Tag Archive: directors


I’ve written too much for the introduction to the January play. The three pages, including quotes, are confusing. Should I knock it down to one? Forget the quotes completely? Just go into the play and assume the audience will figure it out?

But I now like giving the whole play a situation to work within. It gives the play an anchor, in a way. Originally written for high school students, the play had a built-in anchor – “We want you to understand the Sonnets because it’s part of your curriculum.” But, now, people are just walking in off the street, so to speak, and have no assumed context for this play. That it is a series of scenes means that it has no story to tell from beginning to end – it’s just a bunch of potentially unrelated stories. So the intro provides a way for the scenes to connect. A reason for them to exist.

What about the dance at the end? It is traditional. Plus, I want to do it. I’ve almost always added dance to my plays. But will it be confusing to the audience? Or will it provide the energetic and emotional “boost” that I hope it will. Right now, I imagine that the actors will wear contemporary dress, so their dancing will be in jeans, Dockers,  sneakers and boots. The women will probably not be wearing dresses, although dresses would look better for dancing. So how will it all look? I think the ending dance is a great way for each actor to take a bow, but will the audience go for it?

The vision I have in my head is clear, although some of my ideas are stronger than others. Each scene must tell a compelling story. As an audience, we must be engaged with the characters. The part of Shakespeare , the character called “Bard” whose job it is to recite the sonnet during each scene,  is to be shared by all – it’s too big a part for any one person. I would love to have the sonnets recited by actors with different accents. Any way we can blend the contemporary and the “Renaissance-ian” using props, costume pieces, and/or the set, is peachy by me.  In the closing, it would be fun if we could bring the stage hands (if there are any) into the curtain call/dance.

I won’t have time to do all 16 scenes, so I will have to eliminate at least six, possibly seven scenes, depending on how much time the intro ends up taking. I only have 60 minutes, including set up and take down, for the entire play. I also have to have a minimum number of scenes – I can;t go out there with a 25 minute play – and I’m not a writer so I can’t write filler. Scene changes will only take so long, and I can’t have a troubadour come in, singing songs,  to eat up time!

I’m preparing this for a competition. I’m in it to win it.

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I’m directing a one-act of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  It consists of 16 sonnets, with accompanying scenes which show how the sonnets relate to real-life situations. At the reading I had a few weeks ago, the feedback was generally very positive, which I found affirming and encouraging.

However, one suggestion I received was that there be an introduction in order to explain to an audience which may not be familiar with Shakespeare, what was going to be going on. My reaction was that this was not necessary because:

  1. You don’t need to give an introduction to a play, you just do the play
  2. The audience would be pretty familiar with Shakespeare
  3. I didn’t have an introduction to do and I’m not a writer (clearly)

But I’ve given it more thought and the fact is that most people are not familiar with Shakespeare. Many have only learned that Shakespeare is irrelevant and indecipherable. They know from the outset that they won’t “get it” so they don’t put themselves through the misery of trying to understand – it’s so much easier to watch a sit-com on TV.

This one-act is for a competition but it’s also for a general audience. And, although the judges will be familiar with Shakespeare, the general audience will not. Most will especially be unfamilar with the sonnets. So, if I can create an atmosphere where the general audience will be more comfortable, I will be serving them well, although perhaps diminishing my chances with the judges by suggesting that the judges are dumber than they actually are.

I want to hit on three aspects of discomfort that, IMHO,  general audiences have with Shakespeare and with the sonnets specifically.

  1. Shakespeare wrote in unintelligible language that no one, not even the British, understand anymore.
  2. What was taught  in school about Shakespeare absolutely killed any interest there might have been.
  3. Poetry is for wimps and is almost as unintelligible as Shakespeare’s language. Put them together and you have a recipe for disaster.

So I must address these three strikes against enjoying the play I will present. I must face them and diffuse them.

It’s as if you are in a crowd listening to a stand-up comedian playing to a home town audience. All around you , you see people breaking down in laughter and you just don’t get what is so funny. Because the jokes are part of a different culture, you are at a loss. However, with a little information and encouragement you can become part of the audience enjoying the show.

I believe it is the same with Shakespeare. Shakespeare was the most popular playwright of his time. His audiences, even those dumb, uneducated “groundlings” who couldn’t afford a seat and paid to stand for the entire performance, got his jokes, felt his pain, understood the yearning, hopes and thoughts of his characters. We are not dumber than those groundlings, we’re just part of a different culture. With a little information and encouragement, we can be part of that  audience of 400 years ago and enjoy the same show.

