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Saturday, 19 August 2006


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Based on my experience, you're right; you are indeed a rare sort of director in am-dram circles. The last two productions I've been in were "directed" (if you can call it that) by directors whose modus operandi was little more than "right, just keep going and I'll stop you if something looks wrong". The result - mediocre performances and a sense that the whole thing had been slap-dashed together in a hurry (which indeed they had).
Your actors should respect you greatly for pushing, cajoling and downright bullying them until they get it right, because how else are they going to learn their craft? Every piece of stagecraft I've learned has had to be repeatedly drummed into my thick skull with stern words, dire threats and public ridicule. And I'm still useless.

My unfavourite cricket captain: "Bill and Dubs stand at slip: the rest of you disperse." It shows such faith in his bowlers.

Having crept the boards occasionally myself, I don't much like the idea of being bellowed at in - at least not in an *amateur* production. Take it easy on them or you might get some walk-outs - thespy folk are already notorious for their huffs and umbridge. Unpaid thesps I'd have thought would be even less inclined to put up with being screamed at.

Still, the very best of luck with it. It is a very fine play - I hope you don't bang on ad nauseam to the actors about how "the devil gets the best tunes", and so on.

Tom and Larry: This directing lark is an eye-opener - to me, more than anyone else! I have evolved my methods over the years mostly as a result of experience which is another way of saying 'mistakes'. I don't expect to get brilliant actors in amateur theatre - although sometimes I have been really lucky and had some people who deserved success as pros. One of the advantages of 'working' in the Twickenham area is that the talent gene-pool is wider and deeper in that part of S.W. London than what can be found out in the sticks. A lot of very bright people, many of them with theatre training. (Not that we don't produce out fair share of real amateurish stinkers from time to time!)

What I like are actors who want and enjoy being driven *past* and *beyond* what they had thought was their best. What I don't want are the lazy, the totally stupid or the worst of all, those middle-aged actors who have been told since they were 14 that they are wonderful and at the age of 40 refuse to take any direction at all. It is perhaps an indication of my determination 'not to take prisoners' that I have actually fired actors from my shows - a practice almost unheard of in amateur theatre.

As for the swearing and bad temper and so forth, it doesn't happen often but I must admit I am sometimes ashamed of my behaviour. It's just because in a rehearsal room I become very, very focused and I rather forget myself. I have a very clear idea what I want and where I want to go with a playscript and I drive people towards it.

In mitigation, I always tell the cast to offer up suggestions and if I dismiss 9 out of 10 them they must persist because I will cover them with kisses if they come up with a brilliant idea that I would never have thought of. (Most of them aren't too keen on the reward, mind you!)

As I say, it's a funny old business but immensely satisfying. And to keep my ego in check, I remind myself constantly that as a mere director I am there to serve the writer, not myself. This is particularly hard with Ibsen, a man I loath and detest.

Mind you, the cricket captain is also expected to play, David, not just to issue instructions.

It says something about the area you are working in, that you can actually get away with firing members of the cast once rehearsals have begun. Round here, as you say, it would hardly be possible, without having to reschedule the performances. Sigh...London.

One of the roles I treasure most in my memory is that of "Tony", the young male lead in Chris Chibnall's "Kiss Me Like You Mean It". I think this was the first amateur production outside of London. I went through three auditions, the final one being between me and one other chap. He got the part (deservedly so, I knew he fitted it better than me), but a week later, he had to pull out. I was called back.
All through rehearsals I was lacking in confidence, knowing that I had not been the director's first choice to play the role. However, the director worked with me and did her best to iron out my deficiencies ("Stop waving your fucking arms about! ..."Lose the bloody 'niceness' in your body language, you prat! You're a lad on the pull, so start acting like one if you know how, which I seriously doubt!") There was me, thinking that just because I had apparently shone as Billy Bibbitt in "Cuckoo's Nest" six months previously, I knew it all. Silly me. Anyway, I think I managed to be just about 'adequate' as Tony at the end of the day.

Dearieme: It's driving me potty (pottier?) but I cannot find the source of your quote above. Put me out of my misery. And I did do my time 'on stage' and, yes, 'wonderful wasn't the word'!

Tom: reference 'Cuckoos Nest', I think playing drunks and/or loonies is technically one of the hardest things to pull off successfully. To be honest, I'm not sure how one sets about it which might be a problem in a few month's time when I have to direct an Ophelia. I remember playing Claudius once against an Ophelia whose madness was so brilliantly 'real' and I was so mesmerized watching her performance, even after all the rehearsals, that I kept forgetting my cue for one of Claudius's interjections.

Oh, it was actual experience, David, not a literary quote. Though perhaps he said "scatter" rather than "disperse".

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