to play around with the roles for a bit to see which one best suits them. As a director, you should make this process into a game. Say things like, “Ok. Who would like to read this part? Hmmm, that is very good. Would anyone else like to try reading this part?” What you, as a director, are doing is discovering the skill level of your actors.

Notice that I did not say talent. One of the biggest misconceptions in any creative field is that it is reserved for the so called talented. Skill and talent are two very different animals altogether. Creative arts are skills. Anyone can learn a skill. Talent, on the other hand is the natural ability to do something. Even a very talented actor needs to learn the skills required to become better.

The motif that should be used in Drama Ministry is that skill and talent are arbitrary. If the actor has a genuine desire to learn, they can be taught. In many cases it is up to the director to reach and teach them. Unless the drama team at your church has classes on acting, the only education your actors will receive is on the job training. As the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” As the members of the group mature in their craft you will see how they will become better actors. This is why sometimes it can be beneficial to include younger kids into the group. In a few years, these kids will be well-seasoned actors. It is best to have a wide variety of ages in any drama team. This works for several reasons. First, you want to have as many people as possible in the creative environment of praising God through Drama Ministry. Second, a variety of ages and genders can assure that almost any production can be performed. Third, by having a variety of ages in the group, you always have actors coming up as the older ones leave for college, or move away, etc. The idea is to have an ongoing workshop of people.

The next thing you should do is to conduct a read-thru of the script. A read-thru is when the director and cast sit at a table and read the script with each actor reading their own part. Sometimes this is called a table-read. This is a time when many of the questions regarding the script should be asked. The director should make sure that everyone knows what is going on in the script and understand its themes, jokes and message. Some vocal directing can take place here. The director can help the actors find their motivation and character development. Although this is a good time to do such things, the main idea for the read-thru is to get the cast familiar with the

Now that you have read thru the script, you need to block the scene. Blocking is a theater term for the scripted movement on stage. A basic knowledge of stage directions is required. The director must know how to position the actors so that they can be seen and aid the overall storytelling of the scene. It is the director’s decision where to place the actors along with how and where they should move. The director must decide when and actor is to enter or exit the stage and when this is going to take place. This is also where much of the fun of the creative process takes place. The director must be open to slight detours in the rehearsal time. Many times the actors need some time to goof off, improv, and play around in order to tap into their inner actor. Let them play for a bit, but at some point bring them back in to the scene. This is also the tome where many actors will experiment with the scene. They will want to try things to see if they work. You as the director may even want to try things in the scene. You need to be open to all that might occur in this process.

The next step is the rehearsal. Much the rehearsal will go on like this. The actors will want to play and you will want to try out what works. As the rehearsals move on these decisions need to be made and then the group needs to begin getting ready or the performance date. All props and costumes must be arranged for. In Drama Ministry, there is rarely a costume or prop manager, so all props and costumes must be gathered by the cast and director. Another job of the director is to over see who is going to bring what to ensure that all props and costumes will be ready be the time of the performance. At some point, the director will need to let the actors know when it is time to be off book. This means that all lines must be memorized. The blocking is in order, the lines down and the cast is ready for their first performance. Note to all first time directors: Your scene will never seem as though it is ready to be seen by an audience. This is the wonderful blessing in this work. Even though you may think the scene is not quite ready, God has a way of pulling everything together. At the end of the day, we need to know that it is all in his hands anyway.

You are now at your dress rehearsal. The first time many people hear the term dress rehearsal is in relation to a wedding. In my estimation, this is stretching the term to its utter most limit. Wedding dress rehearsals are very scripted and are quite difficult to mess up. A theater dress rehearsal on the other hand is a time when the scene is run from beginning to end with all props and costumes without stopping and is a good look at how the show will appear on stage. Dress rehearsals usually take place a night or two before the show. Some theater companies have multiple dress rehearsals, while others give the night before the show off to the actors. This is your decision as the director. At the end of the run-thru, the director should give notes. (notes should be a part of most rehearsals but mostly when full unstopped run-thus are going on) The director will make notes on a sheet of paper and indicate what he thought was good, bad, needing changing, needs work, etc. Only make notes on the big important things. If an actor is doing fine with their role and needs no note about what they are doing wrong, don’t make a note. The idea is that no note is a good note. Just note the things that need to be changed.

Well, the nigh has arrived. In most theaters, this is the time for the director to sit back and enjoy the show. But sometimes in Drama Ministry, the director may have to act as a stage manager and stage crew. In this case, the director will have to remain back stage and make sure that everyone gets their prop and knows their cue. (the time they go on) If the drama team is large enough, a stage manager can be a part of the team. Many times, just as with professional theater, other actors will help out back stage. Try to build this comradely among those in your team. This will help with the godly principle of bearing others burdens.

Well that’s pretty much it for directing. I have tried to walk you through he process as best I can. But to be quite honest, this has done very little to describe the joys of directing. Much of directing, as well as acting, is an on the job experience. Happy Directing and Goodnight. ☺