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Actor and Director

So, a couple of nights ago, at rehearsal, our Director made a decision that I had argued against, and cut one of my laugh lines. Yesterday, she called to find out whether I was in a snit about it. I wasn’t, of course.

First, for what it’s worth, the specifics. There are two bed scenes with Monsieur the Vicomte and Madamoiselle Cecile, both in Act One, with only one intermediate scene. They are set in two different bedrooms in the same country house; the second begins with Valmont saying that his room is “Much the same as your room”. Sadly, limitations of space and budget prevent having two similar but not identical rooms. For one thing, we only have the one bed. My solution was to simply assume that the rooms were identical, as two rooms in a house might well be. Our Director instead chose to cut the line that indicated that they were, in fact, different rooms, which meant cutting the line after that, which was my laugh line. The result is that the two scenes are now set in the same room.

Now, I happen to like having them be in different rooms. The fact that Cécile is willing to go to his room rather than him going to hers is actually a big deal. Not a huge deal, but a big one. And, frankly, because I’m that way, I think it’s HOT-HOTT that they go somewhere where she can be noisier. So in a perfect world, I would certainly keep the lines. On the other hand, I see her point that really, to keep the audience, if there are two rooms that look the same, they should be the same, and if there are two rooms that are different, they need to look different, and it’s just not worth it, what with having to not only find another bed but cart one off and the other on between scenes. I would have made the decision the other way if it were mine, but it isn’t.

Which is the point I’m writing about. She is the one in a position to make that decision. I’m not. It would be stupid for me to be upset about it. For one thing, do I really think the second room is important, or do I just want that laugh? Even I don’t know. She doesn’t have to worry about it: all the laughs are hers, as are all the complaints. More important, though, is that she is a director and I am an actor. There were a bunch of decisions she made in the last show (which she directed and I played a rather smaller part in) that I would have made the other way, and they worked her way. Because, you see, she’s good at her job. That doesn’t mean I won’t express my opinion and all, but honestly, if it came down to her judgment or mine, I’ll go with hers, all the same as when the X-Ray wallah said my ribs weren’t broken, and I wasn’t inclined to trust my judgment over his. He knows his job. It’s to be hoped that I know mine, which as an actor does have a lot to do with directorial choices, but it isn’t really to be hoped that I know hers better than she does.

I don’t think I would direct better than she does. More important, I don’t want to think I would direct better than she does, because that would imply that, well, that she’s a rubbish director and will ruin the play. And, since I have seen one show she’s directed and played in another, I know she isn’t rubbish, so that’s all right. So if there’s a directorial decision to be made concerning priorities of sets, lights, timing, sound, acting, interpretation and all the rest of it, I’ll feel free to venture my opinion, even to argue it, and be thrilled when she agrees with me, and be thrilled when she doesn’t.

For those who were with me long, long ago: yes, this realization has come later than my college years, when I was arrogant enough to think that my decisions were the important ones because they were mine. I was nineteen. Or perhaps twenty. I was wrong. Surprise!

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Have you written about the changing role of the Director (probably years ago), or was that someone else (probably Andy Perry)?

It seems to me that fundamentally, the Director's job is to cause the play to turn out a certain way; but it's not clear that the Director's job is to decide what way the play should turn out. Someone has to do that, and maybe the Director is the best person for the job, but it doesn't necessarily have to be that way, does it? Couldn't the lead Actor be in charge of deciding what the play should be like, and the Director just in charge of implementation?


The role of the director has been variable, historically. Indeed, the role of director in the modern sense did not exist, at least in the British/American theater tradition, prior to the later 19th century, before which the lead actor took on the role Irilyth describes, and more.

The company was run by the Actor-Manager, who was the lead actor, the star of the company, who combined in one person the functions that in a large professional theater will be divided among the artistic director for the theater, the director of an individual play, and a changing set of actors who are cast in the leading roles in the theater's productions.

The Actor-Manager system lasted into the early years of the 20th century, coexisting with the beginnings of the modern Directorial system. Even under the new system, the idea that the Director was simply implementing the play, making sure it was performed smoothly and competently, rather than INTERPRETING the play, retained currency through the middle of the century. The deference in this case was partly to the actors, who were presumed to know how to interpret their parts (so that the director had a choreographic rather than coaching function) and partly to the playwright, who was presumed to have a specific, valuable intention in composing the play, which it was the director's job to follow, not to change.

Artistic Authority has always been a complex issue in the theater, as we should expect, given that it is a highly social and collaborative art.


I have a sudden vague memory of an actor or director commenting about a play or movie that whenever they were uncertain about something, they would go back to the words as written, which would always provide them with guidance. Or something. But I can't remember the details, and I can't remember if this is something I heard on the radio, something I read somewhere, and/or something someone has said here during this ongoing discussion....


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