By Ahtiya Liles
I’ve considered myself an actress for several years now. I’ve been on stage since the age of 6 doing a wide range of performance types: acting, dancing, singing, etc. When I was a sophomore in high school, I went to see my first Broadway musical: Memphis. That was a life changing experience that I will gladly explain in another post. It was during the final bows of Memphis that I decided I wanted to act professionally. It was my freshmen year of high school where a friend convinced me to join the choir and where the dance instructor told me to take dance so I could become a triple threat.
For those that do not know, when people in the theatre world consider you a triple threat, they mean you can “do it all”: act, sing, and dance. And I indeed do all three and have gotten to a point where I am comfortable doing all three on a stage. I’m not saying I’m amazing, but I have the ability to do all three to a degree that’s not vomit-inducing for the audience.
I have always considered myself an actress. Without a doubt and through and through. Within the past six months, however, I’ve been dipping my toes into two different sections within the pool of theatre: playwriting and directing.
I had tried writing a play before, but it wasn’t successful. I enjoyed the idea of a series of vignettes with a common aspect, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around how to write it and what would be the driving force. I’ve realized that I am completely plot and character driven – that’s what drives the books I write, the books I read, the movies I watch, the TV shows I enjoy, etc. That was maybe two years ago.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I wrote a scene for a friend and I to perform for the Talent Show. The scene was basically two sisters recounting the story of how they were inadvertently responsible for the death of their parents. I tried to incorporate that scene into the play I just mentioned, and it just wasn’t working.
Years later, I re-read the scene, and an idea for a new (and thankfully better) play was born. I worked constantly on drafting and writing this play, staying up until 3 or 4AM, until I stalled in the beginning of Act Three. I still have all intentions of finishing it, but this is a thing I do with a lot of my works: I know how it’ll end, but I get attached to these characters, and suddenly, as I approach the end, I become busy and procrastinate writing the ending. I know, I know: it’s a problem that I need to fix, but I’m working on it.
Now, months after my drive for that particular play stalled, I have started and finished another play, a much shorter one than Home For The Weekend (the play I started this summer) will end up being. I was able to crank out this play in about two weeks, and I’m absolutely obsessed with it and want to direct in the coming months. This leads me to my other new obsession.
I’ve always had this appreciation for directing. To me, it was one of the most revered roles in a theatre. Being a director is almost the equivalent to being an author of a book (and, yes, both a playwright and a director can create the world of a play, but in different ways). There’s this amazing quotation by Gustave Flaubert that reads: “An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.” Now, I know from firsthand experience as both an actress and a director that this is not entirely true when it comes to theatre and the relationship between a director and a play. It is pretty close, though, since every choice made on a stage is presumed to be approved by the director.
I was afraid of the challenge of directing. I’m not going to lie: it scared the daylights out of me. As an actress, I know how it is to look towards a director for guidance and answers. If something in the scene isn’t working, it’s the director’s job to fix it. There’s a certain level of trust an actor has to have with their director in order for a production to work. Plus, directing an entire play just seemed…daunting. But I decided to dive into the deep end headfirst last semester when I registered for classes and decided that I would take Directing I this fall. I had no idea what I was getting into or if I would be good, but I knew that I needed to at least try. It was something I was interested in (same with playwriting), and I would never know if I was capable of doing it until I was given the appropriate tools and given a chance to use them.
I can now say that I’m a different kind of triple threat because of this. I consider myself an actress, a playwright, and a director. Now, this is not to say that I am fantastic at these things – I still have a long way to go and develop within the realm of all three. When I say that I’m a triple threat, I mean that I have a special eye. The other two inform the one. I’ll explain.
As an actress, I’ve read and dissected several plays. Because of this, I know what it takes to craft a play. I know the bare minimum of what is needed and how to write a script so that it translates clearly to an actor and a director. From my time as an actress, I also know and have an appreciation for the work actors put into the text. These experiences have informed me as a director. I know the struggles of learning lines, of becoming too comfortable with your blocking and feeling like a scene is stale, and of trying not to look like you’re anticipating what your scene partner is about to say. I get these things because I’ve been through them, so I don’t expect these grandiose things from actors that I know will be impossible to deliver.
My years as an actress have definitely translated over, but my new experience as a director has also helped my acting (as well as my playwriting). Because I know what a director is usually looking for, I am able to think about possible questions before I’m asked them – this speeds up the rehearsal process and also gives the director a helping hand. Not only does it give them a helping hand, it also furthers my development as a character and as an actress.
I could go on and on about how acting, directing, and playwriting are cohesively benefiting me, but I think it’s pretty simple. I’ve become a different kind of triple threat, and a more well-rounded artist because of it.