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Introduction to Directing (DRA304M2) or "WHY BOTHER"?

Scroll downwards for the day-by-day outline of the class work.

Before we go into detail about the six classes I am teaching, remind yourself that in the classes before we met other colleagues in the drama department covered a number of points. We will talk about these areas, so you should have a think about them and be prepared to discuss them further.

  • what makes a good director?
  • what makes a good rehearsal?
  • what is blocking? How does it work? Who creates it?
  • honest feedback in the role of the director.
  • responsibility in the role of the director.
  • the importance of preparation in the role of the director.
  • what is the relationship between actors and director?

Subjects We Will Cover

Our work together is always going to come back to: WHY BOTHER? Why bother staging this play? Why do you care about this play? Why should actors bother to work with you? Why should anyone bother to spend their hard earned cash on tickets to your play? Why should anyone sit through your staging of this play? These are the questions we need to get used to asking as we examine the role of director.

The class work falls into six areas. These are:

  1. knowing yourself - this will run through everything we do
  2. building the team - creating a cast who work together to create the world of the play
  3. giving actors the tools (breath, voice, body) they need
  4. understanding the play and understanding the text, scene by scene
  5. stimulating all the actors' senses & getting the actors to develop the play
  6. using the tools (props, scenery, costume) of the play appropriately

I am planning to start at 2 and cover one area every time we meet. As we work through our five sessions I will keep adding notes for you to refer to.

DAY 1 - 26 FEB

Topics for the Day

  1. knowing yourself - this will run through everything we do
  2. building the team - creating a cast who work together to create the world of the play

Review of previous sessions.

Discuss: What is a director? What does he/she do? Why do you want to direct? What is a good director? What makes a good rehearsal.

Students break into 4 groups and produce one sentence answer "A good rehearsal is...". These will become our goal statements.

Building the Team.

Brainstorm on a sheet of paper, what are the issues? Why do you need a good team? Trust, Openness, Dealing with difficult content, Dealing with conflict later on, value of ensemble...

Discuss making rules. What kind of rules? Why? When in the rehearsal? NOT in order to "get people to do what you want" - authority needs to be established in other ways!

Your Role in the Team.

Discuss the Director interacting with the actors: Monitoring your own feelings. Refer back to goal statements about rehearsal. Discussed widening the distance between the stimulus and the response. Buying time, so you can choose the response.

Exercises to Explore These Issues

Ask the group simultaneously to participate, and to track: 1) their own feelings, 2) the development of the team.

  • NAME THE WRONG THING: Group walks, using the space, making the space lively. Andrea calls "stop" then "go". Group continues, Andrea reverses order so that "go" means "stop". Discuss stimulus and response.
  • TALKING ABOUT YOURSELF: Group walks, using all the space, making the space lively. Think about yourself as you walk, what kind of person are you? What do you like? What do you dislike? Think of one childhood memory. Group members are asked to meet someone else and tell them about yourselves for one minute. Group are asked to walk around the room again, stop, someone, tell them about yourselves for one minute. Group asked to stop, think, distill experience into one sentence. Walk again, stop, tell someone the sentence. Partners then give feedback on how well you followed the instructions.
  • OBJECT IN A CIRCLE: Group forms a circle with object in the middle - each person uses the object to talk about self for 10 seconds.
  • SELF IN GESTURE: Group walks again, forms circle. Think for 1 minute about a word and gesture that sums you up.
  • ONE MORE CHAIR THAN PEOPLE: Group prevents standing person from taking chair.

Notes: Group divides into four. Discuss, get paper and write down what the group noticed about own feelings, and about team atmosphere. Share.

DAY 2 - 29 FEB

Remember on DAY 1 we focused on knowing yourself and building the team. We will keep building on that work.

Topic for the Day

3. giving actors the tools (breath, voice, body) they need

If we go back to the "WHY BOTHER" question flagged up in DAY 1, and ask "Why bother to worry about what tools the actors have at their disposal?" we pretty quickly find ourselves face to face with the fact that if we, as directors, don't spot a gap in someone's bag of tools and do our best to fix it, the results can get pretty BORING and IRRITATING for the audience. If you've ever watched a performance by someone who can't breath, or move around or articulate properly, you'll know what I mean.

Remember knowing yourself? If you don't know where the gaps fall in your skills set and address those gaps head on, you'll always leave those skills out of rehearsal. If you can't cover something yourself, you may need to bring someone in to rehearsal to help you.

Discuss: What are the technical tools that actors need? Brainstorm on paper with students. 10 mins

Include: breath, isolation, leading with different parts of the body, shrinking and growing, drawing, use of colour, imagining a space, walking the imaginary room, projection, clarity, vocal patterns, tension, status....

NLP - the Visual, the Auditory and the Kinesthetic

Briefly introduce the NLP concept that people tend to perceive the world through the lenses of their preferred type or modality: Auditory, Visual or Kinesthetic. Discuss & Explain. People find it easier to understand concepts, instructions and direction if it comes to them in the language & presentation of their preferred type. 5 mins

Think: When you are remembering info for in an exam, how do you recall it?

