Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

02 May 2006

Directing Weaknesses

I saw two shows recently that have made me think about my strengths and failings as a director (again.) It feels as though I am constantly evaluating myself—probably because I am constantly evaluating myself. Plus, I'm directing all the time nowadays (two shows at once, no less!) and saying the right thing all the time is constantly on my mind. Why don't I know the right thing to say to this actress, and how could I make this show better, and how do I get him to be subtler? Often I feel that I fail at these tasks—at least momentarily—and I long to be better at what I do.
I recently saw Ubu Roi at A Noise Within. The play is over a hundred years old and the director's interpretation brought such a new approach to the material that I was blown away. The show was brilliant and I left the theatre that night humbled. That vision! That ability to see something so unique and guide into becoming a reality! I feel like I approach moments of uniqueness like that so rarely. Sure, I occasionally create moments—only moments, mind you—unique and special and new, but for the most part I discover them rarely and remain surprised when they show up. Perhaps it's lack of training, or maybe that the material I normally work on doesn't require it, but I mostly blame a lack of personal vision. The way I see things just isn't that unique. Or maybe I just need more training.
This isn't to say I'm not a good director. I think I am a good director, I just often wish I had a different kind of vision. Where I think my talents lie is in communication with actors, designers and crew. I have the sensibilities and sensitivities of an artist, and this allows me to excel in being clear with the people who work for me (most of the time.) I also tend to be good at understanding human nature (i.e. character motivation): finding reasons for characters to say and do things comes naturally to me and I have no trouble justifying a character's actions, no matter how outrageous. I also tend to be good with language and figuring out the meaning of a play. This gives some directors a lot of grief (or at least appears to), so I feel lucky that it isn’t something with which I usually struggle.
This brings me to the other play I saw that got me to thinking about this topic in the first place. I went to a production put on by my old fraternity (ΑΨΩ, baby!) this weekend and I was sort of stunned. It was Naomi Wallace's brilliant One Flea Spare and it was my impression that the director didn't understand Wallace's (rather obvious) attack of upper middle-class prejudices, mostly missed the boat on her tension-creating devices and completely avoided her exploration of assumed sexuality and the effects of poverty on the sexual choices of her characters. I started thinking about the plays I choose to direct. I would love to direct One Flea Spare, and, often, when given the choice of what to direct, I do choose something totally outrageous like a Naomi Wallace piece (see Gross Indecency or Valparaiso or Pterodactyls). The reason, I think, is this: being mostly lacking in personal vision, as I believe myself to be, it makes sense for me to attach myself to someone else's rather outlandish vision and interpret that as best as possible. If my strengths are human nature, language, meaning and communication, perhaps I don't totally need vision. I can let the playwright have all of the vision and I can concern myself with the minutiae.

Just a thought...