Power: Onstage and Offstage

Our directors lab last month was led by Derrick Sanders.  Derrick has had such amazing experiences ans a director; working with August Wilson, artistic director of a theater company; directing for any number of great theater in Chicago, NY and elsewhere.

All I wanted to do was ask him questions.  How do you maintain power as a director?  How do you run your rehearsal room?  Where do you find your inspiration?  What is your process before a show begins?  Is it the same every time?

Derrick was gracious enough to answer all of our questions no matter how seemingly pedestrian.

Am I exposing myself here?

I guess I am.

As a new director I was intimidated. I have very little experience and the craft is still unfolding in front of me every time we meet.  I don’t feel like I have a solid process.  I get really anxious about having to have all the answers.


I don’t have to have all the answers and being willing to admit not knowing is a powerful thing.  I know that.  In my mind.

But not my heart.

Does that make sense?

It sounds cheesy and cliche but as a director I want to be able to help guide my actors, designers, crew to express clearly the message the playwright has laid out for us.

Do professional directors  feel power within themselves because they trust the process or their research?

Is finding that power a matter of practice and doing it over and over and falling on your face?

The prospect of falling on my face with so many people counting on me is…unnerving.

Do directors feel terrified every time they work but have become so good at managing the personalities in the room they are able to muscle through?

Lots of questions in this blog huh.

For the next part of the lab Derrick began to tackle composition.

My tension starts to rise.

I had been reading out our textbook “Play Directing: Analysis, Communication and Style” by Francis Hodge.  It makes it all seem so complicated and formulaic. I am not formulaic by nature.

Tension building.

Do directors really have all of this going on in their mind at any given time when they are working on a scene?  Points of power and planes and 120 degree angles and the like.

I mention this to Derrick.

He responds that it’s good information to have and know and that different directors use that information in different ways.


Good response.

Tension still rising.

Now having some distance from our lab and preparing to enter into another process there are a lot of things swimming in my mind.  The most compelling of which is something  I have scoffed at when I’ve heard it mentioned in the past.

My husband talks about needing SPACE.  That to be creative requires lots of SPACE and TIME.  And I’m all – who has space and time?  I have a career and a business to run and two kids I don’t have time to create space.

It’s interesting to me now to try to carve out time to be inspired.  Time to find images.  To shift my perspective from panic to pleasure.

Derrick said that he has pictures he took on his iphone, of people he saw on the street who resembled characters in a play he is working on.

How fun is that?

The director of our next month’s lab talked about how she listens to lots of music to get inspired and watches lots of  movies.

Also fun.

Tension decreasing.

So I’m off to fill my ipod and carry around my Flip and will try to keep reminding myself to make it fun and find inspiration in the tiny spaces I have in my life.

Did I also mention I got rid of cable?  Thought that might open up some time since I won’t be watching Supernanny til midnight.

And am giving up drinking until June when my next project opens.  I’ll keep you posted on how that one is going.

Comments, smart remarks and inspiration are welcome.


2 thoughts on “Power: Onstage and Offstage

  1. Dana, don’t feel bad. Be stressed if that’s where you’re at, but don’t feel inadequate in any way. I directed for Teatro Luna for 10 years and I never had the a process, and there was never any time or space to have those AH-HA moments of inspiration. Yes, I must have had a process right? Since the stuff got done, and well. Those little AH-HA moments used to come in a panic, in between a busy life, just like you’re describing. But they did come. Perhaps they could come easier, given the ideal conditions including plenty of time and space, but even if you don’t have them in the format you are describing, the inspiration will find its way through. (You might have an ulcer at the end of it all, but it’ll come.)

    I do have to agree that images and music are important, though. I keep that kind of stuff in my head rattling in there, all the time. As a director AND a writer. For Lunatic(a)s I really wanted to round off what I call “The Girl Series” with a song called “Proper Latin Girl.” I knew I wanted that content, but I hadn’t figured out the style or aesthetic yet. The idea clicked when I was watching a Yaz commercial. I was like, “That’s it! We’ll have the girls be in a pool, like those synchronized swimmers from the 50’s!”

    Ok, TL doesn’t have the budget for a pool, plus the pool wasn’t what it was about. I mean, what I liked about that aesthetic was the: the synchronicity, the plastered smiles, and the uber-lady like behavior as dictated by society.

    Ok, so if not a pool, what then? FANS! Yes. It will be abanicos/fans. So for the longest time, I carried the notion of handheld fans, in my head for this piece. When I described it to composer Tamara Roberts, I would sing the Yaz commercial and talk about fans. “Like a cross between Flower Drum song and …ah, Streets of Madrid and…ah, but kitschy.” (Tamara always gets me, even when she doesn’t)
    And so I wrote the lyrics, thinking about fans.
    I pitched it to the cast, thinking about fans.
    And while I was thinking about fans, thinking of that symbol as an instrument of delivery– as the ultimate object that signified “propriety” (in the most stereotypical terms, of course) then…

    A PARASOL popped in my head. As I was driving to a meeting. (see, you make your little pockets of time and space). Right away I asked for help researching parasoles. (Would they be expensive?, would they break? etc. In the meantime, we rehearsed with umbrellas, which was a hot mess, but it gave us an idea.)

    And so “Parasoles” it was. And the idea happened by accident in those little spurts of Time and Space.

    Dana, you can do it, girl.

  2. Dana, I have always admired your work/life balance approach and I think these thoughts and feelings make you all the more human.

    I feel very confident in my directing ability and perhaps I am too confident, but I have learned that my “process” is constantly evolving. The majority of us come from acting backgrounds and I think this sometimes gets in the way, although I tend to think it helps more often than not.

    Do you remember what we felt like when we decided to major in theatre or when we first arrived in the city? Remember the early TL shows that revolved around the business and the fights about whether Jennifer Lopez was a good role model or if her ass was too large? (I will always hold these memories in a special place in my heart).

    We have grown up and moved on to new worries, which we will laugh about in the next decade when something more profound fills our lives.

    For the younger ladies, I think we can all say we are truly inspired by your aggressiveness and willingness to want to direct. Ten years ago, we were mostly all about acting and now we have women wanting to do it all!

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