Do you find yourself dreaming of sitting in the director’s chair? Getting into directing is a massive undertaking, and your first directing experience may prove to be a real trial by fire. Don’t make the decision lightly! By waiting until you’re really ready to direct for the first time, you maximize your chances of success (and minimize your chances of crushing heartbreak.) But what does being “ready” look like?
There’s no one answer to that question, but here are ten signs you might be close.
1. You have a lot of opinions and love thinking about what you would do differently if you were in charge of a show
When you see shows, do you find yourself thinking about what could have been done differently? Do you fantasize about how you wish your director would set certain scenes or advise nearby actors? If you want to direct, this creative urge will be your lifeblood.
When you direct a show, you’re ultimately in charge of the final product. Other personnel such as costume designers and technical directors may know more than you about specific execution of ideas, but the ideas are in large part your own, all serving your vision of the show. If you don’t have many strong ideas or opinions about how you’d like your production to look or behave, you might be out of your element trying to make these decisions.
Some might think I’m overstating the importance of having strong opinions as a director. Of course, there are many ways to approach directing, and some shows or situations may call for a more hands-off approach to direction or show design. Nonetheless, a tendency to want to create according to your own visions, preferences, or ideas is the basic backbone of directing. Your preference might be that of a hands-off approach– but that choice still requires an opinion to make! Unless you’re ready to form, explore, and change these opinions, you’re probably not ready to direct.
2. You have a show (or several) that you desperately want to direct
If you don’t want to direct, or don’t have any shows you dream of getting to create from the view of the director, why bother directing at all?
This point may seem obvious, but how many directors have you worked with who have no enthusiasm for the show they are directing? Though not all directors get complete control over which shows they direct, I’d argue all must have some directing dream in mind if they’re passionate about directing. Unless you specifically dream about directing certain shows, the “bug” probably hasn’t quite bit you yet.
3. You’ve mastered the arts of organization and planning ahead
You shouldn’t bother trying to direct if you don’t have some semblance of these skills. Like many skills, these are cultivatable talents, and everyone can take steps towards growth and improvement along these lines. However if at present you cannot stay organized or plan ahead, you’re not ready to direct. Otherwise, how will you handle creating and sticking to a production schedule? How will you manage your show budget? How can you hope of creating a positive production environment for your actors and staff if you’re always running behind and bogged down by disorganization?
Though there are a variety of skills necessary for a director, these two are perhaps among the most pivotal.
4. You’re a personable leader and natural teacher, with a penchant for teambuilding and cheerleading
Sad to say, most actors and tech workers have experienced working alongside a director with woefully lacking interpersonal skills, or an overly negative, dictatorial approach to leadership. Some directors don’t make those around them feel welcomed, accepted, and comfortable enough to be creative. In these cases, the entire production suffers.
The director must wear many hats. Though you must be a leader, you can’t rule with an iron first. Creative work requires an atmosphere wherein artists can be vulnerable and comfortable trying new things. Therefore, when rehearsals progress in such a way that people are unhappy or uncomfortable with their staff or castmates, creative work cannot be done. Thus as a director you must master the art of building up those around you. You have to lift spirits, encourage bonds, and create a positive atmosphere. You have to teach and advise, not obstinately demand or control. If you can’t manage this, do your would-be casts a favor and hold off on directing.
5. You’ve made all the right connections
This includes the professional connections required to get your foot in the door as a director– for example working relationships with theatre board members or department heads– but it also refers to your creative and tech-savvy friends and acquaintances. You can’t put on a show alone! Make sure you have a team ready to stand behind you. Cultivating the right staff and creative personnel– your stage manager, tech director, choreographer, lighting and sound designers or operators– is paramount for reducing the workload you find yourself facing and keeping everything running smoothly. Remember, when producing a show, the director is only one large cog in the machine. If the rest of the cogs don’t fit together well, the whole apparatus may stop working.
If you don’t get to choose your creative staff, then you’ll have to master the art of making these connections with people you aren’t necessarily close with or even inclined to be friendly towards. Nothing can stop a show in its tracks like a creative staff embroiled in interpersonal turmoil. Put personal differences aside and learn to work together… or else.
6. You have a variety of theatrical and leadership experience
The director is often a jack of all trades, having experimented with many areas of theatre. Just as you wouldn’t expect a retail worker to become a manager with no prior work experience, a director shouldn’t try to step into a leadership role without a variety of prior knowledge and experience to draw from. Experiencing theatre from many viewpoints will help a director understand how to lead people in a variety of situations. For example, a director with no prior experience in theatre tech or design will have trouble being in charge of the creation of a set. Though the director shouldn’t expected to be a master of all, and should delegate and delegate frequently to other artistic staff, some experience in many domains will create a more informed, prepared leader.
7. You have an idea of what it means to be a good director
This isn’t to say that you should have all the answers about directing before you even start– most veteran directors don’t even claim to know these. Yet, if you don’t have some image or idea of a great director in mind, how will you ever know how to become one?
This goes back to my point about having opinions. If you lack strong beliefs about what it means to be a good director, you may, ironically, lack direction as the director. That’s a recipe for disaster.
8. You’re able to go with the flow
Directors should be well prepared, have strong opinions, and always plan ahead. But they should also be ready to throw all that thinking and preparation out the window should the situation call for it.
In live theatre, shit happens. Your rehearsal plans will change when actors fail to show up. You’ll discover things at the last minute that you’ve forgotten to block or choreograph. Every now and then, things will go violently not according to plan.
Directors must be able to anticipate this fact and go with it. If the idea of getting off your pre-planned schedule or having to alter your set routine terrifies you, directing might not be a good fit. Sometimes great things can come from happy accidents, if only we allow those happy accidents to occur.
9. You’re ready to do your homework
Before you direct a show, you’ll need to do a lot of research. You’ll need to work out budget details. You’ll have to create lists and schedules and cast resources. You’ll want to know your show inside and out. You’ll correspond with technical personnel and artistic advisors and theatre administration until you’re blue in the face. Simply put, if you’re not ready to put in the work, you’re not ready to direct.
10. The timing is right
Carrying over from the previous point: directing takes a lot of time and energy. If you’re dealing with a lot in your work or personal life at the moment, it may not be time to get into directing. There’s no shame in holding off for a few months or a few years because you need to get your personal life in order first. Believe me, your future cast and production staff will thank you for waiting for the right time instead of trying to take on too much all at once.
So, aspiring director– do you think you’re ready? What else might signify that you’re ready to step up to the plate?