Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Teaching the Unteachable: A Dialogue in Director Training

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Teaching the Unteachable: A Dialogue in Director Training

Article excerpt

In this article we examine our philosophies and practices of teaching Theatre Directing as a discrete subject at university. Rather than adding to the volumes of writing on how to direct, we consider the question of how to teach directing from the perspective of the teacher of a class of beginners. In a study of director education in the USA, Anne L. Fliotsos argues that, in the West, 'the stage director is recognised as the central figure in the theatre' yet she describes director training as 'teaching the unteachable'.1 How can one teach this subject, where the student really learns by doing? What is the starting point? What assumptions can be made? Who are we teaching and what are we training them for? How important is it that teachers of Directing be practitioners themselves? Given the nature of most university courses - perhaps one or two classes per week - how much can realistically be achieved? We consider answers to these questions in terms of our own teaching methodologies, where they diverge and converge, based on our collective experiences as professional theatre directors who also teach Directing courses in universities.

There are many directing handbooks, ranging from the 'teach yourself directing' style of Robert Benedetti's The Director at Work (1984) to volumes of useful tips and tricks for the rehearsal room, such as Viola Spolin's Theater Games for Rehearsal (1985). Such works assume that the novice director is about to launch into a full-length production, and often include words of advice from professional practitioners. They take the aspiring director through the logical steps of production, from encountering the text, to forming a production concept, to casting and then into the rehearsal process. There are sundry publications by major directors, such as Max Stafford-Clark's Letters to George (1989) or Katie Mitchell's The Director's Craft (2009), which can provide genuine insight and perhaps even comfort; it is always a relief to hear that even established directors may struggle with the creative process. There is an infinity of interviews with and articles about the philosophy and craft of internationally significant directors, ranging from the scénographie emphasis epitomised by Robert Wilson to the realist, character-based tradition represented by Mike Leigh. There are also philosophical approaches, such as Anne Bogart' s A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre (2001), or Charles Marowitz's Directing the Action (1986), which serve more as touchstones and provocations. All have their place as recommended reading in the subject. However, as Fliotsos has noted, 'little attention has been given to the education of directors'.2

In order to position our discussion, we first acknowledge the context in which we are teaching in New Zealand. Since 2000, industry training courses in Directing have been offered at Unitec in Auckland - a Bachelor of Arts in Directing and Writing for Screen and Theatre - and at Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School, where a full-time, two-year Master of Theatre Arts in Directing (MTA) is jointly taught with Victoria University's Theatre Programme. These are the only two conservatory-style directing programmes offered in New Zealand, and as both were introduced relatively recentiy, the majority of senior professional directors working in this country are largely self-taught. Before 1970, local practitioners seeking professional training were obliged to travel overseas, as there were no courses offered in the country at that time - other tiian ad hoc, on-the-job training with touring companies or Wellington's Downstage (founded in 1964). Others drew inspiration from leading directors such as Raymond Hawthorne, whose contribution included leading a series of summer Directing workshops for Theatre Corporate in the 1980s and setting up Unitec's Directing course.3 So starved were practitioners for directing methodologies that, when British director Mike Alfreds gave a three-day workshop in Wellington in 1989, it had a significant ripple effect, in which a number of New Zealand directors adopted elements of his process, including Downstage's Colin McCoIl. …

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