Directing or Micromanaging? Part I

Introduction

A theater director’s job, at the very minimum, is to manage every aspect of a theatrical production. A director should be willing to and capable of collaborating with everyone participating in the project including designers, actors, engineers and stage managers. A director spends a lot of time in production meetings and even more time in rehearsals. Due to the unique range of talent and experience that each artist brings to a project, it stands to reason that the director’s job is also to mediate the collaboration process and, ultimately, to make the final decisions about a production when there is a difference of opinion within the creative team. A director is entrusted and empowered to establish a vision for the production and, with that vision in mind, assemble resources, delegate tasks and execute the production process in a manner that is efficient, safe and fulfilling. Theater is, after all, a community endeavor.

Of course, if you are a volunteer director in a school or directing a play for your local community theater, you will probably find that you have very minimal support or “staff” other than your actors. Easily, you may find yourself micromanaging your production by default. “They all want to be actors, but it all falls on me to do the hard stuff.” Believe me, I’ve been there. But, believe me, be careful.

You’ve probably heard the expression that art is a process. Well, no matter how cliché or overused that expression may seem – it’s absolutely true! Micromanagement is a fools game in any field and the moment you find yourself taking an, “It’s me against them,” attitude, that’s the moment when you have to pause and take stock.

On the other hand, the theater is very deadline oriented so, understandably, there is a certain pressure to have everything ready on time. Unlike other art forms, there is a date and time for a theater production and any mid-course adjustment from that original date can cost money. Postponing a production involves a complete restructure of a production schedule, lost revenue from augmented rental fees of musical libretto, rehearsal spaces and royalty agreements, not to mention possible loss of cast members to do the schedule change and perhaps even loss of the rights to perform your play due to licensing restrictions.

So, yes, efficiency in your rehearsal process is EXTREMELY important. But how does a director successfully “crack the whip” in rehearsals while, at the same time, making sure that they are sensitive to the idea that art is a process? It’s a delicate balance for sure, but certainly attainable with patience, organization and, like anything else, practice.

In this multi-part article, I plan to address the issue of micromanagement in theater. These articles are mainly geared toward drama directors in schools and non-professional community theater groups, however, my articles may also be helpful to college theater students or high school students who are interested in pursuing theater after they graduate. I will provide some real-world examples of toxic micromanagement in addition to discussing healthy management concepts.

Everyone is counting on the director to do what needs to be done. But that doesn’t mean that you alone have to do everything! Assuming that you are, after all, only one person, you will inevitably get to a point in the production process in which you will have to delegate tasks to strategically chosen volunteers. I am going to insist that, as soon as you choose your play or as soon as you get hired to direct your play (which ever comes first), you begin assembling your support staff. I will also teach you how to select that staff and I will show you how to convert that annoying stage mother into a useful and productive member of your production team.

(to be continued)

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