Jan 19, 2011

The Secret to Good Directing: Find a Great Stage Manager

People have asked me, “Dave, what’s the secret to good directing?”

Well, first I say, “My name’s not Dave.”

Then, I start quoting various theatrical geniuses and talk about the power of opposites, the history of Russian theatre, and … okay, you got me … no one has asked me about good directing. But if someone did, this is what I’d say:

“I have no bloody idea. But, get yourself a good Stage Manger, and the process will be much more pleasant and make you look like you know what you’re doing.”

I’m lucky to have a great SM – Dorothy Heedt. You see, she’s the Gilligan to my Skipper, the Robin to my Batman, the chocolate to my peanut butter, theatrically-speaking.

To be a good SM, you need to be extremely well-organized, flexible, patient, level-headed, and have a good sense of humor (and a hidden stash of bourbon doesn’t hurt). While I haven’t found the bourbon yet, she does have all the other qualifications.

I know that I can turn to her during a rehearsal and say, “Is that funny?” and she won’t mince words. I can also tell when a bit is working just from her reaction. If it gets a chuckle and a snort from Dorothy, it stays. Luckily, there’s been a lot of snorting going on. (My wife is a leg-slapper, so when these two get into the theatre, it’s going to be a leg-slapping snort-fest.) Dorothy has the tougher job: I just point and say, “Take it there,” and she steers and tries to avoid the icebergs.

Snorting all the way.

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