My introduction will try to bridge the 400 year old gap, simply, in one minute or less, and will pick up the general audience which will be viewing my production. I will be like  Alice stepping through the looking-glass and holding out a hand to the viewer to come along. I will inform and encourage and will bring them to my side of the mirror. However, unlike Alice, I don’t have any absuridty to reveal, but the universal reality that travels through time and hits the mark in today’s world.

It’s a tall order and is going to take some thought. It’s probably grossly unrealistic. But I believe that Shakespeare well done is plain ol’ good theater and can grab the contemporary audience, if the audience can be convinced to relax, to not be afraid, and to let themselves be open for the experience.

 

 

Continuing from the earlier discussion of how to select a play, let me start with:

6. Royalties and Scripts

The play publisher will provide information on how much it costs to “rent” the right to do the play. That is, the royalty. This information is available in the print catalog and on-line. Often, the amount is based on the size of the house – how many people you can potentially pull in to see your show per performance. Sometimes you can simply count seats, sometimes you have to give a rough estimate. It is not based on how many people actually see the show per performance.

The publisher may also want to know how many performances you plan and how much you will charge for tickets. Sometimes, the royalty is more for the first performance and less for subsequent performances.

You must pay your royalties before you perform your play. No exceptions.

You must purchase a script for everyone who needs one. That not only includes the cast, but also the director, the stage manager, and the technical crew chiefs.

Musicals are very different.

7.  Timing and Season

By season, I don’t mean summer, winter, spring and fall. I mean the time in the theatrical season when you are doing the play.

Traditionally, the fall is the start of the season. This is when you get new actors, new audience members, and a fresh start.

In schools, drama clubs present a play in the fall with a slightly smaller cast that includes a core of experienced actors from the previous school year. The show is designed to interest the student body (and faculty) with the drama club activities and, of course, with theater in general. In community theater, the opening show will often set up the  “theme” for the coming season.

Winter is the time for holiday audiences. Be sensitive to religious issues. Be aware of how fall holidays will affect your rehearsal schedule and plan accordingly. Some theaters do a musical and skirt the religious dilemma of a Christmas/holiday play altogether. The theater I’m currently associated with is doing the musical “Cinderella” both before and after the holiday break. Brilliant!

Very often, theater companies will finish the season (usually in the spring) with a musical.

Summer theater, including theater camps, usually do a musical or Shakespeare. You can find many adaptations of both.

8. Your Team

You need to be realistic about what resources you have to work with. By resources, I mean human resources. The more experienced a team you work with, the more complex a show you can perform.  If you don’t have an experienced set builder, please think twice about doing a play that calls for three sets, indoor and outdoor (interior and exterior), with a second story kitchen that needs running water. If you don’t have access to costumes, re-consider doing a “period piece’ (a play set in a specific time period that needs specific wardrobe and sets). If you are the only one who is  interested in and has the necessary skills to put costumes together, build the set, and/or play the music, please  rethink your play. You simply cannot do it all.

But do not despair. Many, many fine plays are simple, one set, contemporary costume plays which will delight your audience and take you and your team to unimaginable heights of skill and creativity. Save your challenges for the story.

Actors of all abilities and experience will audition (no, ability and experience do not necessarily go hand in hand). Be prepared for some to rise to the occasion, and some to disappoint. It happens. My experience is that more women audition than men. Good singers and good dancers are rare. People who can do both well are very rare! Everyone can memorize lines but not everyone has the time or inclination to work as needed on memorizing.

On the other hand, do not hesitate to challenge yourself and your team. Theater is the finest example of the impossible being made possible. The challenges will allow everyone to increase both their skill level and their knowledge and will allow you to benefit in the future by being able to do more complex plays.

Always encourage your actors to work backstage, and your backstage crew to audition.

9.  Past Experience – You, Your Team, Your Audience

If you are working in an active theater group for which you have established actors and crew, and the audience has stuck with the theater for years, you will have a relatively easy time of it. You must keep the challenges of bringing something new to the table, but your team will be able to stretch as needed – they know what they are doing.

But what if you are new, they are new, you’re starting from scratch? If you’ve picked the right play (following my suggestions, of course) and find something that you find interesting, you will probably have a good experience.

Choose a play that your new audience will find gratifying and will enjoy. Usually, for first time theater-goers, that means a comedy or a musical. If you can choose something they have read in school or have seen in television/in the movies, they will be at ease with the story and can focus, subconsciously, on the experience of live theater. You want to make them as comfortable as possible, at least for this first time out.

