Conversation with Directing Students

The Directing class, taught by Studio’s retired Founding Artistic Director Joy Zinoman, is only offered every two years.  The demand for a space in this class is high, and so are the demands for each accepted student.  We spoke with three of the students, Tom, Elena, and Solomon, about their experience:


How has your perception of the director’s job evolved over the course of the semester?

The director is responsible for a production.  Period, the end.  Every success and every failure are the result of one person.  The theatre is certainly collaborative.  I would not be an actor if it wasn't, and I believe I have contributed to productions in the roles I have played, but the director has the big paint brush.  They decide what we see and what we don't see.  It’s a big responsibility. –Tom

Even though I've worked in the circus for the last 15 years, I never learned how to juggle. Until now. In this class format, I had to juggle not only the production of the current scene I was working on including casting, design, concept, rehearsal schedule, and more-but I also had to keep the balls in the air for the next scene I was developing. So I think my perception has evolved to include keeping a certain momentum to the work. –Elena

Wow! What a question. Well, being a stage manager, I’ve worked with many directors and their ideas are always different-who they are, what they want their job to be, and who they want the actors to think they are. I’ve always thought of the director as a magical conductor-an orchestrator of chaos-but I’d also use the words shaper, massager, confidant, eye-opener, bully, chameleon, and craftsman. It’s also much more work than I could have possibly imagined. –Solomon


What have been your biggest successes during the semester and why?

I loved a scene I did in a stairwell between a dog and a vampire.  It was from "Mad Forest" by Caryl Churchill.  A lot of things went wrong, but in the end I thought I captured the essence of something alive and sad and sexy. –Tom

There have been many different types of successes, both in rehearsal, in performance, and in the privacy of my creative process. Helping an actor discover a new dimension in their work is an interpersonal joy. Hearing the audience laugh at a moment landing just right is a collective joy. And coming up with a new idea all on my own is a private joy. That and lovingly, yet firmly,
sticking to my guns when an actor is unsure about a certain choice that I know works, only to have it kill in performance. That's an interpersonal, collective, AND private joy! –Elena

My biggest successes have been in the exploration of the lack of text. There’s a saying that the “acting is between the lines,” and my most favorite moments have been sending that adage over the edge; working with plays with limited text, extended periods of action with no words, and the very internals of actor and character. Spending hours of rehearsal working in silence has been personally rewarding and educational.  –Solomon


What do you feel were your particular challenges in approaching this class?

It’s a different thing to direct than to act.  I have to force myself not to get up and start acting out the parts. That’s a challenge. -Tom

My background is in movement theater, mask and clown. These forms often don't have written texts. So I was in my element for our Blocking, Business, and Rhythm and Tempo assignments, for which I chose non-text-based works like Beckett's "Act without Words II." But when the Characterization assignment rolled around, watch out! I had to work with text and actors in a whole new way. –Elena

My biggest challenge is one that is inherent to my trade-to not think like a stage manager… to move beyond the “algebra” in the “art.” The skill of living in the moment and really investigating the moment fully instead of looking at each moment as a move on a chess board and looking three moves into the future is a skill I’m working hard on and is desperately needed as a director. Seeing the play for its whole and its parts. -Solomon


What has been the most interesting thing you have seen in your peers’ work?

There has been brilliant work in this class. The creative use of space has really excited me.  There have been scenes in elevators and stairwells and public places and alleys.  It’s like Project Runway for drama nerds but without the TV crew.  -Tom

I have loved so many of my peers’ scenes. The agility and nuance of the acting Carol evoked from her performers in her adaptation of Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies made me weep. The wild running and screaming Kate choreographed for her all female chorus in her scene from Charles Mee's, The Trojan Women: A Love Story, made me grin from ear to ear. And the DISEMBODIED FINGER Lelia sprung on us in her rendition of Thomas Middleton's The Changeling, well, that made me scream! –Elena

That’s tough, there’s been so much that’s been inspiring. I would say that this class has opened me up to non-literal, non-textual, and fantastical expression. Each director brings so much to the class, and I’ve caught myself saying “who would have thought?” or “how did they come up with that?” As a professional it’s easy to forget the “play” part of play.  -Solomon


How will you be using what you learned in this class in the future?

The class is life changing.  I really mean that.  It’s the most important artistic experience I have had in many, many years.  There were things about the theatre I always thought I knew instinctually.  Joy's class puts instincts into practice.  She helps you find language to explain your big ideas and to put technique toward the fulfillment of those ideas. -Tom

I'm already using it. As I develop my final scene, I find myself thinking, "I need a change of tempo here" or "What blocking best highlights the characters' relationship at this moment?" After the class ends, I will continue to "keep the balls in the air" as a movement director and director. I look forward to new collaborations with theaters and performers in the DC area. Juggling takes practice, time, and stamina, but I'm game, people, I'm game! -Elena

I’ll leave class with a greater understanding of what the director is trying to accomplish, not just how it works. I’ve always been sensitive to the art making process in rehearsal and performance, but I now have some personal experience trying to pull it all together – the stresses, the successes, the complex relationships, and what it takes. Also, I’ll never take stage managers for granted. EVER! -Solomon

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Read interviews and conversations with members of the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory community.