The Director As Manager in a Theatrical Work
The director in a theatrical work is often described as the manager, the boss, the man behind the work, and many other titles that reflect authority and power. To a great degree, this is true, especially that it is the director who has to bear most of the responsibilities, pains and problems of any theatrical production.
By definition, the director makes all artistic or creative decisions and is responsible for the harmonious unity of a production. The director, usually in conjunction with the designers and the producer, determines a concept, motif, or interpretation for the script or scenario; selects a cast, rehearses them; and usually has a deciding role in scenery, costumes, lights, and sound.
Movement, timing, pacing, and visual and aural effects are all determined by the director; what the audience finally sees is the director’s vision. From the time of the ancient Greeks until the 17th century this role was generally fulfilled by the playwright, and from the 17th to the end of the 19th century directing was the function of the leading actor of a company. Under such conditions, however, ensemble performance was rare.
The concept of the modern director can be traced to the 18th-century English actor-manager David Garrick, although George II, duke of the German principality of Saxe-Meiningen, is generally referred to as the first director. He toured Europe with his theater company in the 1870s and ’80s, and exercised absolute control over all aspects of production.
In the 20th century there has been a recurring tendency for directors to use a script simply as a starting point for their own theatrical visions, resulting in unorthodox and frequently spectacular productions often called “theatricalist.” Such productions often achieve clarification or emphasis of themes or images in the text, or a new relevance for classic scripts, sometimes at the expense of the integrity of the original. Some notable directors of this type were Vsevolod Meyerhold, Max Reinhardt, Jean Louis Barrault, and, more recently, Peter Brook, Peter Stein, and Tom O’Horgan.
The director usually selects the cast through auditions in which performers read sections of the script to be produced, present prepared scenes or speeches, or, when appropriate, sing and dance. The director of a musical production is aided in the auditioning process by the musical director and the choreographer. Although auditioning is acknowledged to be a flawed method, it does allow the director to judge the talents and qualities of potential performers. Actors may also be hired on the basis of reputation, recommendation of agents, or simply for physical appropriateness.
In managerial terms, the director is the leader of this team, and the person who turns the idea into the concrete product which the audience will finally see in the theater showrooms.
Before starting this research which aims at studying the functions and traits of the director, it is very important to evaluate the importance of directing as an art and profession.
According to Michael Kirstein, “The director is responsible for nothing less than the quality and meaning of the final production” (p.326). This definition, as simple as it is, reflects not only the importance of directing, but also throws the burden of the entire process upon the back of the director. It simply means that the director is responsible for the success of the performance or its failure, its ability to make or lose money, its approval or rejection by the audience, and most importantly, its having or failing to have a meaning that is of interest and purpose for those who are going to watch the performance.
No wonder, the director is directly answerable to the producer, for it is the producer who hires or fires the director. Even though funding is the responsibility of the producer, it is the director who allocates the funds, who exercises control over the resources of the performance (including human resources) and who in the end brings the work into being.
A director, like any leader or top manager in any field (profitable or for non-profit), has a large number of responsibilities and functions to handle. Depending on the personal traits, professional experiences, and capabilities, a director’s span of functions may differ from those of another director. Yet, in general, all directors have common functions and responsibilities which they have to handle.
Regardless the source of the script, the director has to be substantially involved in the writing process. The contribution of the director is often so significant that in many cases, the scriptwriter may not be pleased with the changes that the director imposes on the text, but it is inevitable that these changes take place for at least three reasons. First of all, it is the director who is going to turn the text into a performance for the audience, and hence, he is more aware of the limitations and problems of the text as it is. Secondly, the director is aware of the limitations in his resources, and therefore will seek to find a match between what is on text and what is expected to appear on stage. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the production, regardless the purpose and the themes of the play, is nothing but an embodiment and representation of the director’s thematic vision.
Before the director gets involved in changing the script, he has one simple yet sophisticated mission to accomplish. The success or failure of this mission determines from the very beginning the destiny of the entire work. This mission is the identifying the identity and thematic meaning of the production. It is not uncommon to hear the audience complaining that they have wasted their time on a performance that has no meaning. In reality, every performance has its theme, meaning, purpose, mission, vision or whatever terminology might be used to describe that. What the audience describe as a meaningless performance could in its essence be a play of a high quality but which simply lacks a coherent meaning. Directing is essentially an ability to communicate a message, and if the director fails in bringing all those components of theater production in a successful manner to produce such a message, the end result would be nothing but failure.
Auditioning actors is one of the critical tasks that a director has to accomplish. It is through the auditioning of actors that the director will be able to establish the team with which he is going to work. In many cases, this is usually a very tiring process and one that can even be both expensive and time consuming, not to mention the fact that during this process, the director might be subject to many kinds of pressures. In auditioning, the aim of the director is to decide whether the actors are suitable for the roles or not. Usually, one problem that the director faces here is that his decision might be considered as a judgement on the actor. The point is that the director in this process is not trying to decide whether the actor is a good or a poor one, but rather, whether he or she is suitable for the roles intended for the production or not. In many cases, directors will not be dealing with professional actors, and even if they do, what they get is not always what they need. Accordingly, they have to be very aware of the characters of the play and their characteristics, so that in the auditioning process, they are able to detect those actors and actresses with the voice and verbal communication skills needed.
