As a Director
Words by Imi Rachael Vassallo
Has acted, stage managed, and designed for the stage, but their true passion is theatre directing. A current honours student studying theatre and performance, and writing their thesis on famed director Peter Brook, Imi studies how direction lifts words from a page and gives them life.
Directing is guiding.
The director is typically pictured or depicted as someone who ‘directs’. In other words, a director is someone who gives very precise orders regarding the most specific nuances of a film. Some picture a director screaming tauntingly at the actors of a play, putting absurd emphasis on making sure that every production is identical.
This could not be further from the truth.
My role is to transmit the story from script to actor. My job is to give the words of a script their own personality and life. The role of an actor is to transmit the words of the writer. To me, the director is merely the facilitator. Director is an odd word for the most executive role in a production, a better word would be wanderer or trail leader. The term ‘executive’ is also a misnomer. Some may consider there to be a hierarchy of sorts in the rehearsal room, but I have found that to be even less of the case.
A good director does not have an overall end goal in mind and then simply tells an actor exactly what to do. Many picture a director instructing the actor in the precise volume, accent and tone of speech and the precise physical movement. Rather a director is there as a guide who allows the actor to immerse themselves in the characterisation.
Theatre exists to facilitate imagination in an audience, not to merely create a spectacle. All performances have instances which deviate from the natural progression of life. Time and place are transformed, props are manipulated, and sets are created. A director knows what they want, albeit are flexible to the ever-changing world of their inspiration. A director often does not know how they would get there, or if they will. Rehearsal spaces are little nuclei, where creativity flourishes and productions spawn. Life is given in these spaces. Many consider them to be sacred.
Characters are developed. Their inception begins in the mind of the writer, they then become words, existing merely within the script. Then the director begins by reading the script, and then independently researches or works with a dramaturg to bring a script to stage. A director uses the script to develop an overall vision for the production. The variety of performances of the same script is testament to the imagination and creativity of theatre directors.
Theatre is living, no two performances of the same script are identical, in fact one can argue that few even share the most basic of similarities. Actors must truly maintain a character for the duration of the performance, as unlike with a filmed performance, there is no room for major and noticeable errors on stage. Therefore, if something goes wrong, then the show must go on. Audiences are intrigued by the ability of an actor to maintain a character during a disruption to the overall performance. A good director has equipped the actor with the tools they need to maintain a character regardless of the stimuli around them. Trust me, a lot goes wrong on stage that the audience does not even know about. The skill of the actor is the ability to grasp and become the character, to fully take their words to heart even in the most troubling of situations on stage. This leaves the actor with the challenge of truly personifying the character, and this is where the director comes in, to equip the actor with the tools needed.
It is up to the actor to discover the character, immerse themselves into the psyche of the person they are representing. A good director is a good facilitator, they must create an environment with the perfect conditions for an actor to truly understand the intention of the writer. A good director must know the script and its context to the utmost integrity. This is achieved not just through reading through and memorising the script, though a good director should begin at this level. Extensive dramaturgical research and reading up on as much commentary from the writer as was produced is a mainstay of the rehearsal process that few are familiar with. A good director should have a comprehensive knowledge of the text.
Only an actor can truly develop a character. The character forms through the director. Acting is more than just remembering the lines. Directors begin by “warming up” their actors using a variety of dramatic games to build movement, communication and connection between co-actors. Actors must then be facilitated by the director to allow their characters to take shape. Actors have the responsibility of understanding both the script and its context, and the director’s vision for the performance. They must work alongside the director within the confines of the director’s vision. A director teaches and guides the actor through the script, with the expectation that they will also learn it inside-out.
Some directors facilitate improvisation through dramatic activities and games, others like to take actors to sites and places relevant to the character, and others like to put actors in the scenarios of their characters. All these techniques build a sense of character within the actor and allow them to fully grasp why they passed their audition. Whilst a director can sense a spark in an actor, they still have their own idea of what they want. Theatre is full of little traditions and superstitions because it is a magical undertaking.
The world of the director may seem daunting to the paying public who come to see the fruits of our labour. The rehearsal space seems more like home than the stage, it is where the magic really happens. The paying public audiences only witness the aftermath.