Introduction to Theatre Online Course
Last update: January 4, 2008
Students will examine:
Directing is still a relatively new phenomenon – late 19th, early 20th century -- and still developing.
Began to become more prominent during the Industrial Age and before (Romanticism).
Now the director is the dominant figure in theatrical production
Product of Industrial Age and Realism.
Some of the director's functions done earlier by other personnel:
Ancient Greek: The "choregus" (head of the chorus) often directed / coordinated song and movement.
Playwrights probably staged the plays, and probably cast them.
We know too little to understand if they "unified" the production.
Roman: a wealthy citizen organized, but we still do not know to what extent they "unified."
Medieval: the "master of secrets" – a special effects expert (and there were many special effects in the medieval theatre).
"Keeper of the register" - the "register" was a master copy of the script – a "guild" (group of craftsmen) could hold on to the register and pass it on from generation to generation.
All were primarily managerial skill, rather than artistic…
With the rise of professional acting companies (during and after Shakespeare’s time (15-1600’s) – came the "actor / manager".
David Garrick – actor/manager of the Drury Lane Theatre in London (from 1747-1776) , which still exists today.
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) [pronounced Vahg'-ner]-- theorist and composer – wrote operas that were fantastic, mythical, and patriotic– ran the Bayreuth Theatre [pronounced "Bye'-roit"] (1876-1883) (which still exists, run by Wagner’s descendants, and until a few years ago did does nothing but Wagner’s operas).
André Antoine (1858-1943) – Théâtre Libre (Free Theatre), Paris, founded 1886.
Fourth-wall realism—real beef onstage for slaughterhouse.
Otto Brahm (1856-1912) – the Freie Bühne (Free Stage) in Germany.
J.T. Grein (1862-1935) -- Independent Theatre, London.
Constantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938) – Moscow Art Theatre, 1898. With Vladimir Nemerovich-Danchenko (1858-1943) as co-founder.
THUS – by 1900, the term "director" was in wide-spread use and the primacy of director became clear – directors placed themselves at the center of production…
David Belasco – American producer and playwright also.
Did popular plays – sensory spectacle (real food) – an eclectic approach – he used all approaches.
Max Reinhart (1873-1943)– German – authoritarian, eclectic.
Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971)– Canadian – eclectic – in 1956 did Troilus updated to be set in England just before WWI.
Elia Kazan (1909- ) – Group Theatre in the 30s – mentor, critic, therapist of actor – used Stanislavsky’s "inner" "psychological realism" – Streetcar, Salesman. (New controversy regarding his 1999 Oscar for lifetime achievement because he named names to HUAC.)
After World War II, the term "auteur director" developed.
No real theories yet about these new directors or the changing face of director in modern theatre.
Functions: Artistic and Managerial
A new question has developed: should directors be "interpretive" rather than "creative" artists? To interpret the script or fashion their own work of art, using the script as a basis?
value: ability to focus the production
danger: concept may distort script or diffuse attention (many think Peter Brook is this last kind…)
In the past, a manager or theatre owner organized everything, but not really "artistic" unity.
Greek and Medieval – a businessman or civic or religious leader – goal was efficiency, not artistic unity…
a. Depends on your point of view about directing:
(This following is from Cameron and Gillespie):
The worshipful vs. heretical approach to the script:
On a continuum
-- Worshipful approach:
Director’s job is NOT to create theatre, but to cause the script / play to create exciting theatre.
Can become boring and empty (letting the text do the work), or it can thrill us with the brilliance of getting the text’s strong points across.
-- Heretical approach:
Director’s job is to interpret the text in order to make a theatrical entity of the entire production for the audience.
--to make good theatre exciting.
--director’s responsibility is to the MEANING of the performance, of which the script is only a part.
Historical precedent: classic plays becoming opera,
"Bowdlerizing" (or click here) a play -- refers to deleting or changing parts of a script, removing socially "unacceptable" or sexually "offensive" parts of the script (from Thomas Bowdler, who published the "Family Shakespeare," with sexual innuendo and reference left out, and turning sad endings into happy ones).
Can lead to offensive or meaningless productions, or innovative and truly exciting ones.
Analysis and interpretation of the script would also include.
b. The pattern of the play – its major elements -- structure.
Environment of play:
"Given circumstances" – what are the necessary elements?
Updating – can often make a strong statement or clarify an idea (Julius Caesar in Nazi Germany, Hamlet in Nicaragua, As You Like It in 60’s commune [I was in this one!]).
Mood of environment is also important )rain, warm summer, hurricane, tension).
While the idea may appeal to directors at first, other values need to be gotten across.
Seldom are plays written "about an idea."
Other elements shape the production – (Cameron &Gillespie: "idea blatant in none, but subtle in all.").
Idea needs to be embedded in entire performance – when stands out, can ruin performance.
Ground Plan – we'll discuss under the heading of Design.
Where should actors / characters go so that the focus in the right place?
Focus – arrangement of stage picture so as to direct audience’s attention to the appropriate character, object, or event. (H, P, &L: 244).
Blocking – where actors go on stage.
Remember stage positions and body positions.
Called "blocking" because early directors conveyed staging instructions by drawing a grid on stage floor and labeling each stage position, or "block." (H,P,&L: 248).
Stage business: -- detailed handling of props, specific actions such as answering telephones or turning on a lamp.
Visual composition and picturization.
Physical movement of characters onstage.
Movement, pace, rhythm.
Visual punctuation marks, emphasis, motivations, relationships – all conveyed through movement, pace, rhythm [Edwin Wilson, The Theater Experience, 7 th edition, (McGraw-Hill, 1998), 146-147)]
Body language, symbolic values (If Richard II starts high, moves slowly to earth…)
H,P,&L, 244: Achieving focus
From late 19th century, the proscenium, "picture-frame" (box set, fourth-wall realism) have exploited stage’s potential for displaying pictures.
Not as easy on thrust or arena.
Mood and rhythm can be conveyed through movement: angular, round movements, jerky / smooth, etc.
Progression – the rate at which things happen -- speed and emotional intensity and energy.
Setting up of rhythms.
American Director Alan Schneider said "style is casting" – casting is half the work.
Read through play, actors and director discuss character and vision of the play, discuss play, show designs.
2. General rehearsals
rehearse in parts
scenes with particular characters
"French scene" -- entrance or exit of a character Scenes -- between "curtains" or blackouts (Remember: many contemporary stages do not have or do not use curtains).
3. Run-throughs -- of acts or the whole play -- sections.
4. Technical rehearsals .
5. Dress rehearsals -- like an actual performance, sometimes for an "audience" (of selected invited people).
6. Previews (also called tryouts)-- usually primarily for the professional theatre -- so the director and actors can work out some of the rough spots before opening it officially -- often previews are out of town before coming to New York. (We at this campus usually have a preview performance for reviewers to come to).
7. Opening night -- in most professional theatre, the director's job is then over .. usually goes on to another job, and the Stage Manager takes over any directing responsibilities, such as "brush up rehearsals."
See the chart of the Director's duties in text
The Stage Manager
master of secrets
keeper of the register
You can take short study quizzes based on textbook materials
by going to the Student
Online Learning Center page for our textbook...
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Last update: January 4, 2008