If you can imagine a ship in a turbulent sea, it started off feeling like that. It’s been a constant series of highs and lows that I have never been able to properly grasp. Directing as an industry is wrapped so deeply in mystery that unless you went to a school that has the resources to illuminate the field (and sometimes even if you did), you’re going to be scrambling through the dark trying to feel your way towards the light. The truth about directing is that often times people aren’t quite sure of what we do and as a result, there aren’t a lot of institutional opportunities that are driven specifically towards us. The resources dwindle even more when you add race into this equation. Where do the black directors go to create work? When you look at the numbers on and off Broadway, you begin to get the sense that we don’t exist, that black directors exist somewhere outside of the scope of these white institutions. This presents both a problem and an opportunity.
Being on the margins gave me a clear look at the way the world of directing seemed to function. The earliest lesson that I learned about what it means to be a director is that an extensive part of the job is being able to maintain connections. Being an early career director means having to know people and showing them (very quickly) that they can trust you in a room. It means being able to sell yourself on why you love a play or an aesthetic and then being able to provide whatever a director needs in the room. I find myself most often interested in directors who I have little to nothing in common with. What can I learn from people who work differently than I do? What is gained from being a part of shows that I probably wouldn’t see in my day to day life. This has been useful in gaining a wide perspective on theatre and storytelling.
The thing about assistant directing that most people won’t admit is that it’s often times a very different skill than directing. It requires a very different muscle, but can be just as rewarding because of the time you’re getting to spend watching someone else do the job you want without worrying about the pressure. You’re getting a front row seat to new tools and tricks that can be added to your toolbox. It’s a gratifying experience. However, it sometimes requires that you stay at least ten steps ahead of the director. What will they need? Where are they leading that moment? How are they crafting these ideas? What ideas are they expressing and what can I add to make it more clear? How can you get inside of their head and use those tools to think about a room that you’ll eventually be leading.
One of the most rewarding things about being a young director is forming relationships with playwrights, actors, and designers. There is something exciting about having conversations about staging, about intentions, about how we can work to bring the audience into the physical world of a play. Being able to meet people at the same level with you and build up with them is exciting and some of the best advice I can give anyone interested in taking on the role of directing.
Directing is a long form game where you’re never quite sure which move will lead you to the next level. It’s a constant state of planting seeds in hopes that you’ll see a harvest. It could come in six days, six months or six years. The timeline doesn’t matter, what matters is that you’ve been doing the work to get it when it comes.
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