Masterclass: Directing New Work

Last Saturday I attended a workshop on theatre directing led by Daniel Bailey and Lynette Linton at the Bush Theatre. It was a thoroughly entertaining and informative half-day. About 30 people listened attentively, made up of a mixture of actors, writers, and directors. Daniel joined Bush Theatre as the Associate Director in 2019. He is currently Associate Director at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Lynette took over as Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre in 2019.  She was previously Resident Assistant Director at the Donmar Warehouse and Associate Director at the Gate Theatre from 2016 to 2017 where she set up the Young Associate company. Both have been inspired by Rikki Beadle-Blair. They delivered the course with great humour and intelligence.

I will now attempt to summarise the lessons learned from the session. As usual, nothing I say or they said is a rule.

1. Preparation

Research the artists (actors, writers) you'll be working with. Sometimes there's no script. It may be a poem or a provocation. Think about how you can create scenes. If there is a script, critique it using the following two viewpoints:

  1. Facts: What are the things we know for sure
  2. Questions: What questions are raised for the writer, character and the audience.

You can do this by annotating the script but it's usually easier to ask someone to record on a computer. An example of a Fact would be that two people have entered the space. A question might be, where were they before. Facts are usually found in the directions. 

Can the story be broken down into 5 plot points? 

2. Principles

What are the principles of the work? Is it a performance piece? Is it written in iambic pentameter? How is it structured? Are there any features of the way dialogue is written? What is the type of production?

3. Theme

What is the theme of the play as intended by the playwright? Is this realised?

4. R&D

As a Director ask 'What if?' questions. Be involved as a dramaturg in the redrafting process. Don't let your ego get involved in the writing. Writing is a solitary business - be supportive. The writer doesn't always need to be in the room. It can help if they're not to allow the actors to fail without the writer's gaze. 

For new work, R&D important. Use actors' input but the writer must determine which feedback to use. Plays featuring real locations or people may need to be visited. When auditioning, can you find actors whose personal life can be utilised? All writing is born ugly and needs to be molded until it becomes a finished thing.

Directing is people managing. Create a safe space. Situations are difficult, not people. 

Uniting

This is a method used to break up a script into sections based on universal change. This is where everyone on stage is affected. By doing this you break the script into units (blocks of text) and each should have its own set of Facts and Questions. These units bring structure to the R&D process.

The questions can be grouped by character to allow an actor to create a timeline. This might reveal gaps that the actor or writer may need to fill. Actors can add texture by doing this and can be held accountable. You could give your actors a questionnaire about their character. 

In week 1 of R&D or the first part at least if no more than a week, include the writer. To find the division between units, use dings during a table read. When reading, shout out Ding! when you see a change. Make it fun. This method should generate 70% of the dings. The remaining 30% of ding work will occur after the table read. If there's no time for table reads, it can be done all on its feet.

Actioning

The next step in Actioning. Turn any dialogue into an action verb. Some actors will do this anyway in preparation. Reveals subtext. Don't tell actors how to say the line, let the actors come to it themselves.

Rehearsing

Each actor should have objectives and obstacles in each scene.

To generate alternative ways that the scene/moment can be played, you can

  1. Add a point of focus. For example, it's raining or someone's watching/listening, one of you is deaf. This can add texture.
  2. Discuss what happened before the scene began.
  3. Have actors close their eyes, move them to different locations, have them play from there.

Performance

Need to get fixes done before Tech Week. During the run, look after cast, maintaining their purpose.

End