Book Review: Too Basic of a Direction

review

Note: as of May 2011, this article will be published in the June 2011 issue of KC Stage Magazine (link no longer active).

Stage Directing: The First Experiences, written by Jim Patterson. Published 2004 by Pearson Education, Inc. 194 pages. Copyright 2008. ISBN 0-205-38963-5. Buy at Amazon.com.

Stage Directing, as it states on the back cover, is intended to be used for an introductory directing course. While it does cover the “six basic steps in the process all successful directors use: selecting the playscript, analyzing and researching the play, conceiving the production, casting, rehearsing, and giving and receiving criticism” well, overall the book was a little too basic in it’s covering of theatre.

In reading it, while I tried to realize it was written for the ‘beginning director’, I got the impression it was written as a high school text, not a college text. It tended to ‘talk down’ to the reader, and covered areas that I would assume someone wanting to direct a play would already be familiar with: for example, the differences between stage configurations, how a standard audition form looks like, and defining what crossing is in blocking. I find it hard to believe that there are people out there who are interested in directing who haven’t been involved in the theatre in some other form (acting or stage managing) and are not already aware of it.

However, the author may have been operating under the ‘never assume’ policy: after all, I wouldn’t automatically think to include a section on defining what copyright is, but after thinking of how many theatres have thought changing the text significantly without contacting the author/royalty agency was okay, I realized that is needed.

At the end of each section, the author does suggest websites the reader can go to for more on the topic discussed in that section, which was helpful. It also regular projects to assign the reader (and the class) that further emphasized what was being taught.

“[U]nderstand why compliments are rewarding to hear but the real directorial growth comes from hearing what, in your work, needs additional attention.”

The most useful section, at least for the readers of KC Stage, however, had to be Step 6: “Giving and Receiving Criticism”. “One important way to grow is to listen seriously and thoughtfully to the feedback your production generates,” and “understand why compliments are rewarding to hear but the real directorial growth comes from hearing what, in your work, needs additional attention” are the two best lines in the section.

As a theatre artist myself, I know how hard it is to receive a negative review on the KC Stage Review system, but I’d like to think that — when the review is clear and specific (two tips in the “Giving Criticism” part) — that I do try to learn from it. In fact, given the inevitable hubbub a negative review causes (and the inevitable batch of positive reviews that follow), as well as the non-specific reviews the system tends to have, I was tempted to ask the author for permission to quote the entire four pages of the section, or at least the two pages with specific tips on both giving and receiving feedback.

The epilogue is another section helpful to those who may be new directors but not in a class: “Thinking Back and Looking Forward”. It covers questions to ask after directing for a first time and where to go for more experience (and again is geared toward a high school or college level director). However, many of the questions and tips can be for any first-time director, from asking whether the experience helped you to grow to keeping a journal of what productions you see with notes as to what you liked and didn’t like about the production.

As a textbook, Stage Directing: The First Experiences is somewhat worthwhile, if you’re dealing with high school students. However, as a book for an older first-time director, or as a potential reference for those who like to keep a basic book around for review, I wouldn’t recommend. I’m sure there are far better books out there for first time directors.