This is the fourth in a series outlining a year in the process of directing Shakespeare. I’m using my recent production of Romeo + Juliet as a model
WEEK 43: READ-THROUGH AND TEXT WORK
The first week of rehearsals is spent around a giant table with all the actors and stage management team. After viewing the design concepts, we attempt to find the world of the play together – to seek common ground, and get everyone on the same page (no pun intended). No line will escape our analysis, and we study and discuss the text until we all understand every syllable.
WEEK 43 ½: UNREHEARSED RUN-THROUGH
A unique event at BW is our annual unrehearsed run-through. Shakespeare’s original company did not have the luxury of rehearsals (they would receive their entrances and exits, and perhaps some fight choreography), and since our actors are expected to show up off-book, we run the play after four days of text work. The results are always surprising, and they always get through the play. A stage manager is on-hand to prompt them if they need a line, and many moments from this run-through usually end up in the final production. It’s an extremely fun and stressful event for the students, and they all feel extremely proud and happy after it’s over.
WEEKS 44 & 45: BLOCKING & CHOREOGRAPHY
This is when we get the play on its feet. The two-person scenes are easy, especially when you have experienced and/or intuitive actors, but the group scenes are more akin to choreography. Sometimes they feature literal choreography, such as the famous ball scene from Romeo + Juliet. This scene was especially challenging, as we featured music from a composer. We had to find a delicate balance of focus between the dialogue, music and dance.
Benvolio. Strike Drum [Scene above goes right into the next…. Without out pause]
[music starts as soon as we hear “Strike Drum” perhaps a quick energetic entrance anthem no more than a few seconds to get everyone onstage]
begin Act I, Sc. v
They march about the Stage, and Servingmen come forth with their napkins.[?] Enter all the Guests and Gentlewomen to the Maskers.
Capulet. Welcome Gentlemen, [spoken as people enter and mingle]
We also had a professional fight director that choreographed the fight scenes. He and I worked closely with the actors to ensure that all safety protocols were followed and that the story was clear:
WEEKS 46-49: WORK THE PLAY
These few weeks are vital, as we attempt to deepen our understanding of the text, and present it an interesting and engaging manner. In education theatre we are constantly at odds with creating a pleasant process and a polished product. I establish a safe, nurturing environment where the students feel safe exploring and taking risks. This doesn’t always result in an optimal final product, but I always emphasize that the work is never complete. There is always more to learn about a role or a play, and in the professional world, the students will have the chance for a longer performance schedule in which they will constantly make new discoveries.
As a director, I have occasionally been told that I am too “hands-off” and that I give too much freedom to actors. As an actor myself, I take this note as a compliment. I have no interest in creating an actor’s role for them or doing their work. Some directors in the world of theatre are micro-managers, who act more like puppeteers that manipulate actors’ every move. I choose instead to work with actors and designers that feel their contributions are vital to the success of the play. Simply put, I let people do what they do best, and often, the most important thing I can do is to get out of their way. A director is somewhat akin to a conductor – and my responsibility lies in the unification of a large group of creative minds.