This week Fiona Lindsay examines the complicated craft of theatre directing and reflects on it's status in the industry…
The dark enclosure of a theatre auditorium has always put me at ease. I’ve spent hours and hours in its blackness watching many productions’ journey through the final stages of rehearsal, embrace the required technical processes and transform into shows. There is a wonderful calming quiet that envelopes the emptiness before the business begins and a brilliant demonstration of teamwork at its best when it’s filled with activity. It’s never dull.
A few months ago when I was chatting with theatre director Yaël Farber about her production of The Crucible she quoted Peter Brook and said: “a stage is a space where anything can happen and something must.” That’s such an exciting prospect isn’t it?
Making theatre is exciting but it’s hard work too and being a theatre director is a proper job. Not proper in the sense of those who do it are properly respected, properly paid, properly nurtured and properly rewarded. Proper in the sense that it takes years of determination, application and learning and those who do it have to display a curious blend of bloody-minded optimism, entrepreneurial flair, and creative and emotional intelligence. The hours are long, the space between jobs longer (sometimes) and it doesn’t come with a built-in pension plan.
So what’s the job description? When Yaël and I chatted - in that same conversation - she also said that she thought “actors were Samurais of the spirit”. Does this make theatre directors Shoguns? (Excuse this extremely bad yet subtle pun.)
The theatre directing landscape is constantly changing but what remains the same is that it’s a complicated craft that you can’t learn without doing it. Getting to do it can be a painful business as no one will hire you unless you’ve demonstrated a proven aptitude for it. And you can’t do it on your own: needing a play, actors and most usually a theatre. Those theatre directors that believe they’ve the largest slice of control, vision and authority won’t last the course, as central to the role is the ability to collaborate. So it’s no guns to Shoguns.
Theatre directors are innovators and interpreters with the best of them having the ability to shine radical new insight onto classic text whilst releasing the energy of the actors. And then there are some that are regarded as interventionists that impose distinctive ideas upon the text to push boundaries of meaning. Whatever the descriptor it’s the quality of the result that is judged.
It can take years for a director to feel that they are getting anywhere and Yaël describes this as “always within reach but never quite lands”. It’s an apprenticeship by attrition and the key is to keep on learning and pushing at the doors.
Judging by the seamless creative fusion in The Crucible Yaël Farber has fully qualified and found the key.