Directing is Like a Roadtrip...with 20 Children

Photo by melgupta. Used by Creative Commons License.

Almost 2 weeks ago now, the first show I ever directed was in performance. I was VERY nervous. I was the one in charge of this production. I taught the music and the dances, helped design the set and costumes. Most importantly, I was in charge of 20 children, and getting them to learn their lines, their intentions, their story, their blocking, and then remember all of those things.

To me, a director is a guide. She holds the map, and steers all of the moving parts to the final destination. It’s like a roadtrip. With 20 children.

Like most trips, there are pit stops, and sometimes even detours- “Well, we were going to do that scene today, but Louise has a soccer game....” Sometimes you threaten to turn the car around- “Next week, if you do not know those lines, I’m giving them to someone else.” Sometimes you have to change a flat tire- “You know what, let’s add Susie to this song, too. It could use another voice....”

My job, as a director, is to make a space safe for my actors to make choices. I make sure the car is ready to make the trip, and that we have everything we need to get there. I give them parts I think are right for them. I help them understand what they are saying and why they are saying it. I give them time to rehearse. I make sure their characters and stories stay consistent throughout the process. And then, I let them do it.

In Charlotte’s Web, we spent a lot of time on the story. We discussed protagonist and antagonist. Climax. Themes. I think knowledge is a powerful tool. If an actor knows why she is saying something, she is more likely to say it with proper inflection. Kids aren’t dumb. They just are often not given all the information. Small ones, in particular, are very literal. They look at their lines and read them off the page. Those words are all there are. Like looking out just one window in the car. Once they see the whole story, look out all of the windows, they make different choices.

As an actor, I never liked working with the directors that told you exactly how to say every line. Whether or not you could move your arms. When you should stand or sit.

Most actors have had a conversation in their lifetime. They know what it should sound like. What it should feel like. They just need an outside eye to go- “You know what, I think you’re interpreting that line incorrectly. I think it means.....” or “You can’t stand there. Bob is behind you. Try standing after he says  his line.” or “That was amazing! Do that every time!”

Actors need to know that the car won’t break down. That if they need an bathing suit or an evening gown, one is already packed. That if they are missing an amazing view out the other side, it will be pointed out them. Then, they are free to enjoy the trip and share it with those around them. To describe their view and make it part of the whole picture. The whole story.