Directors are like orchestra leaders in many ways. A director who has been in the job for a while becomes accustomed to working with certain crews. Some directors have the ability to work with any crew that is provided for them by the producer. Other directors may not be able to do that and may impose their will to hire a certain crew that they have dealt with. This might be due to the director’s personality and experience, as well as to the traits and experience of the crew he is going to act with. Some directors prefer to form their own casts whereas others prefer to accept most of the cast team offered by the producer or other agencies. Many directors may not have the ability to impose their will on the producer, but also in many cases, the producer is relying on the director for the success of the work and cannot reject his or her needs and demands. Similarly, when the director is also the producer, then handling this issue will not be a problem at all.
Once the director has formed his crew and cast, the next step is to develop the cast and the script. This tiring process is known as rehearsals where the members of the cast will be asked to participate in rehearsing the script until they become familiar with it. Evidently, there are several purposes behind this process. First of all, it aims at making the actors and actresses familiar with the script and with the characters of the story. Secondly, it aims at selecting those actors and actresses who are most capable of performing the roles in the play. Yet, more importantly, an intelligent director is one who is going to take advantage of this process in order to get more ideas from the cast and the crew on the play and its characters. Major developments and amendments may be made to the script in this process because the actors may provide the director with new dimensions and perspectives of thought that may be applied to the events of the story.
So far, most of the work the director has involved in is the easier part of the process of directing. What comes next requires the talents of leadership and management from the director.
The director will have to consider the time needs of his crew, particularly that they have to move about their equipment and change the manner in which these are to be used. The director will seek help from the crew and other members of the team, but it has to be his own commonsense that will guide him in the end to bring the entire process of staging under control.
It is very obvious that the ability of the director to set up the schedule and then to apply this schedule will require an unusual sense of organization, an immense effort, and a lot of commitment.
A lot of technical, personal and psychological stress is involved in staging. To explain, the director has to direct the actors into providing him what he expects from them, despite the pressure, while at the same time, making sure that the crew are doing their work as required. This means that the director in this phase is simply trying to merge the different goals and objectives, while facing a lot of difficulty on every level. Simple problems as well as complicated ones will arise at every corner, and it is the ability of the director to manage all these issues together that will give him the ability to get the project ahead.
One major challenge that the director will witness is actor coaching. Actors do not only need to practice, but also to be coached by the director on how they are doing.
What further makes the director’s job more difficult in this stage is that the director will have to make sure that his own vision of the performance is getting conducted in the appropriate manner. Usually, this involves more discussions of the play and its scenes with the actors who may provide new ideas, but this will at the same time impose more pressures and demands on the director. In addition to this, the director may on many occasions have to face this feeling that his vision of the play is drifting away or even dissolving, and it is such weaknesses and lack of self-confidence that the director has to act against immediately, otherwise the entire work might collapse in the end.
Once the play is to be performed in front of the audience, the director is the one who stands the public trial. The audience constitutes both the general public and the critics, as well as other directors. The director has to be ready to receive all types of comments on his work, sometimes from people who have never seen how directors really work, but who still think that they have a point to make. Although the director’s contract with the producer will have come to an end, his involvement with the play is never so. The director may not only have to defend his play in the media and newspapers, but he may also have to prove his point of view. He also has to be ready to receive possible severe criticism of his work, particularly if he has worked on an controversial issue. More importantly, he must respect the points of view that differ from his, and if he can, show those who oppose him how this work of his reflects a certain vision. Interestingly though, the director might find out new dimensions, discover new realities, and become acquainted with new facts and dimensions of his play of which he was not aware.
The Director as an Artist
Directors as symbols of power and authority often attract a lot of attention. Many young people seek to become directors, not only because of the lure of authority, but also because directing is a function that involves a high engagement of artistic talents, capabilities and performances. The director, regardless of his image as a personification of authority, is in fact an artist. He is an artist because he has vision, and this vision is all what directing is about. A director is an artist because he tries to show the audience something that they may know or that they may not know, through a perspective that only an artist can create. Blending art and management, the perfect and successful director is made. Some directors make a lot of money, but most directors spend their lives striving with financial hardships. Some directors are famous, but most directors are doomed to remain in the dark, except for some intermittent occasions. Hence, it is not the lure of money or the lights of success that attract thousands of people all over the world to study directing and to seek to become directors, nor is it the authority that the director enjoys in his job, particularly given the massive stress and difficulties that he has to handle. Rather, it is the desire of those people to say something to the world, even at the risk of revealing themselves to those who will scrutinize their work. Whatever their objectives, these people are investing in their capacity to provide the audiences with a theme, an idea or a dream. In almost every industry, the leader or the manager has been called boss, but in the world of theater, the director who is the boss is never seen as that. He simply is the creator.
Cohen, Robert. Theater: Brief Version. London: Mayfield Publishing
Kirstein, Michael. Directing: The Art and the Artist. Second edition. Boston:
Focal Press, 1997.
Walter, Ernest. The Art of Directing . Boston: Focal Press, 1982.