Claire Patton

Physical Theater Mojo

What is a Director?

Posted on Apr 30, 2013

DirectorSomeone asked me recently what a director is. That is a good question, one that merits delving into a bit. Now, there are as many theories on and approaches to directing as there are directors. Someone once told me a director is an advocate for the audience. Sounds good, right? Another time a real live director told me his job was to move actors around the stage like furniture. Seriously. I would like to humbly offer my opinion on this subject and simultaneously warn you to beware people claiming to humbly offer their opinions on anything. If you really were that humble you wouldn’t offer your opinion in the first place.

So when this person asked me what a director is I said many things, which I assume sounded pretty good but know were false. The truth is the process of devising and directing a show is messy and there isn’t any way to adequately prepare for it. There. I said it. It’s out there with millions of other pieces of data on the internet and it cannot be taken back. Here are some thoughts, though:

  • An ideal director will be easily bored. If you feel numb watching the show you directed then that means the audience will too. If the director is aware enough to catch her/him/itself (I add “it” just in case robots take over the arts) when it gets bored watching its show, then it can avoid boring the show’s audience by adjusting the boring elements. I don’t know about any of you, but I doubt any concept I could come up with for a show would ever revolve around intentionally putting audience members to sleep.
  • A director must love stories more than her/him/itself (dang robots again). We have to be able to set our gargantuan egos aside every once in a while, acknowledge that the phenomenal idea we have doesn’t work, and put the story first. Sometimes it is not about your “grand vision.” We are storytellers. Always. We can slap a Gucci dress on what we do, gussy it up, and take it out for a five star dinner, but at the end of the day we tell stories for a living. Period.
  • A director must use what he/she/it has. In a very practical sense you have a budget and you need to stick to it. You may have to make compromises. On another level, use what you have in terms of humans. Play to their strengths. Collaborate with them; use what they have to give you. Trust the process. Yes, sometimes a director must push the actors. But guide them, don’t march them into a massacre like some kind of Spartan general (they’re the toughest, you know). There is nothing worse than watching a play in which the actors are painfully aware it just isn’t working.

For me it comes down to this: a director is servant to the story. A director must see what story is being told, really. Then the director must protect that story, follow it, help it grow, defend it from boring theater wielding robots who really just want to be loved. Ultimately the director has to love the story, listening to that tiny voice in the back of her/his/its head that says, “Hey, this story just might change the world one day.”