Ask the Group to form two lines, facing each other, and take turns giving directions on how to get from Foyle Arts Centre to Waterside Theatre. Watch, Listen. Discuss: What words were used, gestures? Did they move around? 10 mins

Ask the Group to think about what would make them most happy? Watching a beautiful sunset with friends, Listening to beautiful music with friends, or snuggling into wonderful soft furniture with friends? 5 mins

Adapting Language to Suit

Directors who can be flexible, and use language that is easy for actors with different preferences to hear, will achieve better communication.

Students each get paper and write up description of a bank robbery to suit a particular modality. Read out. Break into couples, ask each other how feel about exercise listen for particular word choices. Give notes on how successful the description was using appropriate language. 20 mins

Returning to the Brainstormed List of Tools

These tools are all external, not emotional. Discuss: Emotional must be dealt with too, but it is another whole area.  Does the External Affect the Internal? How? When? Flag up sensory stimulation work as well as text analysis and improv as ways into emotion (for later).

Creating an Exercise

Students break into 4 groups and discuss in more detail what kind of skills would tend to cluster in which NLP areas. Group chooses one area and writes down all the brainstormed technical skills off the list that fit in that area. 5 mins

Students choose one skill from the list and create an exercise for a another group to do that will develop this skill. Exercise is written down on a piece of paper and given to opposite group for them to try in front of everyone. 15 mins & 10 mins

Constructive notes are given by 1 watching group. 10 mins

She Stoops to Conquer - Act 2, Sc 1


Read She Stoops to Conquer
  • What is it about?
  • What is the theme of the play?
  • What do you think the scene is about?
  • What is the author trying to do in the scene?
  • What do the characters want in the scene?
  • What is getting in their way?
  • What do you notice in terms of visual verbal and kinesthetic cues in the text?

Day 3 - 5 March

Topic for the Day

4.  understanding the play and understanding the text, scene by scene

Ask the class what they think today's topic is?  The text we are using is Act 2, Sc i from Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer. Remind the class what I said last week: "read the play, or cheat.  Read 6 synopses, I don't care, but know the play and be prepared to answer questions".  Remind the class what previous lecturers said about preparation.  What do they remember? Get out brainstorm from the first day and see what they themselves said about a good rehearsal. Are they in a position to provide it?  What resolutions will they make for next week? Ask students to write down three resolutions.

Theme of the Play

Divide students into different groups from last week.  Ask the students to finish the sentence: "The theme of this play is..." Discuss.  Return students to their groups from last week to report back.  Would you alter what you decided outside class?  Prepare to justify.  Pick someone who hasn't spoken yet to present.

The Reason Why This Play is Still Relevant

Ask the students to finish the sentence: "The reason why this play is still relevant is..."   They should do this as individuals thinking about why they might want to direct it.  Discuss. Ask students the question: What is a comparable modern situation?

Are there any words that you do not understand?  As directors you MUST check these before you come to rehearsal!  Has anyone checked? 

The Scene

Reform the student groups, and ask question by question, turn and turn about.  Which group would we give the most positive feedback too?  Decide as a class.  Practice what to say.  Which group would we give the most constructive criticism to?  Decide as a class.  Practice what to say.  Remember: know thyself!

  • What is the scene about?
  • How does the scene further the theme with significant action?
  • Who wants to get what in the scene?  What is each character's "will"?
  • What stands in their way?  What is their "counter-will"?
  • What are the big beats in the scene?
  • Who has high status in each beat?

What Other Text Questions Should a Director Include?

  • If this scene was taken to its logical extreme, what would it be like? Group brainstorms all possibilities on wall.
  • Break whole scene down into beats, and put a transitive verb on each beat. 

 Working As a Director

Break the students into three groups.  Cast the scene randomly, and get one person in each group to start text analysis with their "company".  Begin by reading the scene.  After 10 minutes Andrea randomly switches director and one of the actors in each group.  Continue where you left off.  After 10 minutes Andrea switches again.  Stop each group talks amongst themselves about the experience.  Who was better?  Why?  Give and take constructive criticism.  Look at ideal rehearsal brainstorm from first day.

Groups share experience back to the room. Lessons?

Improv Alleviates Pain of Text Analysis

Ask for volunteers to improvise the scene in a modern context in their own words.  Watchers take notes like a director would during rehearsal.  Discuss.  What did they learn as actors?  What did the group see as directors?  Anything to keep? Try again if  time allows.

Day 4 - 8 March

 Topic for the Day

5. stimulating all the actors' senses & getting the actors to develop the play

Recap Work So Far

What are the aspects of directing that we've been through so far?  Ask the class: What do you remember?  What is this directing class called?  Why do I call it Why Bother?

