Academic journal article TriQuarterly

The Discipline of Directing

Academic journal article TriQuarterly

The Discipline of Directing

Article excerpt

Recently, I directed a new play called August: Osage County. The first iteration was performed at Steppenwolf Theatre, the theater that had commissioned, developed, and workshopped the play over the course of two years. Tracy Letts, the playwright, had asked me to direct the play before the first draft was even completed, so I had been with the project from the outset. The sprawling, three-act, three-plus hour production was challenging to direct, but not oppressively so, and I enjoyed the process a great deal. Of course, I thought it would live ever so briefly in real life, as most plays do, and then disappear into the ether and leave me with my own fond memories.

August: Osage County won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Tony awards for best play, and I myself received those awards for direction. In late 2008, we left for London and the National Theatre, and in the summer of 2009 begins the national tour. And I am wondering, as I always do, what it all means.

There have been several instances in the past few years that have demanded from me an ordered recollection of my professional life--why I started directing, why I started teaching, how I do both, and why I continue to pursue either. These assignments have always been exciting to me, the answers coming easily but not without thought as they helped me understand my day, whether that be the one spent in the rehearsal room or the one spent in the classroom. I have, on one hand, a very practical relationship to directing. I understand it in its most basic formula: a sequence of assignments that result in a controlled and repeatable event that always looks like it's happening for the first and only time. On the other hand, directing is a deeply personal experience as it allows me to create environments that, for me, are rife with meaning. I am endlessly fascinated by the relationship between my interests in those environments and those of the rest of the world--where do I meet my fellow man? Where do we diverge? And these questions have always led me to teaching.

I believe it is the role of a teacher, especially a teacher of artists, to create an environment that encourages students to investigate, develop, and articulate their own points of view. They must learn how to find the stories that have meaning for them as well as tell them. Certainly a successful directing teacher creates opportunities for students to develop a comprehensive understanding of the sequence of events in rehearsal, the craft of the actor, the visual vocabulary that includes the theatrical impact of images, and text analysis, but they also have to have in place a system designed to support the internal process of becoming a thinker. Because as much as directing is a collaborative act, it is also equally solitary, and the demystification of that part of the process is critical to the success of any directing professor. And these two conversations, that of the director and the teacher of directing, have been going on simultaneously in my life for ten years. As I grow older and the world around me grows darker, the questions around these issues have taken on more complexity, and as a result, so has their place in my own soul. I am a different artist today than I was even five years ago, and I am re-engaged in the question of the value of this work and the ethics of educating artists to continue its practice.

The event that August has become has served as a catalyst for much of this thinking. Although I have great fondness for the production--I believe Tracy Letts has written a deeply engaging and entertaining play--it is not the kind of work that has occupied my interest over the past six or seven years. The primary characteristics of that work have included a very direct engagement in the sociopolitical dynamics of our time.

August: Osage County at best triangulates its relationship to our current condition through the metaphor of family. …

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