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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


These entries take too long to complete. I feel like Dorothy Parker; they say it would take her hours to write a single postcard, after which she would have to retire to her room to nap out of sheer exhaustion from the effort, such was her excruciating labor over every single word.

This would be more of a comfort to me, if I thought anything I have read by Dorothy Parker was any good. Maybe her postcards were better.

Anyway, I was working on a play that went up in early March, just a little one-act by a friend, and these are my post-mortem thoughts. Nearly two and a half weeks after the fact.

A friend asked me, after one performance, if I was pleased with the result - or did he say proud? In any case my reaction was mixed.

"I'm happy..." I started tentatively, "... with the way it turned out. I think it's solid, and a good realization of the play Joe wrote. As for my satisfaction with my own role in the show? I'm still undecided."

Since I'm what my best friend (and colleague and roommate) calls a product-artist, rather than a process-artist - and I do believe the world is divided between the two - I'm happy. The result is good. Good.

BUT... that doesn't mean I can't consider the process, does it? It doesn't mean I can't and don't still evaluate.

On the first day of rehearsal, I opened with a series of exercises designed to, as I put it, "get the actors into their bodies." This was the same tactic I used with the last short piece I directed - because what else am I going to do with a month of rehearsal time for a 15 minute piece? Let's go wild, I figure. Let's to all kinds of crazy stuff and see where it leads.

Last time around, my experiments were met with enthusiasm. But this time? Extreme resistance. After a few minutes, 50% of my cast (that is, one of the actors) was firmly seated in his chair. Listening, but clearly with no intention of participating.

Part of me was baffled. When a director tells you to try something, you try. Don't you? You don't have to like it, you're welcome to say it's not working for you, but you at least try it. Don't you? But another part of me kept gnawing away at me, muttering something along the lines of: Call him difficult, unprofessional, whatever you like, but this exercise was bullshit. You know it, I know it, they know it. Everyone in this room knows it, and he was just the only one who had the stones to call you on it.

Which is, of course, true. The exercise wasn't working. It was unnecessary, unhelpful and a little juvenile. And this particular, outspoken actor was making it clear to me that he had no interest in exploration, exercises, experiments, or anything else that wasn't strictly tied to the text. So, I tried to be flexible and responsive to my actors' needs, and switched gears. The rest of the rehearsal process was more or less smooth, if not somewhat marked by this rocky start.

Okay, let's summarize: more or less smooth rehearsal process, solid end result. So what, exactly, are my panties in such a bunch about anyway?

I think I'm a little frustrated with the simple fact that my initial rehearsal plan failed so spectacularly, and somewhat troubled that the actual rehearsal process was so straightforward. We moved from the beginning of the script to the end; I told them where to stand, and along the way suggested interpretations of the text that were perhaps different then their initial instincts. Then we ran it several times, and at the end of each run I told them ways I thought their performance could have been better, and they wrote down my ideas in their notebooks, and tried their best to apply them in the next run.

Simple. Straightforward. And then end result was pleasing. The lesson here is probably obvious. I'm making things way too complicated. I don't really need to do much at all, so much as let others do, and observe and comment. Probably.

That's probably my problem: too much ego. I'm caught up in the idea that I need to create something - I need to feel personally responsible for the work onstage. But it's not about me, or my need for creative pride or validation. It's not about being able to put my name on something. It's about the work. So, what I need to do is step back, and for God's sake, let the actors do the work they came to do. Just be there to nudge them in the right direction.

The thing is, though, there's no room for inspiration or innovation in this equation, at least not in a collaborative sense. I'm perfectly capable of analyzing a play in the privacy of my own room, of hearing the rhythm and flow of it, and of coaching actors to perform it the way I see it in my head. But. I want more than that. It would be easy for me to come into a piece with a specific vision and ask the actors and creative team to realize that vision but I'd rather the vision somehow arise organically from the group. Maybe I'm being naively idealistic, but I have seen what happens when a director pushes blindly forward with a pre-determined idea of what the play should look like, without paying attention to what is actually going on in the room. It has happened at great cost, in my experience, to the piece.

In this light, then, I think all my experiments, even the failed ones, are important and worthwhile, if they move us to new, unexpected places. I think everyone - actors, designers, myself - we all come into the room with an idea of what we want to see or create and I want to push past that. I want to see how much louder, richer, deeper we can get. I want to push us to places wholly unforeseen and see if there's anything there we can use. I want to get wild, radical - and if there are a few missteps in the process , well - how could there not be?

But I'm probably just making things too complicated.

I have a new show now (a one-man, autobiographic piece, which is a form so foreign to me the thought alone sort of gives me heart palpitations) and I'm going to bring into it this lesson of simplification. Remove the ego. We'll see what happens.

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