How Do You Become a Director?

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{Header photo is a rehearsal of A Streetcar Named Desire at Park University in January 2005. Photo by Angie Fiedler Sutton.}

An actor who was in a show I directed a couple of summers ago emailed me the question, “What does one do exactly to learn to direct and to qualify as a director?”

It’s a tough question, as every director has a different story of how they learned to direct. Like acting, there is training available at most colleges and universities that offer a theatre major. But also like acting, many directors have also just ‘fell’ into the role.

For my story, I attended Park University and got to direct a one act (“The Actor’s Nightmare”, by Christopher Durang) my senior year, under the supervision of marsha morgan. Park, thankfully, for a number of years also offered up shows for alumni to direct in the black box theatre.

I also had the fortune to align myself with a theatre group (Northgate Community Theatre, for anyone who remembers that) that was supportive of new talent and open to new directors. I stage managed several shows for them, and during one show, the co-directors (who were also on the board) asked me if I wanted to direct a scene. When it came time for director interviews, they suggested I throw my hat in the ring — and I got the chance to direct my first full-length show.

Then, it went on from there. I’ve only actually directed four full-length shows, five if you count the co-direction of my husband’s show last summer. That has been a curse (one company didn’t think I had enough experience yet to direct a musical, which in the end I had to agree with) as well as a blessing (directing takes up so much of your time that I can’t do it show after show like some people can).

Setting up a mock rehearsal at A Noise Within in Los Angeles. Photo by Angie Fiedler Sutton.

Your best bet, if you’re interested in directing locally, is to become a stage manager or other back stage role. Get to know the theatres inside and out, both on a relationship status (i.e., who’s on the board, who you’d be working with, etc.) as well as an actual space status (i.e., size of the space, what kind of lighting/sound is available, how much flexibility do they have with the set and what do they use for rehearsal space, etc.). If anything else, endear yourself to other directors by offering to help at strike!

While you’re doing these back-stage roles, start building a relationship with other techies – a lot of theatres will ask you what kind of stage crew you’ll be bringing with you, and you’ll get extra notice if you have people already in mind.

I’d also recommend joining either MoACT or the Association of Kansas Theatre and help/participate with their festivals, using the festival to not only get experience under your belt, but to network and ask other directors for advice as well. There are also plenty of books out there on how to be a director. Use your local library and learn as much as you can from there as well.

Directing is all about seeing the big picture, all the while dealing with the small details at the same time. And on top of that, you’re basically managing 10 – 20 people on average (cast & crew). A healthy dose of Psych 101 and management knowledge will go a long way.

The most important thing to remember is to have fun with it. Directing is a lot of hard work, and there are a lot of times that just downright suck. (Actors quitting, tech breaking, not having a stage, etc.) You have to do it for the love of theatre, especially at the community theatre level. But the feeling of seeing a show come together — for me, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.