This course will explore the complex and fascinating process of directing a play, focusing on the classical repertoire as a way of revealing the choices a director must make at every step of the process to bring a dramatic text to life on stage. What is the director’s role in relation to actors, designers, writers and other collaborators? Each session of the course will focus on a specific play and period of drama, discussing interpretation, design choices, casting, music, rehearsal imperatives and how to shape audience expectations. “Real world” examples will come from the Instructor’s extensive experience in staging work at theaters large and small across America and Canada.
Week by Week Outline
Week 1: An overview of the role of the director in contemporary theater. How has that role evolved and when did it begin? How does the director’s role change depending upon the genre of theater being staged? Who are the director’s key collaborators? How does the director shape the process of exploration during the pre-production period (casting/design/music/hiring the team), the production period (daily rehearsals/technical rehearsals/previews and performance) and the performance period (audience interaction and sustaining the performance)? Assignment: Sophocles ELEKTRA
Week 2: staging a Greek tragedy. Topics include: translation, how to approach the role of the Chorus, the political and cultural dimension of the Greeks, scale of performance, casting, design. Assignment: Shakespeare THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
Week 3: staging Shakespeare. What were the assumptions of Elizabethan drama in terms of staging/space/audience interaction/casting and how do we respond to those today? How does a director deal with issues like anti-Semitism or misogyny in Shakespeare? How should the play be cut, if at all? How does one approach the language and radical changes in tone from Venice to Belmont? Assignment: Ibsen GHOSTS translated by Paul Walsh (I will provide the text)
Week 4: staging Ibsen. Ibsen’s work was wildly ahead of its time in focus on gender roles and the repression of the individual by a coercive society or religion. How does the director evoke the atmosphere of “ghosts” hidden inside the play? How is the past “detonated” in the present? What staging will sustain and enhance the claustrophobia of Mrs. Alving’s world? How can casting and music enhance the sexual tension? Assignment: Chekhov UNCLE VANYA
Week 5: staging Chekhov. How does Chekhov’s intimate “realism” work and how do we lift it to the poetic level the work demands while keeping it simple and true? How to build an ensemble capable of sustaining Chekhov’s family dramas? Translation and tone: are these plays comedies, as Chekhov insisted, or tragedies, as we usually interpret them? How to create intimacy on a large stage?Assignment: Beckett WAITING FOR GODOT
Week 6: the contemporary classic GODT poses fascinating challenges for a director: how to sustain tension in a play where “nothing happens, twice”? What are the physical constraints? How abstract versus how “everyday” should the world be? How to access comedy? What is the design that holds it together? How diverse can the casting be?
CONCLUSION: We will finish with a return to an overview of the directing process and see if there are broad “rules of play” that we have discovered during these six weeks.