Same goes for your new actors. Try to find characters that are close to people they may know – never, ever, cast a 13-year-old as a Grandfather. You don’t want to become just another example of the ” gray-hair-spray-and-wrinkle-make-up” cliché.  Seriously.

10.  Potential

Take the long view of your theater experience. Whether you will do your next show in a month, six months, or a year, you will be excited by the experience and people will be expecting you to come up with something even better the next time. Decide whether you are ready for a drama, a musical, a mystery. Perhaps you want to focus on classics – those plays that people talk about (The Crucible, The Diary of Anne Frank, Death of a Salesman, etc) but most people have never seen. Perhaps there is an author whom you really enjoy – Neil Simon, William Shakespeare, Stephen Sondheim – and focus on his (or her) works. Perhaps you want to focus on adaptations of well-known stories (The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Robin Hood). Go online and find out what is popular among theaters of your caliber and do what they do! Why not? Pretty soon you’ll be heading out on your own, anyway.

There are many factors to consider as you  decide on a play to produce. You have to go with your gut feeling – your head and heart have to be in sync. You will always be taking a risk and you cannot predict how the show will be on opening night. Doing theater is a wonderful, desireable endeavor that is truly necessary for the human experience. People will enjoy it, and some people really need that creative outlet.

As a new producer/director or theater, or as just a friend of theater, one of the first questions you may have is “How do you find a play to do?”

It’s not as difficult as it sounds – in fact, there are more plays out there, waiting to be performed, than any person could possibly do in a lifetime. There are millions of people who have written plays – some great, some terrible – who would love to have you read, admire, and produce their creation.

The easiest way to find a play is to get a catalog of plays. There are many companies who do just that. These publishing companies acquire the rights to publish and handle the work of playwrights. They put these plays together in catalogues and hope that someone like you will be intrigued enough by the write-up in the catalog to want to purchase and read the play.

These companies are in business to get plays read and produced. That is how they make their money. Therefore, they are very helpful and accommodating to your needs. They have on-line resources that are designed to make it easy for you to find many, many plays that suit your needs and interests.

You can find classics, musicals, dramas, comedies, mysteries, plays for youth, plays for older actors. You can find Christmas plays, Halloween plays, Valentine’s Day plays, You can find plays for elementary school, junior high school, high school, college and community theater. You can find plays for one person, two people, thirty or more, and everything in between. You can find plays by authors that everyone has heard of. You can find plays by authors whom no one has heard of. You can find “full-length” plays, one-act plays, and ten-minute plays. You can find plays for women, men, gay, Asian, African-American, Jewish, Latino actors, and any combination thereof.

If there is a play that you have heard of or seen (stage play- movies and television are a whole different ballgame) and you want to read it, you can do it. Some may be easier to find than others, but it can be done. The cost of buying a “perusal” copy is usually low enough that most theater professionals have hundreds, if not thousands of copies of plays that they have purchased. Perusal copies allow a person to decide if they like the play enough that they want to produce it. The situation is a little different for musicals but the general idea is the same. Of course, many plays, particularly those considered “classics” are available in libraries and on-line. Many are also available in collections.

The editions of plays that script publishing companies sell are usually acting editions. Acting editions are not the large, pretty, glossy scripts that you find in a bookstore. They are usually small enough to fit, folded, in a jeans back pocket, where they will often be found during rehearsal. They are printed on relatively coarse paper and are meant to be written in (pencil only, please) and can take many erasures (I told you to use pencil) because the actor, hopefully, writes their notes in this script. The more well-known the playwright (Christopher Durang, for example) or the more successful the play (Tony Award winning, for example) the glossier the edition.

Some plays are only available in manuscript form – that is, printed out on sheets of regular paper. If you download scripts off the internet, of course that will be the form you will print out.

It is never, ever, a good idea to make a copy of a play. The simple reason is that writers depend on you buying their creations in order to make a living. If you just copy their stuff, they never see a penny and go broke. Enough said, don’t make copies.

So, if you are looking for a play, have no fear. You will not have any problem finding one. Your problem will be in choosing among the hundreds that will interest and intrigue you.

The Sonnets are a Go!!

The reading of the sonnets was a hit.

I was worried that my choice/support of this one-act of Shakespeare’s Sonnets was a mistake. I’ve always admired those producers and directors who can read a play and find something deep and satisfying in what I read as weird and not likeable. When I sit down to read a play I need a plot, a story that goes from point A to point B in a pretty clear, although imaginative and unpredictable, line. I get restless with a plotless play which only focuses on character, issues or theme without a good story.

In other words, I don’t think I have good judgement when deciding what play to direct.

