Friday, 30 September 2011

Captaining The Pinafore

2011 saw the commencement of my career as a director. For the first time, I got to see my ideas realised in full on stage, and with bountiful help from casts and crew alike I captained not one but two successful productions. This blog post has been in the works a long time and it is shameful that I let so much time elapse before writing it; looking back on the performance it is easy to forget the hassle, stress and hard work in the glory of reliving the moment, which is perhaps why we are fooled into doing these things again and again and again. The main aim of this post is to share with you the things I learned this year, through constant scrutiny of the management styles of other directors around me and over my illustrious maiden voyage as a Director.

As a side note, for more information on either of my shows, see Bette On Toast or Ralph Pocketwatch!

Here is me in action, directing like mad:

First, I learned that things get done best just by asking nicely. Whether it was asking for help, or getting a tour of the theatre, a polite word and a friendly smile goes a long way – it can be surprising what people are willing to help you with if you only ask!

Secondly, it’s not the costume you get, it’s how you wear it. Costumes can often be dull, ill-fitting, unflattering and sometimes even disgusting – but with the right attitude, regardless of your shape and size, you can make almost anything look good (from offstage anyway..!)

Things are NEVER as simple as you think. Getting three lines of people to bob alternately is a trick which is apparently profoundly difficult to master, regardless of how plain and simple it looks to the audience. Throwing something into the wings, sounds simple – will inevitably always go wrong when it matters. Most importantly perhaps – your friendly backstage curtains are easily manageable in rehearsal, but have a tendency to lure unsuspecting cast members into their exit-less depths when it matters most. Lesson: Always expect and accept that the simple things to be the ones that go wrong the most.

Time is incredibly important. It does sound like plain common sense to point this out, but this year I have personally seen countless hours wasted in indecision, and as a result of bad planning and time management. It seems one must always work on the assumption that there will not be enough time to cover everything so sacrifices will eventually be made, and that regardless of how good you are at making decisions, there are days when every single cast member needs to air their opinion about which hand to ‘finger click’ with.

I never realised until this summer how important it is to have a great warm up, and how rare it is to find a Music Director who can motivate a group of 40+ performers to wake up and feel energetic and enthusiastic. I deeply regret having not recorded all of the warm ups from The Mikado, and will endeavour to always strive to remember how fundamentally mood-altering an excellent warm up can be.

Character really is everything on stage. It sounds cliché and probably is, but as a performer, understanding and maintaining your character properly throughout a show is the effort that catches the audience’s eye. An excellent character can get away with almost anything on stage, be it spontaneous reactions, ad libbing or even mistakes as large as skipping half a scene – all can be forgiven and quite often go unnoticed in the face of a performer enjoying their character to the full.

Presumably, even in shows which don’t take place on boats, the value of being able to have “all hands on deck” is second to none. The process of setting up the stage for Buxton Pinafore was set to be one of the most trying of the experience (especially when it turned out the set didn’t exist anymore) but through team work and perseverance, we made an excellent job of it. From tying bunting to altering lights to setting up drum kits and even to buying tomorrows breakfast, everything happens much easier when everyone banded together for the effort.

When working with anyone and doing anything, at all, being patient is extremely important. The time that it is most important to be patient with your cast is under situations of extreme pressure; I discovered that though you yourself are so stressed you could pass out at any given minute, smiling and remaining (mostly) calm is the best way to encourage the faltering morale of any nervous cast. I am always grateful for a director being patient with me, and so I think it important to return the favour.

Something I learned the hard way this year is that you really can’t please everyone. Although there were no horrifically unexpected comments from audience members at any point, I was surprised to hear some of the critical points. As well as this, when directing I feel I personally suffer from the weakness of trying to please the whole cast, which leaves me tipping the artistic balance somewhat. I think in future it is important for me to remember that regardless of how much effort I put in to avoiding an unpleasant undercurrent, there is always someone at the end of it all still moaning. Better in future to put the effort into perfecting the show as a whole!

The most important thing I learned all year was about friendship. When you perform with someone under another director, you bond with that person quite uniquely. If you are also friends outside of this, I think it helps strengthen the relationship and imbue it with a sense of united success. If you place yourself then in the situation of directing your own friends, it is important to remember people’s limitations. Knowing what a person would cope with in an everyday situation does not constitute being able to press harder on them than others, nor should you rely on friendship to make recompense for such liberties. I personally find it hard to remember not to hold others too firmly to my exacting standards, and sometimes I think in the chaos of rehearsals we all forget that we are friends first and foremost, and performers only as a hobby. However, despite these tribulations, it cannot be denied though that for an amateur performer, there are few finer pleasures than being able to perform an excellent show to a full audience alongside some of the people we love and respect most in the world. On this note I leave you, with the thought that the biggest thing I have learned this year is definitely how lucky I am to have such patient, brilliant and talented friends to tread the boards with, and to help me cut my directorial teeth with such success.

Here is us, celebrating our success on a tiny train:

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