By Ahtiya Liles
Producing and directing a show in seven and a half weeks has been a rough journey, and you will hear me say that many more times. I will gladly admit that I struggled throughout the entire process, and now that my show is going up this week, I can reflect and see how I stayed sane(ish) during the rehearsal and production process of Orchestra Seats.
I am in no way a master director. I’m still very very much a novice, and there are no surefire ways to run anything (especially when it comes to theatre), but here’s a list of things I did and learned in order to (kinda) keep my sanity in preparation for my directorial debut.
1. I created a schedule. This was especially important when I began to have 2+ hour long rehearsals where we would run multiple scenes, half acts, full acts, and full run-throughs. By taking just five to ten minutes out of my day before a rehearsal to organize my thoughts and set a schedule, I was able to consciously make goals for myself. I made sure to be realistic in my timing so that I wouldn’t stress out later during rehearsal if we strayed off the schedule. I’d rather allot too much time to a given scene than not enough. Because, in the end, that cheats me, the actors, and the production as a whole.
2. I read the scene beforehand, even if it was quickly. I also gave this tip to my actors. Even if I don’t have the time to create a list of goals and questions (because, hey, there just aren’t enough hours in the day), reading the scene over started those engines in my brain. It helped that I read the play at least six times before rehearsals even began, but skimming that day’s scene beforehand always put me in the mindset of: “okay, this is what we’re working with today!”
3. I joked around and wasn’t afraid to stray from my schedule, but not too much. Actors, crew members, and I are human. Jokes arise and personal anecdotes are a given, and this is okay. Personally, I feel as if it creates a sense of camaraderie, but it also helps everyone loosen up, especially if our opening is approaching. One of our best rehearsals, in my opinion, was when my two actresses shared personal stories and feelings about being a black girl and working in theatre as it related to the text. There’s a fine line, though, between easing up and wasting time, and I’ve learned this the hard way. I made a schedule for a reason, so I didn’t want to disrespect my past self by straying thirty minutes from it. I would seriously regret this in the end, and it would end up feeling like a wasted rehearsal.
4. I realized that not every rehearsal before a run-through has to be something new. At the end of every rehearsal week up until one week from opening, we had a recap rehearsal where we would run every scene we had blocked for that week. The schedule tip I said earlier definitely came in handy here, since some weeks were much heavier than others. I especially enjoyed our recaps because it not only secured blocking, but it also allowed me and the actors some time away from scenes so that we were able to come at it with a fresh perspective. Also, some problems that arose in the first rehearsal fixed themselves during the recap or were fixed in the recap, and I was able to gauge from the recap whether or not a scene needed some major revisions. Which leads me to…
5. I learned that if you need more time to workshop something, just extend rehearsal or add an additional one. I have revised the rehearsal schedule probably 5 times, but with good reason. Sometimes I couldn’t fix every problem with one rehearsal and a recap (which is so frustrating). I might have added one additional rehearsal, or even two (or three or six). This is totally okay. Once I realized that I couldn’t fix every problem in one day, this really began to stress me. If there’s two things I hate, it’s adding extra rehearsals and soaking up people’s time, which is exactly what happens when you add rehearsals. Actors are pretty forgiving about this (I speak from experience as an actress) because we (yes, I’m going to switch roles for a moment) can always feel when a scene needs more work. No actor wants to be under-rehearsed – that’s one of the worst feelings in the world. If a scene needs an additional rehearsal or an extended one, I learned to just bite the bullet. I definitely thanked myself in the long run.
6. I respected the actors’ time. I think I speak as an actress when I say I really appreciate when a director asks to go over. I tried my hardest to apply this to my production process. If I needed to go over (I think this happened maybe twice), I would usually know by the midway point of the rehearsal and would ask during the break if this is okay. (The only exception to that was our scheduled 8-hour long rehearsal during the beginning of tech week where so many things just were not working in our favor.) I could never know what they (the actors and stage managers) had going on after the rehearsal, so to just suppose that they were free would be inconsiderate. Plus, I set a rehearsal end time for a reason, and that’s something I believe every director should respect. As an actress, nothing grinds my gears more than a director who just claimed an extra hour or two of my time without warning and then became frustrated when I wanted to leave. One of the things that I learned from an amazing acting teacher and director in high school was the policy to always release the actors on time or within ten minutes of the ending time. This is something I really try to stay true to.
7. I delegated to my stage managers because they are Godsends. All hail the stage manager. By nature, I am the type of person who likes to do everything myself because I can control the quality and speed of the work very closely. This production challenged my nature and forced me to realize that I can’t do everything. And even if I could, I would LOSE MY MIND! So, I began to delegate to my stage manager, who would then delegate to her assistant stage managers. We ended up being a pretty awesome team.
8. I read the play as each main character. My winter break was basically me reading the play every couple of days, but picking a character to track. So, for instance, I would choose Louella for a day and then only read the scenes and parts of the scenes with Louella in it. It helps to get a better understanding of each character and track their progress and what they know and don’t know in relation to other characters.
9. I had a confidant. There were rough rehearsals. And then there were especially rough rehearsals. Then there were especially rough situations that weren’t even in rehearsal. I had three people who I could vent about this with, and one of these people weren’t directly involved with the show and was my mother. Sometimes, I just needed to vent and let out my frustration and fears. This really helped put things in perspective.
This was definitely a journey. And I doubted myself and my company and my ability as a director. I can now say, though, as we’re entering into the thick of tech week and on to the show, that I’m glad for this experience. I definitely plan on directing at least one other show while in college, and it will be better. I know it will. Every experience I have with my craft makes me a better artist, and that’s something I truly believe. Orchestra Seats is my freshmen directorial project, and I’m proud of where it’s at. I’m proud of myself (and the rest of the company and crew) for dealing with everything that was thrown our way. I take Orchestra Seats as a learning experience, and it’s one that I’m glad I had now, instead of a year and a half from now or once I had graduated.
If you’re in the SUNY Purchase area, come see Orchestra Seats on March 10th & 11th at 8pm, and March 12th at 3pm and 8pm in the SUNY Purchase Southside Theatre! I’m super excited to put on this show and share this story!
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