Questions about directing

Thanks to the miracle of U-Haul, I’m now in Montana, and the number of theatre productions in town is noticeably smaller than when I was in New Orleans. Nonetheless, I did managed to find a production of Twelfth Night nearby, and I was happy to attend, since it’s one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. I found myself thinking about two specific things when the play ended, and if any experienced directors run across this, I’d love to hear your comments.

My first question was about how deeply you integrate a design or concept into a show, Shakespeare in particular. This production gave all the characters a steampunk aesthetic, at least in costuming. The set itself was mostly bare, with some abstract design. Part of me wanted to see this taken much further. I wanted Orsino’s castle to be the helm of a submarine out of Jules Verne, and Viola/Cesario to travel to Olivia’s domain in a dirigible. But let’s look at the financial realities of the situation. This is a tiny, summer-stock theatre performing outdoors for seventeen people. They don’t have the budget to do anything more, so the costumes should be enjoyed in and of themselves, and one shouldn’t worry about it. If it’s Lincoln Center, then yes, they ought to spend the time creating an entire world for the show, but these guys should get a pass.

I enjoyed the costumes, and pretty much fall on the side of giving them a pass, but the question I’d ask is, “If you can’t take the concept all the way, is it still worth doing, or should you simply leave it alone and do it (more or less) as the Globe would have done?”

My other question speaks more to my inexperience as a director. I’ve only done two shows, and they both had small budgets and tiny casts (three and two, respectively.) While watching the play, I was torn between the feeling that the director was making good use of the space, and the sense that there wasn’t always an emotional/textual rationale for having the characters move.

Has the effect of film and TV caused directors to feel that audiences will tune out if there’s not (nearly) constant motion? Does having the audience engaged in tracking the characters keep them more deeply involved? Does it make a difference if you’re directing for a “theatre-going crowd” versus a “festival crowd” who isn’t used to seeing plays. I’m curious to hear anyone’s experience.

For the most part, I didn’t find the motion distracting, but there were a few times I caught myself thinking about it.



  1. K.S. Hernandez · · Reply

    Me, being a complete theater know-nothing I can only speak from a consumer’s point of view where I tend to enjoy the small intimate gathering a bit more. The energy that comes from the sheer joy of performing is palpable and fun. I’d say give them a pass. 🙂

    1. My questions were not so much about letting this particular company off the hook or not. I was happy to see the show, and as I said, I enjoyed the costuming and action. It was more about what do to in my own directing work: Is it ok to go for a concept if you can’t completely fulfill it? How much stage movement to modern audiences require?

      1. K.S. Hernandez · ·

        Ah, I see. Well, in just about any situation, it’s my opinion that if you’re comfortable with your work then you may be on the right track. Sorry for the late reply. 🙂

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