Many people – like my new hairdresser – wonder why anyone would put in so much effort to create a piece of theatre and not get paid for it. Many directors bouncing around amateur theatre have been doing it for a while, and most do it for the love of it. Some are retired professionals looking to keep their hand in and their heart alight. And some, like me, are emerging professionals looking for experiences to add to a portfolio of work. That’s the easy answer – I’m building a career. The other answer – the real reason – is a lot harder to explain unless you’ve sat in a theatre and felt “that” feeling.
Directing a theatre show is a massive commitment that usually lasts between three and six months. The tasks expected of the director – in community theatre at least – are many and varied, and often, all-encompassing. The director will have chosen, read and analysed the script, designed a set and costumes, run auditions and chosen a cast. They run rehearsals, making decisions about the presentation of every line and every movement in the entire play. Nothing happens by chance in the theatre. They may need to do extra work with actors who are untrained to elicit the performance required. Depending on the level of production support they get, they may have also designed marketing material, promoted the show, sourced props and costumes, helped build or paint the set.
It’s their creative vision that has made the script into a performance and if it all goes wrong, it’s their reputation on the line. And if no one comes to see it, it’s months of their lives wasted and a whole team of people let down. That’s why you see directors repairing costumes the night before opening and pasting up flyers in the local shops.
But this epic undertaking is worth it, when on opening night, the vision the director has created piece by piece is shared with the audience. Making a piece of theatre is a nuanced and visceral exercise in communication. The director has engineered a dance of emotion and meaning for the audience to experience. And the brilliant part is the each person will experience that in their own way, as too each performance by the actors will differ slightly.
Last night, I sat at the back of the intimate auditorium at Creswick Theatre Company, and watched the audience watching my work with The Sum of Us for the first time. Its seems odd to say that this was the first time I “saw” the play, but it’s true. Because without an audience there, the work is ever a rehearsal.
The presence of the audience meant the actors can feel, and play to, the reactions of the room. They had to pause for the laughter, ride the jokes and, as deliciously written by David Stevens, break the fourth wall and engage the audience directly.
It’s a unrivaled and obscure feeling to watch as a room of complete strangers feel the emotions that I have engineered them to feel. To know my intentions of meaning, the social or political commentary, the small jokes, the tiny moments of pathos have struck a cord with the audience. Nothing quite beats the shared human experience of live theatre. We’ve been doing it since the dawn of time, so we must be onto a good thing.
So if all this seems a bit weird and foreign to you, I suggest searching for your nearest theatre and going along. You’ll find the cinema, Netflix or a book have got nothing on the power of live performance done well.
If you’re in Central Victoria, you can come and see The Sum of Us. Tickets are $20 and you can book online or walk in with your cash. It runs Thursday – Saturday 5-14 April at the Creswick Courthouse Theatre, Raglan St, Creswick VIC.