I am a father, husband, director, playwright & teacher.
I have a Theatrical Philosophy I call “Actually, Actually”.
I am mildly obsessed with Wonder & Amazement.
A BRIEF PHILOSOPHY OF DIRECTING
I view the following to be the essential qualities necessary for a director:
Creativity — everything must be questioned and reinvented constantly, based on who you are and what you uniquely have to bring to the process. One cannot count solely on old solutions and other people’s formulas. Creativity is the key that will allow each moment, each character, and each scene to find its own appropriate energy, style and balance, unique to this production with this unique group of collaborators.
Collaboration — so that each and every participant is able to bring his or her best work to the creation of the whole. Theatre is a fully collaborative art form, and every single collaborative process is different. Learning to collaborate well is essential for the practice of theatre as it is taught at University and practiced in today’s regional theatre.
Communication — so that collaboration, creativity and every other aspect of the process can be effectively articulated and shared among all participants. Clear, efficient and effective communication for a director includes a huge variety of skills, including the ability to work equally effectively with actors, audiences, designers (and sound, set, lighting and costume designers all speak very different artistic and technical languages), dramaturgs, technicians, stage managers, producers, and more.
Courage — it all will not get you very far by itself. But without it, even if you have all the other qualities, you will also not get very far. One must find the courage not only to begin, but preserve to the end, against all sorts of unknowns and adversity. You must have the courage to fail in front of others, and create an environment where others feel safe enough to fail (and succeed) as well.
Confidence — to allow your ego to find the appropriate place in the pantheon of the production. You must become sure enough of yourself that you can fully benefit from the talents and perspective of all of those around you. You must do your homework and have the solid foundation of knowledge that allows your confidence to be real and to be grounded upon a reality that others can see and trust. You must, in the final assessment, have both the courage and confidence to trust yourself.
A BRIEF PHILOSOPHY OF TEACHING
While I have taught a wide range of theatrical subjects— Acting (all levels), Acting Comedy, Acting Styles, Acting Shakespeare, Adaptation of Literature, Audition Techniques, Directing, Performance of Literature, Playwriting— when it comes right down to it, it seems I am always most interested in how any theatre artist can truly bring themselves to the work.
I’m eternally interested in the unique relationship that can be formed between theatre artists and the characters they will play or the story they will tell. That is where I start… and that is the touchstone to which I continually return. In between, I try to positively, passionately, and effectively offer as many tools and techniques as I can to help actors pretend better; directors help other people pretend better; playwrights create unique and engaging pretend worlds; and designers to create the best possible worlds for all the others to pretend in.
But the truth is, all I am ever truly interested in is the essential truth of the messy, complicated flawed, fabulous human beings that inhabit every story—and the messy, complicated, flawed, fabulous artists who are trying to find the best way they can to inhabit or present those stories. I find theatre artists endlessly fascinating and worthy of our highest respect. It is a fraught life to say the least, and I admire and appreciate those who undertake it. I believe the affection and respect I have for aspiring theatre artists is reflected every day in every class I teach.
I believe that when theatre artists know themselves well and are willing to put that self-knowledge (as well as any other knowledge they possess) into the work…. extraordinary things can happen. Even for beginners, I have seen time and time again how grounding the work in their own essential truth can make it stronger and more effective. Much of what I teach is focused on finding ways to help theatre artists bring themselves effectively to the work.
Since I’ve been teaching for nearly 30 years now, it is hard to distill down what I do. But here are some of the fundamental principles and values that guide me as a teacher:
I believe in Courage and Generosity — I think these attributes are essential for theatre artists, so I do my (utterly flawed) best to model these behaviors and encourage them in my students. How exactly these attributes are manifested depends on the job and experience of the student, but I do think they cut across all disciplines and skill levels. Without these attributes— talented as they maybe—they will have a hard row to hoe in the theatre.
I believe in Rigor — Acting is hard. Theatre is hard. Far too much theatre is bad or boring or both. I am constantly encouraging, cajoling and even demanding that my students work harder, look deeper, spend more time, engage more fully, etc. etc. The best actors I know are also the hardest workers. I can’t believe that this is a coincidence.
I believe in Kindness & Encouragement — Acting is hard. Theatre is hard. Hell, being a human being is hard, particularly when you are quite young, as so many of my students are. Even as I believe in honesty and rigor, I also believe in the remarkable power and efficacy of Kindness and Encouragement. I believe these qualities help produce a safe, creative environment where students have the greatest chance of growing and learning and creating.
I am honest — I try to say what I mean and mean what I say. I answer questions truthfully. I am not brutal or aggressively honest, but I believe being supportively honest with students is a sign of respect. I offer encouragement and criticism as I believe it is warranted. I prefer what I call “watering” to reprimands, so I like to point out the good whenever I can. There is a place for withholding information or even “radical watering” by heaping on praise to help a young person blossom and take greater risks, but mostly I just try to be as honest as I can be.
I am Straightforward — I am not emotionally manipulative, and I don’t play mind games of any kind with my students. I have seen this type of thing at work, and I believe it serves no one. While it is clearly very difficult to be an excellent actor, director, playwright or designer, the jobs themselves are actually pretty straightforward and simple. I try not to obfuscate or over complicate. I do my best to keep things clear, basic, and understandable to everyone.
I am mildly obsessed with Wonder and Amazement.
I probably speak about Amazement every day in every class I teach. I think a capacity for wonder is essential for any artist, and I think amazement, awe, astonishment (to use just a few of its many, many names) sits at the very heart of what makes theatre powerful and worthwhile for me. In this—as in so many other things—Shakespeare is my teacher and my guide. Every great Shakespeare play is filled with amazement… and I think this must be matched by all of us as theatre practitioners.
Truth is Just About Everything. Theatre is holding a mirror up to life. Sometimes a warped mirror, to be sure, but still the essential job of theatre artists is to tell the truth on stage. Therefore, the vast majority of my teaching is focused on ways to get at truth in all its endless complexity. With actors, my shorthand name for this kind of truth seeking is “actually, actually”. This is a way of saying, no, stop a moment, listen fully, think deeply, how would you actually, actually respond in this or that given situation? What truth can you offer to this moment or character or scene or design from the fullest, richest, most complicated places inside yourself. This sits at the center of nearly everything I do and believe in as a teacher.
Theatre is pretty simple. We are all just playing an almost absurdly detailed game of “pretend”. I try to teach— with honesty, kindness and integrity—ways to pretend better.
That’s about it.
The Five “C’s” of a Directors Qualities