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What I Learned – Directors Direct

DirectorAs a theater professional (humor me), I’ve done just about every job in the production process.  I’ve written.  I’ve acted.  I’ve produced.  I’ve designed.  And I’ve directed.

I direct all the time. I call myself a writer, but I often feel I spend far more time directing than writing.

I really hate directing.

In all probability, the primary reason I hate directing is because I feel I’m just not very good.  I don’t feel I have a good instinct for creating interesting stage pictures.  I have don’t critique my performers well because it often takes me three or four days to really settle on what I think needs to change.  I have a very hard time telling people no.

For Vilification Tennis, I’m a performing director.  My job as the judge is to guide the actors on stage.  I’ll drop subtle hints about what is working and what isn’t working.  I control the tempo of the match.  My responsibility is as much to help the performers do the best job as it is to assist in guiding the audiences response to their performances.

I’ve been doing it so long, I barely think about it any more.  I just know how to control the flow of the show and most people don’t even notice that I’m doing anything at all, which is as it should be.

Because so much I do is onstage, I often neglect the offstage piece of cast development and show coordination.  While we can put on a very good show with a small amount of prep work, the more time we put into the show, the better the onstage product becomes.

The cast is large and as their skill has improved over time, it has become clear that we need to cut back a few performers.

All of my performers are very good or they wouldn’t be in the cast.  But you have to make decisions.  You want to use the best possible people and that sometimes means the very good don’t get a chance.

The job of a director is to put the best possible show on stage.  It is not to make sure that they don’t hurt the feelings of their performers.

As I looked at our show last year, I thought about the fact that we have been improving as performers but I haven’t been improving as a director.  I’ve been regressing.

It wasn’t just Vilification Tennis, either.  I have a great time putting together Big Fun Radio Funtime but I know my performers want more direction out of me.  When we read through scripts, I need to give them ideas on how to approach the material.

That’s my job.

As usual, my best ideas come about a week after the performance when I think “that scene might have worked better if the character had sounded more annoyed.”

Directors direct.  That is their job.  I may think I’m absolutely awful at the job but if I’m going to keep doing that job, I need to be committed to doing it right.

What I learned is this:  there are times in our lives when we are tasked with doing something that we can’t do well.  When that happens, we need to work to do it better than we believe we are capable.  If we do that, we might actually get better.

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What I Learned – Just Dance

2706I’m writing a blog series about what I learned in 2014.  The year had highs and lows – as any year does – but I learned a lot.

I’ve never been a very good dancer.  I’m stiff and not very flexible and I’m generally more interested in singing along to a song than dancing to the song so I end up doing this sing-y danc-y thing with a lot of unnecessary clapping.

If I wasn’t keenly aware of my skills as a dancer already, there are plenty of people who are present to remind me.  Hell, The Dregs have made a running bit out of my dancing skills.  I usually try to dance even worse than I already dance just to help punctuate the joke.

Lots of people are bad dancers and I’m good at a great many other things so my self-esteem doesn’t take too hard a hit when people tease me about my inability to cut an impressive rug.

2014, though, was the year where I agreed to dance in front of everyone.  And not as a joke.

During the after part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2013, Windy Bowlsby and I were watching a bunch of our friends on the dance floor.  They were actors, comedians, writers and even dancers.

And I said to her that it would be interesting to see a dance show where all the dancers were people who didn’t dance.  I specifically talked about writers but the basic thought was that it would be fun to see a good choreographer (Windy) take people who weren’t known as dancers and get them to dance on stage in front of an audience.  As a serious dance show.

The moment the suggestion passed my lips, I knew that if she liked the idea, she was going to ask me to be in the show.

My philosophy is to say “yes” to the performance ideas that scare me because I can’t grow if I keep doing the projects that are safe.  So of course Windy asked me if I’d be in such and show and of course I said yes.

And such was the birth of “Jumpin’ Jack Kerouac.”

The show was the best kind of success.  It didn’t succeed because we all suddenly became great dancers but because Windy found a way to bring out the best in all of us and she made the show about something other than “let’s all laugh at these awkward writers trying to dance.”

It became a celebration of potential and I had a lot of performers telling me how much that show touched them.  It touched me too.

The classic phrase is we should learn to dance like no-one is watching.  But someone is always watching.  Even if we shut out everyone else, there is a little piece of ourselves that is keenly aware of our own body movements. And if you are me, you are aware of how dorky you probably look.

At the Fringe after party the last few years, I’ve watched a whole lot of awkward people dancing enough to know that they don’t care if anyone is watching. When dancing to “Firework,” most people aren’t concerned with dancing like a professional.  They just want to dance.

Are people watching me and laughing at how awkward I am on the dance floor?  Probably not because there is someone right next to me who is just as awkward.  Being a bad dancer isn’t the exception.  Most people are bad dancers.

And most people dance anyway because they just feel like dancing.

So what I learned in 2014 is to say “fuck it. I feel like dancing.”