Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Worst Director Ever

I am, by far, the worst director I ever worked with: Slow-witted, indecisive, obsessed with visual impact, prone to impromptu, irrelevant exercises and anecdotes. I have given actors notes to "act more boldly" and "prefigure the next event without hinting." I do not establish boundaries. I do not create a safety net for the actors, or anyone else. I can take three weeks to block a ninety-minute show, then block the final 2/3 in two hours, with a stage manager at my side, shouting: "Act One, Scene Five---Go! Come on... Act Two, Scene Two---Go!"

My worst quality as a director is my tendency to agree, basically, with everyone. This doesn't require any effort from me, which is probably why it happens so often. I find almost everyone fascinating. I listen, and listen. I am not feigning interest. My thrall is genuine.

This article is misleading. I should say: was, gave, did not, did not, took, blocked, was, didn't, happened. The rest still applies in the present tense. I stopped directing in 1995, immediately after I worked on one of my own plays, called Feasting, about a rodent infestation in a village. Some villagers saw the rats as a sign of moral decay and industrial filth, while others were being absorbed into a cult. At the center of the cult were a brother and sister team of rat catchers with a mystical and visceral connection to their prey.

My direction brought forth none of the above. As far as possible, my direction obscured the characters' intentions and muddied the themes so that one critic proclaimed the play to be about the exact opposite of the script's aim. In the play I wanted to portray the hysteria that forms in a distinct pattern around the debut of new technology. I wanted to show the emergence of superstition when leaps in technology leave large portions of the population stranded between ways of life.

My director did not begin to demonstrate any of this! And since I have not read the play in ten years, I wonder if it ever contained or suggested any of those ideas at all. Maybe, like a couple of Nicholas Roeg films, it has come to seem more glamorous and clever than it was, as it recedes into the mist of memory. Maybe the play wasn't brilliant or even bright. But I wish I'd seen the first production, with all the same actors, directed by someone besides that no-name idiot who wrecked my show.

(The Rat Catcher and His Dogs, by Thomas Woodward 1801-1852.)

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