torstai 8. marraskuuta 2012

Day 48: The director persona

The task of a theatre director is essentially to look at the play from the audience's point of view and be the source of feedback for actors as they cannot see the play as a whole as they are immersed in it themselves. So basically the task of a director is no more special than that of an actor, a costumer, a stagehand or any other task in any profession. Thus the group could actually work as oneness and equality by utilizing democratic decision making, as the tasks of everyone hold the exact same value, but this is not how it's currently being done. I don't yet know enough about the history of theatre, group management or leadership to know whether it has always been like this or not – has the position of leadership ever been just a task among others?

Within the theatre scene directors are given the position of godlike authority. I was told last weekend that “theatre is a dictature within democracy: everyone gets a say but only one makes decisions”. As the task of a director is now considered way broader than it's essential purpose – consisting of all background work as studying and investigating, planning, envisioning, setting artistic goals – the director also “gets to” decide everything that concerns the artistic values of the project. Usually there's a producer to deal with the bureaucracy so that the director could focus on the art itself. In traditional theatre it is not so much about the actors and director working as an equal team – the director is a puppeteer pulling on strings and the actors simply follow. A process that could be walked as a group becomes an ego circus of one.

Created as I described above I see art to have no purpose. Art does have a potential to affect people and assist us in our process of change, but it only reaches its full potential when one gets to practice it oneself. Just by passively viewing theatre one will never really grasp what it is that's being said – so if a play is made which the viewers get nothing out of but momentary energy and the team gets nothing out of as they do not fully participate in the creation process, who is it that wins in this situation? Absolutely no one. I see authoritative director-lead theatre in its traditional form to serve no purpose as the team is taught they should not “intervene” in the director's “creative process” (= ego).

I have directed two plays and been a second director in about two or three projects. When I began directing my first play I was terrified: At the age of 19 I was stepping into the shoes of my long-time mentor as she had to step aside because of her studies, and I was about to start directing the same people I had acted with for years, stepping off the stage to face the familiar people from a new standing and status. I remember being afraid I would not be listened to: that the group would not recognize me as an authority as we had been in an equal position before. I had very little knowledge of directing even though I had been acting for a long time and knew the basics of theatre inside-out, and concerning directing I had no idea what I was getting into and that was like a leap into a black hole, which I could not have done with strange actors. I was also very aware of the responsibility on my shoulders: no matter what I had to make sure this play gets finished because it was essential to the survival of our small and poor theatre. Another thing was the fear of screwing up as I knew this chance was an exceptional sign of trust from my mentor and the others leading our theatre back then.

So what I did amongst all this fear of failure was to make a plan and take a very clear course. In our first meeting with the group I made it clear I will be doing things my way and that as a director I would not be like what we were used to. When I look at it now my starting point was somehow very constructive, as I had noticed what was lacking in directing before and decided to bring more of that into my own methods, but I failed to see I do not need authority to be able to direct. I clung onto the position of authority because I was afraid I'd be torn down – my self-judgement was horribly abusive and active back then and I was afraid to put myself into a position where I would be utterly alone and vulnerable to all feedback and the one who carries all of the responsibility: If an actor fails, it is because I have been a lousy director. I did not question this position and tradition where the director carries the responsibility of the entire team.

So in time I developed a shell for myself so I wouldn't have to be so scared and exposed: I created a director persona under which I was “safe” and immune to all failure. The persona was confident, expressive, straightforward, bold, authoritative, very strict, mysterious – and also secluded, restless and sometimes uncreative as I limited myself from being myself. I used this extroverted persona to escape situations where I would have had to give in, admit I'd failed or expose my shortcomings and within those situations made myself completely unable to move myself. So for a large portion of time I have been a very poor director as I have been trapped by fear and haven't realized what the task of the director in essence actually is.

Yesterday a friend talked to me about her experience when directing different types of groups, and she described a group of children in rehabilitation where she had to as a director set aside all artistic goals, visions, wants, needs and desires and consider only that which would support and assist each child in whatever it is they were processing – in that situation a director is someone who points participants to a helpful direction, not someone who shoves them wherever he/she pleases as the ego. That is where I see the potential of theatre to perhaps reside: what is theatre without the ego?

Self-forgiveness tomorrow.

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