Cool Stuff for
at the Community Theater Green Room Store
A director is responsible for coordinating every aspect of the
show. He or she should have the final say-so on lighting, sound,
makeup, costumes, and a hundred other things, in addition to telling
the actors what to do. If the director has never worked at any
of these jobs, it may be tempting to leave the technical side
of things up to the experts, the folks backstage who will actually
be doing the work. The best directors, however, direct not only
the cast, but the crew. They decide when the lighting should change
and what it should look like when it does. They see that an actor
looks too light or too dark and request a change in the makeup.
They ask for the sound to come from stage left or stage right,
to crescendo at a certain point and then cut off abruptly or to
taper off gently. How do they get so detail-oriented, and how
do they know what to ask for? Part of it relates to their vision
of the show, but it also comes from an understanding of theater
jobs and of what their people and the theater itself can deliver.
Well-Rounded Means Well-Grounded
The best directors have at least some experience
at many different kinds of jobs. Fortunately, community theater
is a learn-as-you-go enterprise, so there are many, many opportunities
to get training. Of course, not everybody is going to excel at
every job; you might be tempted to avoid some of the areas for
which you really feel you have no aptitude. Do them anyway. In
many cases, you can serve a sort of "apprenticeship," that is,
you can volunteer to help someone who really knows what they're
doing and let them teach you about it without actually being completely
responsible for knowing how to do it all. At least you'll learn
some of the basics, and that's what's important. If you really
want to feel comfortable with one day communicating what you need
to a crew of your own, here are the jobs you want to volunteer
for and why:
- Stage Manager or Crew - Working this job
will help you understand such things as how long it takes to
call a cast member waiting in the green room, whether that fast
change can really be accomplished in 15 seconds, or when a cue
from the light booth is going to be needed because the crew
is working blind behind the set. Working this job also helps
a director understand why, once the curtain opens, the stage
manager, not the director, is in charge.
- Lighting Director or Crew - Your theater's
lighting system is finite. Unless you know its limitations and
capabilities, you won't have a clue as to what you can ask for.
Once you've worked a stint in the light booth, you'll know how
many lights you've got, where they can be hung, how tightly
they can be focused, and what kind of transitions you can expect.
You'll learn how to look for dark spots, will know a good wash
from a bad one, and will know how many specials you can ask
for. And when the lighting director for your show says what
you're asking for can't be done, you'll understand why or why
not and can work on alternatives.
- Sound Director or Crew - How extensive is
your sound effects library? Can your system produce a tinny
sound? (It probably can) A deep rich sound? (Maybe not) Can
you have three quick sound cues in a row? As a director, you
may need the answers to questions like these. As with lighting,
sound also has its limitations. And to help your sound guy establish
the sound levels you want to hear from the house, you need to
have walked a mile in his headsets.
- Set Design or Construction Crew -- As a director,
you should be prepared to tell the set designer at least something
about how you'd like the set to look, and you need to know the
basics of how a set is constructed before you can realistically
do that. Again, it's a question of learning what you can and
can't ask for in your particular theater.
- Makeup Crew - Spend some time working on
the makeup crew, and you'll learn how colors can change under
the lights, whether an actor should go with a darker or lighter
base, and which actress needs a pinker or redder blush. You'll
also become acutely sensitive to actor's ring-around-the-collar,
that white space under the ears and continuing around the back
of the neck where the actor forgot to use any makeup at all.
- Costume Crew -- You need to be familiar
with your theater's wardrobe department. Are there costumes
already on hand that can be altered for your show, or will you
need to have some made? Is the outfit your actor is attired
in really 1920's or is it more 1950's? Shouldn't that actress
be wearing a hat? Directors are often faced with these kinds
of questions. The more you know, the better your show will be.
- Actor - Although most directors come from
an acting background, there are some who come into it from the
technical side. A director needs to understand how it feels
to be up there under the hot lights with everybody watching
every move you make. Receiving direction is also the first introduction
most of us have to giving direction. Unless you yourself have
been on the receiving end, you may tend to underestimate the
feelings that actors experience as they're being told what to
do. Experiencing it for yourself will increase your own sensitivity.
- Assistant Director - In many theaters, this
is the final step to becoming a director. This allows the director-in-training
to work with someone more experienced and to get their feet
wet without having to take full responsibility for the show.
This is also the point where many find they really don't want
to direct, or that they have a lot more to learn. If you've
done this job and feel you're ready to direct, ask the director
you AD'ed for if he or she also thinks you're ready. If the
answer is no, keep on assisting until you get the green light
from someone more experienced than yourself.
Know Thy Theater
Every theater is different. There are
many different kinds of lighting systems, stages may be small
or large, acoustics may be great or awful. Support systems, finances
and technical expertise also vary from theater to theater. For
this reason, it is best to serve your director's apprenticeship
at the same theater you plan to direct with. Our theater, the
Kent County Theater Guild in Dover, Delaware, has set up an informal
apprenticeship program for those who think they would like to
direct. Budding directors are encouraged to both act in our shows
and work a variety of backstage jobs with us so they can learn
from as many different people as possible. Even those who come
to us with extensive experience in other theaters or with formal
training still find they have a lot to learn about how a show
is done on our stage with our resources, and the value of serving
an apprenticeship with our group regardless of how much knowledge
they already have has been proven many times over. Because an
assistant director may soon be directing on his or her own, our
directors choose their AD's from those who are already well-versed
in backstage and onstage skills, and work closely with them throughout
the production, always with an eye toward making sure that by
the time they take the reins themselves, they'll be as well-prepared
as possible. The AD positions are therefore considered highly
valuable slots, and those who fill them are chosen with care.
Upon completion of that last hurdle,
the assistant directorship, the would-be director asks our Board
of Trustees for permission to direct and submits a resume or letter
listing the skills he or she has acquired in the course of apprenticeship
with our theater, as well as any other training they may have.
If they also receive satisfactory recommendations from the directors
they have AD'ed for, they are then admitted as full-fledged directors.
We're a fairly small theater, with approximately 100 paid members,
of whom a core group of 20 to 30 very active members handles a
majority of the year-round work; this system has allowed us to
add many new directors to our stable over the years. The bottom line is you won't have to scramble for directors if you grow your own!