Calling the shots
What to bear in mind if you're putting together a production for the stage
A couple of weeks ago, I spearheaded a theatrical production. While the idea was to only write and direct, I found myself playing multiple roles - the public relations executive, WhatsApp admin of a group (with the cast), event manager, technical person, prop in-charge. you get the drift, right?
As I stood in the light-sound booth, my mind kept going back to a recently-held director's workshop I'd attended in Dubai. Two Dubai-based directors (and actors), Arjun Burman and Gautam Goenka, conducted a two-hour session on the art of direction, offering tips and sharing anecdotes. The duo spoke of elements typical to the local art scene, where, mostly, there are no producers and social media managers. Hence, the director multi-tasks, with actors pitching in at times.
In light of the many that are currently out there, making their debut as directors during the ongoing Short + Sweet UAE festival, here are my takeaways from that session:
Tip of the iceberg
Arjun, who's known for directing stage plays like Rumors, The Crucible and Julius Caesar kick-started the workshop by showing us the image of an iceberg, an apt and oft-used example to drive home the fact that the audience sees only the final result. The visual metaphor depicts that what's seen from the outside is just a small percentage of everything else that's going on underneath. So, yes, the audience (paid or complimentary) is not concerned about our hectic jobs, crying babies, et al!
Lay down the ground rules
"It could be stuff like nobody is allowed to chat on WhatsApp or attend phone calls during the rehearsals," says Gautam, who's directed plays like Tigers Be Still, A Behanding in Spokane, Almost Maine and The 39 Steps. Yes, sometimes the obvious does get forgotten.
Take and give a break
The duo as well as the attendees emphasised why this was especially important before the big show day. Don't tire yourself and the actors.
How much is too much?
Perhaps 16-18 rehearsals for a shorter play, and a lot more for a full-length production. Sometimes, quality over quantity may also be a good idea.
Come, walk with me
As busy, stubborn, professional adults, all of us are likely to disrupt the peace of a group with our quirks and habits at some point. "Don't offend anyone. Speak to the individual in person," was Gautam's advice, in an act he calls, Come, walk with me.
Plan a schedule
Information is the key. Share the show date, duration and commitment required for a certain production with your actors. Make note of travel plans. And remember, that most individuals are working in the field without a fee and post their work hours, household duties and more.
Everyone deserves a second chance
If an actor does not respect rehearsal times, deadlines for memorising lines and more, be kind enough to accommodate, but know when to call it quits.
In the end, when all's done, pat yourself on the back and move on; success or failure. As I reached home, I was convinced that every artist in the theatre industry should don the hat of a stage director at least once to understand the complexities of the role. I'll leave you with a popular quote by the legendary actor Ian Mckellen, "When you're on stage with an audience, the director's nowhere to be seen. He's onto the next job." Yes, once the ship has sailed, the captain is quite helpless.