Get Stuck into the Scene

Divide the class into two equal groups.   Ask them to read through the scene again.  Assign a director for each group.  Ask the directors to summarise the major beats of the script.  Ask the groups to improvise the scene. Ask the director to choose one of the scenarios from last week: new recruits, white house president and staff, dog training, or a new comparative scenario of your own choosing.  Directors give notes.

Visual Auditory and Kinesthetic Cues

Gather the group back together.  What did people notice in the way of visual, auditory and kinesthetic cues in the script?  Everyone makes notes.

 Tag Team Directing

Ask the groups to re-form.  Randomly assign a director.  Have the director run the scene giving as many auditory notes as possible. Switch directors, run for visual.  Switch again, run for kinesthetic. Switch again, and put everything in.

Discuss Directing Experience

Everyone gather and discuss what was frustrating, what worked?  Did it help to focus on just one thing?  For the director?  For the actors?  Did it force you to be more inventive?

In the class we talked about coming at blocking from two different directions: 1) working as a choreographer ie director led, and what the pitfalls of that approach might be; 2) working from blocking that developed naturally from a series of games and exercises that the director devised for the actors, in which the "good bits" were retained each time.  In either case the process MUST be reiterative, flowing from directors to actors and back again, and again and again.  My preference if there is time: however you do it, set the blocking as late as possible, while acknowledging that in large cast or community productions, or those with very limited rehearsal time this often isn't possible.

Brainstorm Sensory Options

Groups brainstorm the sensory options open to actors: Tension, Cold, Heat, Loud Voice, Over Sensitive Hearing, Deafness, Straight Person, Curvy Person.  Run the scenes again asking the actors to work through the scene again keeping all the previous work in the visual, verbal and kinesthetic runs, but choose one other sensory area to play as well.

Additional exercise if time allows: Switch directors and ask them to turn up the volume.  IE If Actors are playing "cold" in the scene get them to move from "chilly "to "FREEZING".

Brainstorm Emotional Choices

If there is still time, get the groups to decide on an emotional "colour" for the scene: fearful, giggly, determined, anxious, lustful etc etc.  Switch directors again and get the groups to play the scene with the colour.

Director's Round Up

What did they notice when the actors were asked to play one particular thing?  Did they feel that choices could have been larger?  Did they notice the difference being on the outside?  On the inside?  What did they feel about the way they were spoken to?  What was helpful? Discuss.

Day 5 - 12 March 

Topic for the Day

6.  using the tools (props, scenery, costume) of the play appropriately

Recap the Theme of the Play

Post all the theme sheets back on the wall.  Divide the class into 3 groups and ask the individuals in the groups to draw the most memorable moment in the play individually.  Next ask the groups to re-form to draw the graph of the play.  Mark where Act 2 Sc i sits on the graph.


Take group to the props room and select a number of props to  bring back to the rehearsal room.  Brainstorm what the props could be.  Form the group into a circle and ask them to play the game of using the object in some way.  The next person who has an idea yells: "freeze" and using the pose and the prop of the pervious person, creates a new reality.

Props in the Scene

Divide the groups up again and ask them to choose a prop each, which they must then use in the scene in a thematically appropriate way.  Not necessarily realistically.  Add in two more props randomly.  Then get the groups to show back.  Watching group must decide on a particular aspect to watch and take notes.  Andrea to hear those notes.  Switch.  Discuss when is the most appropriate time to give notes?  Change the focus of the directors, and run scene again. Switch.

Thematically Appropriate Scenery

Ask the groups to discuss the theme again, and check their interpretation of their scene. Are they happy with it?  Does one particular character hold the key to the theme?  Is there a particularly important moment?  Where would they set their scene?  Discuss and Decide:

What is the place like?  Is it dark or light?  Cold or Hot? Indoors or Out?  What is the emotional feeling of the scene?  What are the relationships? How many doors?  Windows? Chairs? Tables? Levels?  How much space is there?  Is it crowded or spacious? High ceiling or low? How does each of these forward the theme?

Groups meet and each person briefs someone from the opposite group as if they were a set designer.  Switch.  Rejoin your own group discuss.  Groups decide on what the scene needs and then report back to whole group including Andrea on what they would propose. 

Final Round Up

We said we would cover:

WHY BOTHER? Why bother staging this play? Why do you care about this play? Why should actors bother to work with you? Why should anyone bother to spend their hard earned cash on tickets to your play? Why should anyone sit through your staging of this play? What do we think the answers are now?

The class work falls into six areas. These are:

  1. knowing yourself - this will run through everything we do
  2. building the team - creating a cast who work together to create the world of the play
  3. giving actors the tools (breath, voice, body) they need
  4. understanding the play and understanding the text, scene by scene
  5. stimulating all the actors' senses & getting the actors to develop the play
  6. using the tools (props, scenery, costume) of the play appropriately

Any questions, any comments? 

And so, as porky the cartoon pig said: "that's all folks!"