So I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to hear the reaction of the readers who came out and volunteered to bring the voices in my head to life. I was especially pleased to hear how easily the sonnets flowed from the tongues of these normal people, many never having seen these poems before. There were some experienced actors and some who had never read a play before, some whose resume reads like an index of classic community theater offerings, and some who had never even been in the high school drama club.  Yet the sonnets came through to make each reader comfortable and able to give a reading which  seemed logical and refreshing.

I had explained at the beginning of the evening that we were reading these scenes to decide whether they needed to be ‘adultified” and, if so, how. For the most part, the scenes read very well just the way they were. Switching age groups and genders and changing a reference to “the prom” here and there seems to be all that will be needed. The readers gave insightful, honest feedback on what they thought of each scene as audience and as actor.

Nevertheless, there is a challenge. I don’t know who will audition. And it has nothing to do with acting ability – I’ve directed volunteers with different levels of ability. It has to do with age. If I get all high schoolers, it will be difficult to cast the scenes which call for middle-aged or older characters. And if I get all middle-agers, there go the scenes about the Prom!

I have to pare the evening to under an hour and will have to pick and choose which scenes to perform because I don’t think I will have time to do all 16 scenes (sonnets) in the play. But if the evening comes too much under an hour, I may have to do some scenes which I was not particularly fond of and didn’t do at the reading, in order to fill up the time. I also have to take into account costume changes, which will have to happen quickly because the scenes are short, some only two or three pages long.

One of the readers suggested that there be some kind of introduction to the play in order to get the audience on the right wavelength for what is to come. Although the play isn’t written with one, there may be a need. And, if I can do it organically enough, so that it becomes a natural bridge between the real world the audience is in and the world we are developing on stage, it might be creatively interesting and useful. Of course, a theater audience is, by their very nature, already halfway in the play’s reality or else they wouldn’t be there!

I still like my costume idea, but I don’t know if it is doable. The set design will, of course, be simple. And the idea of closing with a dance is so Shakespearean that I really want to do it. It may be a surprise for the audience and a fun way to top off the show.

Most of all, I am worried about casting. I expect to cast everyone who auditions  – there are enough parts. But who will get what part, who will read the Bard, when will costume changes occur, and especially, which scenes will actually be done – those are decisions which will have to happen quickly after auditions.

Add to this the fact that auditions will occur just before the December holidays since the show goes up in January and the scheduling alone give me the shakes – how to do so much with so many in so short a time!!

After casting, of course, I will begin my grand task of directing the scenes AND directing the readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Hopefully the production team will be on board before then.

I guess it is time to “Brush Up on Shakespeare.”

I’m preparing to direct a one-act play involving Shakespeare’s sonnets. I have so much preparation to do, it isn’t funny. Fortunately, I am very enthusiastic about it.

This particular play is written for high school students and is designed to help them understand and relate to Shakespeare’s sonnets. However, the language is stilted and unrealistic for a theatrically knowledgeable audience. I have to “adultify” it and I think that will be a huge challenge. I will use the actors to improv their own language to up the situations a bit. But the scenes are so short – 2 – 5 pages max – that there isn’t much time to get up to speed. Each scene has to start out with a bang.

Plus, the theater I’m working with has a great reputation with Shakespeare!! If I had known that, I would have chosen something else to start out with. But, I found this play  . . . charming . . . in it’s own high school way. Perhaps predictable, but that was part of the challenge I sensed when I first selected it.

Now, however, I’m not sure I’m up to the task. I want it to be great yet I’m thinking that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

I’ve learned quite a bit about the Sonnets just by doing research on-line. I know, however, that the actors, all volunteers, will have questions about interpretation, “what does that mean,” etc. Much of that will be their “job” to find out. They can look it up on-line as easily as I can.  However, I have to have a strong enough handle on the works to be able to guide them if they go off track or get really stuck. Plus, I have to know the direction I want the scene to go in – that’s what a director does!!  There are many on-line sites out there where information is available and I could get lost in them for a long time. But I also want to put my own personal stamp on the production. Provide something new and interesting. Or else, what’s the point??

Most importantly, I have to make it “theatrical.” Shakespeare brings so much simply through his wonderful writing and is so easy to get into – if done well. I must bring out the drama, the passion, the fun, the enjoyment and delight which grabbed me and, I hope, grabs an audience and keeps them focused on the action –  on what is going on on-stage. I plan to bring in music and dance. Music is a wonderful “short cut” for many emotions. Who knew that this would be old hat for this theater – I thought I was being musically innovative.

Perhaps this all  just means that I am a good fit for this place. I can only keep my fingers crossed and work hard.