The stage director's role is one of the most recent additions to the central team of interpretive artists who bring a play to life. The director's job as described here has existed for just over a hundred years.
The director's goals are to provide the central interpretation of a playwright's text and to coordinate or unify all other artists' work.
A director's interpretation of a text can also have one of two goals: he may choose to create an interpretation that is as faithful as possible to a playwright's intention, or he may choose to bring his own vision, usually inspired by a writer's text, to the stage. In the first case, which we can call editorial directing, a director looks to the text to determine all questions of performance style, thematic emphasis, visual style, and character definition. Such a director seeks essentially to make his own work invisible, much like an editor works with a novelist before it is published. In the second case, which we can term creative directing, the director functions somewhat like the playwright: she is also a primary artist and might extensively revise or cut a playwright's text. Communicating her interpretation of the text to the audience is her primary goal. This is often seen with classic plays, like Shakespeare's, which have been produced many, many times. Sometimes a theatre company creates a performance piece without a playwright at all, leaving the director to fulfill the usual playwright's function of structuring the performance piece. Even when the most editorial of directors intends to faithfully produce a writer's intentions on the stage, a director makes many interpretive decisions based on the director's aesthetic sensibility and experience, the styles and expertise of the other collaborative artists, and the specific audience for which the play will be produced. After all, the most historically accurate production possible of, for example, a Shakespeare play can never reproduce the original audience with its expectations, experiences, and world view.
The director's interpretation is often called a production concept. The production concept is an analysis of the text that determines how it will be brought to life: the director will emphasize certain thematic material, interpret major characters and relationships, determine a basic visual and sound environment, and select a performance style with his production concept. The director who is working with an existing text will develop his production concept before the first production meeting with other visual and aural artists and before casting actors. If the actors and designers will be helping to create the text, then he may finalize a full production concept later in the production process.
The director fulfills her second goal by communicating the production concept to the other artists and then using her concept in directing and approving the other artists' work. The production concept is presented to designers, who will create the play's visual and aural environment, at the first production meeting, and is usually communicated at least in part to actors at an early rehearsal. Some directors work more collaboratively than others; a more collaborative director may involve designers and actors in determining a final production concept. However, the director must define a production concept because other artists need it in developing their own artistic goals for the production. The production concept defines the artistic limits, or sets the rules of the fictional world, for a given production; when all artists work within the production concept defined by the director, the production will have a unified or coherent effect for the audience. If a certain designer's or actor's work does not fit within the director's concept, then it will not cohere with the work of the other artists. If such a problem arises, it is the director's job to work with the artist to alter her interpretation until the entire production gains coherence.
A director's tools are the text and the other artists. The director is unique among the theatrical artists in that her work will be seen only indirectly on the stage. The director's interpretation of the text will be embodied by actors translated into sights and sounds and movement by the designers. The coordination of actors' and designers' work is vital to a fresh and clear theatrical interpretation, but all of the choices made by the director throughout the production process will be literally carried out by other artists, not the director.
In creating a production concept, the director uses several intellectual and practical tools: literary and theatrical text analysis, knowledge of the theatre space, knowledge of designers' styles, perhaps knowledge of actors' strengths, knowledge about the intended audience, as well as his own broad experience of performance styles. Many of these tools can only be gathered through practical experience.
In carrying out the production concept, the director uses essentially the same tools. However, in the production process, a director who also has practical skills in costuming, set construction, lighting, sound, and acting will find this knowldege useful in making decisions about how to coordinate all of these elements. Therefore, the director must have some experience in all areas of theatrical production. The director spends the majority of his time working with actors in rehearsal, therefore extensive experience as an actor or working with actors is essential. The director must be able to communicate ideas about the text in terms that the actor can translate into stage action and thus communicate to the audience.
Because of the essentially collaborative nature of the theatre and the fact that all of the director's work is mediated by other artists before it reaches an audience, a director requires a third, related set of tools. The director must possess management skills. Management skills include inspiration, clear communication, collaborative abilities, ensemble building, and organization.
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