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The Vision Quest

Offbeat Directing 1: The Vision Quest

Why read a guide?

This series is not the definitive ‘How to Direct a Play’ guide – I wouldn’t presume to be anywhere close to that (not even sure what it might look like). This is how I direct a show and I daresay we all have a few things in common we can compare and explore. It may also be of help to directors just starting out on their journey or others that need to refresh the way they approach the task. Or it may just give you an insight into how other people direct and be rather/tremendously/vaguely interesting in that respect. BUT … it is so important to enjoy what you do creatively.  I’d love to help you do that!

Read the play

So … stepping gracefully up to the ‘vision’ part, let’s assume that you have in fact read the play you want to direct. I know, it’s obvious isn’t it (no insult intended), but I have known directors turning up to an audition for their play and guess what? Yep, they haven’t actually got round to reading it. Read it a few times until it starts to sink in and you can start to visualise it on the stage.

Enthusiasm is key

So, you’ve read the play and absorbed the plot, met the characters and you REALLY LIKE it! This bit is important – you need to have affinity with the play, you need to enjoy it, it must inspire you to seek your vision (this, I find is doubly true if you’re not actually getting paid and directing is something you do in your spare time). By the way, you should be reading your play WAY before you think about casting.  For a BIG show – I like a year so I can think and plan at my leisure before I get too many people involved.
Ask yourself a few questions:

Do I really want to do this play?
You must answer YES!
What can I do with the resources available to me right now?
If I wanted to put on a big glitzy musical I would want it to be big and glitzy – not small and plain. I love to dream and think BIG, but make sure you wade in gradually from a good starting point.
Can I cast it?
If you can confidently cast it – that’s great! If not, but you still want to go ahead, start scouting around as early as you can.

Tell the story

Now, initial considerations out the way,  it’s time to dream (my favourite bit). But, before you do, what exactly is the job of the Director? Let’s just clarify that!
To me the job of the director is to tell the story in a coherent and entertaining way.
Tell the story the author has written
To do this you will need to keep in touch with every aspect of the show throughout the process.
It starts with your vision because this forms the basis of everything else you do.

Dream BIG

At this stage don’t be held back by minor considerations (like cost for instance). Dream BIG and start to imagine the play as a grand and amazing experience. 
When I’m in ‘vision quest’ mode and happily dreaming away, I make my wish list of everything I want that will make to show stand out. I see the set (not good at drawing but I have a go), the costumes – I decide on style and staging. You will doubtless change things as you go along, but for now get your ideas rolling.

Start Dreaming

A Pinterest board is a great idea for inspiration - this one for amazing costumes.

The Style Board

Start a STYLE BOARD – pin up pictures and ideas on a board where you work and/or use something like Pinterest to collect inspirational pictures. 
It really is important to get a good idea of exactly how you see the show being performed so you can start to talk to your designers, costumers, cast, crew, set builders, lighting & sound designers with confidence and authority about what it is you want them to do. 
Surround yourself with your ideas and gradually the ones that work will start to stand out. 

The Book

My favourite current book

I also like to have a really nice book (like an A4 journal) for each show and I start to compile my ideas (and many lists). Partly the ‘nice book’ thing makes it special and it also serves to keep ideas in one place. A portable device would be great too. Use whatever device suits you. Have it in the back of your mind all the time and keep working on it. I sound a bit obsessed, don’t it! I am … You can, of course, adjust your input to suit your life and available time. 
So .. dream away until you know your show really well. Don’t use the dreadful phrase ‘oh, that will do’ – reach for the stars! 
Yes, ‘reality’ may curb your outlandish designs, but it may also embrace them.