Yes, sorry about this but I'm in 'luvvie' mode today. I have been provoked to it by watching a programme on the history of the Royal National Theatre. In the course of it, one of the contributors reminded us of the relentless rise and rise of the role of director in all theatrical productions these days. It was not always thus. Up until sometime in the early 20th century and going backwards in time it tended to be 'The Great Actors of The Day' who controlled their productions and the audience tended to go along to see the lead performance rather than the play. But certainly since the end of WWII, it is directors who have usurped the control of theatrical productions. On the whole, by and large, and all that sort of thing, I think it has been "A Good Thing!" Of course, writing as a (very!) amateur director, myself, I would say that, wouldn't I? But it seems to me that it would be a superhuman task for an actor playing Lear to simultaneously direct it. Something, one feels, is bound to suffer.
That said, of course, the dictatorial rule of the director has its own dangers. We frequently see the calamitous results when a director who considers himself to be a better playwright than the actual playwright imposes his own idiosyncratic (or just idiotic) vision on top of the text. Good directors, or at least, sensible and sensitive directors, constantly remind themselves that they are only there to serve the writer. Mind you, that's easier said than done when it comes to 'old Will' who was such a slippery bugger that you can read his text six ways to nowhere! All you can do is to read, and then re-read, and then re-re-read the play concerned and then, in between all the re-readings, read as much as possible from the textual analysts and critics both past and present. Finally, you reach for the last, sometimes rather dodgy, weapon in your armoury - your judgment!
All of that, of course, is what the military would call strategic thinking, but eventually you have to move down to the actual battlefield and get tactical! By "battlefield" I mean the rehearsal room - dread words! I always reckon that if there is no blood on the walls of a rehearsal room (metaphorical or real!) then no-one is really trying. Here, the director's task is twofold. He must be practical and, setting aside all the high arty-farty stuff, he must confine himself to getting his actors on and off the stage in a sensible manner which, in a Shakespeare production with over twenty different actors can be more of a problem thanyou might imagine. Secondly, he must become, and here I get a little fancy, a reflecting receptor. To be honest, I wasn't absolutely certain what a 'receptor' was, so, conscious of 'DM' peering over my shoulder, I looked it up in my OED:
Receptor: An organ or cell able to respond to light, heat, or other external stimulus and transmit a signal to a sensory nerve.
Damn! Couldn't have put it better myself! That is exactly the role of a director in the rehearsal room. I think it was Peter Brook who put it much more simply by saying that a director should be a mirror to his actors. Of course, mirrors tell no lies, although those peering into them frequently lie about what they see of themselves! A director cannot allow an actor to fool himself in that way. He must "tell truth and shame the devil!" It's usually then that the blood begins to splatter on the walls!