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I write well researched but readable historical and contemporary novels and some non-fiction. I live in a Scottish country cottage with my artist husband. I love gardening and I also collect the fascinating antique textiles that often find their way into my fiction. This blog is about all these things and more!

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Director from Heaven

A few posts back, we were discussing the Director from Hell. The Secret Commonwealth, of course, had the opposite - the Director from Heaven. She was young, enthusiastic and incredibly talented. She was also a pleasure to work with from start to finish. Her name was Jen Hainey and I suspect she's definitely going places! Well - she already has an enviable track record for a young actor/director.
I always have enormous admiration for theatre directors because it can be a difficult job, quite a large portion of which involves juggling and reconciling egos. Mind you, the ego of an actor is often in inverse proportion to the talent! Some of the loveliest and most self effacing actors I have ever worked with, have also been by far the most talented. They produce these jaw dropping performances and ask you afterwards 'if it was alright'! On the other hand - and naming no names - I can think of a few towering egos with the tiniest talent who specialise in making other people feel small. Fortunately, it doesn't happen very often.
But even when everyone gets on well, there is something about the process of developing a play for the stage which exposes vulnerabilities, in actors, and in the writer - and when it comes to making it all work smoothly, the buck stops fairly and squarely with the director. He or she must have a strong artistic vision of how she wants the play to emerge, must be immensely practical and well organised, but with an understanding and imagination, must be able to do a great many things at once - but must also be sensitive enough to reassure everyone involved.
I've been reading Russell T Davies' immensely enjoyable and inspirational The Writer's Tale, in the introduction to which he relates the story of the taxi driver who asks 'So do you think up the story and the actors make up the words?'
I've been asked this, or something like it, more often than you might believe. Some people seem to have the idea that the playwright comes up with an outline on the back of an envelope, while the actors improvise all the dialogue!
But during my recent production, people made what amounts to the opposite mistake. They would say things like 'What a lot of words the actor had to learn!' Which was, of course, true. It was what is known as 'a big learn'. And because actors take their cues from each other, a monologue is certainly challenging for an actor. But to equate a performance with simply learning the lines is akin to equating a performance of - for example - a piano piece with learning the notes. I can make a fair stab at learning the notes of a piece of Mozart, on the piano. Will I play it like Alfred Brendel? You bet your life I won't! I'll never be able to do that in a million years of trying.
Which is what marks the difference between somebody who can learn the lines - and a fine actor. But the work that allows that fine actor to produce a wonderful performance mostly takes place after the words have been learnt. And the person who facilitates, encourages, soothes, suggests and helps an actor to 'find' the performance of a lifetime can - when the relationship works well - be the director. This in turn involves a flair for collaboration, an understanding of what makes a good piece of theatre coupled with tremendous energy and a very definite skill at managing people. And that's what goes to produce the director from heaven. Who is, it has to be said, beyond price!
Thanks, Jen - and I hope we work again some time!

2 comments:

Annie said...

I might be just a teensy bit biased, Catherine, but I have to agree with you. Jen does have an enormous amount of talent and a considerable drive.
I also know that she really enjoyed working with you on The Secret Commonwealth.
Thank you so much for your lovely comments about her and may I also wish you great success in the future.
Regards,
Anne A. Hainey

Catherine Czerkawska said...

It was a genuine pleasure to work with her, Annie!