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.


‘The Event’, “All My Sons” and squirrels at this month’s Directors Lab

What is an event?

Something big?  Something life changing?  Sometimes.

It’s something that has an impact on your daily life.  To use the example from our lab you are walking your dog.  You see a squirrel stop ahead of you.  It looks odd. Frozen for too long.  It darts under a car. You glance under the car and see the squirrel having a seizure.  It looks pretty intense.  You watch for a moment.

And just like that.

The squirrel is dead.

It died right in front of you as you were watching.

Not hit by a car, no discernible reason just dead and stiff.  You move on with your day but you can’t quite seem to shake it.  You even get a little teary over it when  you think of that squirrel there in the street.  The image of the squirrel is with you as you head to work, sit at your computer and ride the train.

The next day you see another squirrel.

Approach it cautiously.

Could it happen again?  Are you somehow linked to the fate of squirrels everywhere?squirrel


It sees you and runs the other direction.  It’s just a normal squirrel that didn’t eat a poison plant or drink anti-freeze or anything like that.  But witnessing the final moments of the first squirrel was an event for you.

Plays are a series of events, some big and some small, that answer the dramatic question of the play.  As a director part of your job is to manage and focus those individual events.

Keira Fromm led us through this discussion and gave us tools/guidelines to discover the dramatic question of the play.

She used “Hamlet” as an example.  The dramatic question in “Hamlet”: Will Hamlet kill Claudius?   The ‘events’ in the play contribute to answering that question.

HamletHamlet finds Claudius praying in Act 3 and contemplates his death saying “Now might I do it!”.  This is one of the events that makes up the spine of the play.

What is the moment of the event?  By shifting a few lines forward or back how does that change the focus and energy of the scene.  Is the moment Hamlet discovers Claudius ‘the event’ or is it when he thinks to kill him or when he changes his mind?  How does your choice of that moment, affect the tone and pace of the scene? Of the play?

As directors we are highlighting or framing specific events to answer the dramatic question of the play.

In “All My Sons” by Arthur Miller the dramatic question seemed linked to the directors choice of the protagonist in the play.  Keira suggested we identify what character undergoes the biggest change.   There were arguments made for a number of different protagonists: the son Chris, the father Joe or the mother Kate. We were hoping as a group to get to see Timeline’s production (which just closed) to see Kimberly Senior’s choice.  Anyone see it and want to tell us about it?  Comment.

How do we choose a dramatic question? We identify the events that really resonate with us. We look at the sum of those events and try to identify what question is being answered.

How much latitude do you have as a director to make choices that resonate with you?

What is the difference in choosing your dramatic question or protagonist when using a well-made play (The Importance of Being Earnest) versus metatheatre (Our Town)?

Which brings us back to our discussion of last month.

What is the function of the director?

Keira felt that a director has to have a point of view when tackling a piece.  She cited Harold Clurman’s book “On Directing”: “The director is the author of the staged play”.

Does the director have their own point of view or spin? Or is their job strictly to communicate the playwrights vision?  Does it really only matter if the playwright is living?  How does that apply to the classics?

We left with a lot of great questions so now let’s hear some of your thoughts and get this dialogue going!

Luna Director’s Lab Takes Off!

Last Sunday night was the first night of Teatro Luna’s Director’s Lab and it was really exciting.  Almost 20 Latina artists from Chicago came together to discuss the need for a presence of Latina Directors in Chicago Theater.

I wasn’t sure initially how our discussion would go over.  We were a group of really seasoned theater professionals trying to create a discussion around the function of a director in theater, what inspires the artist to create, who are the artists and what are the shows that inspire you.  Things I’m sure they have discussed before.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how invigorating the conversation was and how humble and how ready to jump in everyone was. It was also awesome to find out about all of these other artists I should be checking into for inspiration: Marta Carrasco, Anna Shapiro, Mary Zimmerman.  Wonderful visual voices in the field of directing that if I didn’t know before I’m glad to know now.  And all women!!

After our initial conversation we read aloud Chekhov’s ten-minute play “The Proposal” and then began learning a basic technique for script analysis to use on the piece.  That was also pleasantly exciting.

I thought “The Proposal” was pretty straight-forward to begin with, but I was really blow away by how much information we could actually gather by really paying attention to detail and focusing on THE WORDS which were provided for us.  To me the words became the key to the map.  It was wonderful.  For our next meeting, we are reading a classic “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder because it is the ‘most produced play’ in American history and also because there were two really varied successful productions of it produced in Chicago in the past year – the first by The Hypocrites and the second by Lookinglass.  The assignment is to attempt a script analysis and come up with a proposal to produce the show.

On a side note, I have heard the question, why are you studying “Our Town”, why Chekhov, why dead white men.  And the answer that comes to mind is you have to understand the system in order to change it.  It’s all well and good to be interested in producing theater that speaks to a Latino population or that speaks to a female population but to really instigate lasting change don’t we have to have an understanding of what came before to move forward?  Shouldn’t we understand the system before we turn it on it’s head especially when living in an educational system that speaks the language of those dead white men.

And why couldn’t one of our Latina directors decide they want to work on Chekhov or “Our Town”?  Do we need to restrict our thoughts to works by and from an ethnic perspective?

We are also looking into scheduling an outing together to experience some theater. Possibilities include: Stoop Stories, Lorca in a Green Dress, Fake and Mistakes Were Made.  Any thoughts or opinions on what would be a good show?  Something I haven’t thought of yet?? Recommendations???