Pictured: Cheryl Weaver. Photo by J. Robert Schraeder/Spinning Tree Theatre
In this 3-part series, PerformInk takes you inside Spinning Tree Theatre’s production of FULL GALLOP through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past “Inside” articles click here.
By Doug Weaver, Director
“What is it, exactly, that you do?” That, or some variation, is the question I get asked the most. What does a director do? Every other job in the theater is easy to define. The actor? Watch the show, there it is. The designers? Their work is right in front of you. Even the Producer(s) have a readily apparent job. But, the director, what exactly, do they do?
I could tell you I am a storyteller. But that is too simple because we are ALL storytellers. Ask someone about their day, and if you can get more than “it’s OK” out of them – they will tell you a story. So, what does a director do? I believe our first job is to build the atmosphere of the rehearsal process. We set the tone, and make the JOB of theater a safe, exciting, and creative one. You get the best work out of actors when they feel like they can try things, test boundaries… FAIL without fear of reprisal. It is my job to give them that chance.
When I taught graduate level directing courses at the University of Kansas, I told the students, the first thing a director has to be is a psychologist. We have to understand human nature and be able to apply it to the problems of theater. You may have an actor who often needs a swift kick to move forward, or you may have an actor who needs to be left alone as they work, and they may be working with an actor with no clue, just instincts – and a technical actor who cares less about the “psychology.” Your job, as director, is to get them all to the same place. To get them to tell your story the way it needs to be told. Not easy, but how lovely when it works.
Think of the fact that only one of the director’s tasks is working with actors. There is a script to be wrangled. I always tell a cast at first reading that none of them knows this script as I do, but that all of them will know it better by the end. Always start with the problems, solve the problems first and the process will be rewarding. So, script and actor, what next? Designers. I know a little about lights, sound, costumes, and sets. Enough to probably be dangerous. So, my job is to work with people who DO know this stuff and get them to do what is needed to tell our story. Not unlike the actor, designers need space, and desire to work, and do their magic – while working within the story we all are trying to tell.
Then find a Stage Manager. And I mean a great Stage Manager. There is no more important position in the theater. They have to take someone else’s vision, someone else’s work… someone else’s STORY and keep it working for the entire run of the show. Without any of the glory (what there is), the others get.
So, now we find ourselves at “Full Gallop.” This one is different (of course, they all are!) This one has but one actor. And that actor happens to be my wife. In some cases, that could be tough. For me, it was a blessing. Cheryl is an amazing actress, but even better she has the perfect mix of technique and instincts that a one-person show needs. AND… we were trained by the same people, with the same vocabulary. Add to her work, a set of true professionals for designers, two producers any director would kill for and – a STAGE MANAGER! Oh, yes, and a subject matter/play about a fascinating woman. Well, a director gets lucky sometimes. Even if the actually JOB is still a little fuzzy.
Doug Weaver (FULL GALLOP Director) is the Director of Theatrical Arts at Bishop Seabury Academy in Lawrence, Kansas. He is also the Director of EARTH (Equity Actor Readers Theatre) with the incomparable Kip Niven in Kansas City. His most recent directing credits include At Home at the Zoo for KCAT, Mousetrap for KRT and The Rocky Horror Show for Theatre Lawrence. Doug is an actor as well, listing three great Shakespearean clowns among his favorites… Falstaff, Sir Toby Belch, and Bottom. (Somebody do Much Ado quickly so I can add Dogberry!). Along with teaching, directing and acting, Doug is also a writer, stage combat choreographer, and golfer. He is luckily married to Cheryl, proud father of Lawrence filmmaker Ian and happy owner of Mickey!