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Theatre Director

The Real Poop

Can you hear me now? (Source)

You're certain theatre is the industry for you. However, you suffer from debilitating stage fright, ladders give you vertigo, and the very thought of being trapped in a dark booth scares the bejeebies out of you (in that special "bring an extra change of pants" kind of way). 

Well there's good news: you can avoid all of that and still work in the theatre. How? Become a director. That way you'll get to tell everyone to do that stuff from the comforting embrace of the third row.

We all know that theatre directors do...something...wait, what do directors do again? They show up, cast that talented aspiring actor, tell people where to stand, and steal hors d'oeuvres on opening night, right?

This is, in fact, exactly what directors do, plus or minus many years of training and hard work. Theatre directors are professional dilettantes. If you don't know what a dilettante is, act as if you do (this will be your first lesson in the profession). 

As a director, you may not be required to actually do anything on stage, but you'd better be able to tell other people how to do it. Especially since, at an average of $46,000 a year, you're probably the best-paid person in the room (source). If you've got the kind of brain that can ace a book report without ever reading the book, you're in the right place.

Now, in an industry as unstable and under-funded as theatre (we're really selling it, eh?), there's a need for extraordinary leaders.

Perhaps you're among those inspirational men and women who can articulate how Shakespeare's words are just as relevant as any Adele song (Romeo & Juliet has way more angst than Someone Like You), or how all of the world's problems could be solved by a stirring rendition of the Les Miserables soundtrack.

The wonderful thing about theatre is that it's an incredibly collaborative art form in which diverse talents come together to create. The terrible thing about it is that collaboration means you have to work with other people (the horror). 

The process of art-making is a horrible, painful labor of creativity and feelz that (hopefully) ends up just how you envisioned it. You'd think throwing tons of other people into the process would help, but it totally doesn't.

Ninety percent of a director's work is just dealing with people. You'll work with producers (nonprofit theatres, commercial producers, investors, rich old ladies who smell like moth balls) to hire a team of designers, technicians, and stage managers, a.k.a. those "little people" who do most of the work and take the least of the credit.

Aunt Marge wouldn't appreciate that last one...but she's not here, so who cares? (Source)

This is followed by casting, which primarily involves coming up with nicer ways to say, "You're terrible, please leave." These may include: "Thanks so much," "That's all I need for today," and "My Aunt Marge would make a better Juliet than you."

Then you will work with these actors and designers to make a play (whoa, didn't see that coming).

With the designers, the director will coerce them into creating the director's original vision whilst simultaneously making them believe they came up with it themselves. With the actors, they'll give them blocking, or as the non-theatrical might call it, a standing spot (yes, producers pay people to tell other people where to stand).

They'll also spend more than a little time figuring out the most diplomatic way to express, "Helen, picking your nose while Juliet stabs herself may not be the correct choice."

The other ten percent of the job involves actually reading the play and finding a special way to do it. The flavor a director imparts into the work is also called the director's "voice." It's your own personal touch that makes the show stand out from any other productions of the same work. There's nothing worse than a director who walks in and says, "Just feel it out."

There are a lot of schools that can help you get ready for these challenges. If you're lucky, perhaps your parents will even let you go to one of these schools. A deep pool of knowledge and experience can set you apart from the score of other directing hopefuls—or at least make you sound like you know what you're talking about.

After four years of "becoming your inner Australian sheepdog" and vocal exercises that under normal circumstances would have you committed, you'll want to move to a city that actually hires theatre directors, like New York City, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, NYC (did we mention New York yet?).

To some, it's a street. To you, it's everything. (Source)

And by New York City, we mean an apartment in deep Brooklyn. It's not a cheap place to live.

While you're there, meet people. Not just actors or producers either; it's also a good idea to become friends with lighting designers and theatre technicians, because they'll do things like hang lights and stand on ladders. After all, your aversion to doing these things led to your decision to become a director in the first place. Right?

Eventually, when you've done enough networking, you'll want to search for an agent or manager. The difference between the two is that an agent will take ten percent for putting up with your clients. A manager will take fifteen percent: ten percent for putting up with your clients and five percent for putting up with you.

Who knows? Put in the time, effort, patience, and creativity, and before you know it, you'll be directing plays, have an A-list manager, and get invited to all the fancy parties. It's often said, "You can't make a living in the theatre, but you can make a killing; and you can make a life." When theatre is at its best, it's the most extraordinary collaborative success.

And when it fails, it's all your fault.