So I’m directing a thing.
Why direct? Why me? Firstly, I am tired of griping about other people’s work onstage and figured it was time to shut up and see if I could do something better. Or at least that I thought was better Secondly, “Rabbit Hole” deals with grief and loss, and how we each grapple with death. It’s a story told in the silences and pauses, in the looks and movements of the characters. Sure the dialogue is there, but the dialogue is mostly informed by the subject and not directly addressive of it. (Ok addresive is not a word. But it fits.)
“Rabbit Hole” is also a movie with Nicole Kidman which I am NOT going to see until after we close.
So I thought I’d blog about it. Because it helps me process things, and might give someone else insights.
We’ll start with my Director’s Proposal. To those that haven’t done one it can be a strange and daunting document, perhaps this will give an idea.
Experience and Vision
What attracted you to the show? What can you, as a director, bring to it that is unique?
I first read Rabbit Hole after it won the Pulitzer and was blown away. As an aspiring playwright I read widely and consider it exceptional. I read it again when Red Mask announced its production and found that it spoke to me in a completely different way, and I was fascinated by that and fell in love with the play again, for entirely different reasons.
It speaks to me in terms of grief and loss, relationships and religion. The situations that arise might not be universal, but the emotions and reactions are. Having lost my brother, mother, father, and wife in the span of 6 or so years, I think I have a pretty unique perspective on grief and loss that I can hopefully use to lend some reality to the performance of the cast.
For me, Rabbit Hole is a play told in the silences and reactions. There is more said in the beats within and between dialogue than during it. The author is not afraid of the pause, of letting the dialogue breathe and be genuine. There is so much opportunity here for real acting, for performance to be informed by circumstance of character and not just the words that come out. Throughout the dialogue there are moments when the reactions of the other characters on stage tell us more about what is being said than the character saying it. I love that challenge.
Every word of the play is informed by the tragedy we don’t see and rarely talk about.
What theatre experience do you have?
I have been involved in many productions, from onstage to backstage to front of house, from Sunshine II to DLO to Red Mask to Dark Horse.
Have you ever directed before? If so, what challenges did you encounter during the last show you directed? What did you learn? If not, what challenges are you anticipating?
No! It’s about time I quit complaining about other people’s shows and directed my own. Directing is going to be a give and take, particularly with this production. It will be a challenge to let the actors get what they want out of the role and a performance, and to still get what I want. I love working with creative people, letting them explore their vision while at the same time guiding that vision. I hope to achieve a true collaboration where all parties come away satisfied with the end results.
Design and Technical Details
What setting have you chosen for the play? Please provide the specific time and place. If already specified in the script, why are you choosing to uphold what is specified? If you have chosen something different, what prompted your choice?
Discuss your overall design concepts, including set design and decoration as well as lighting and sound requirements. Attach drawings or supplemental materials as they are available.
The setting is simply AnySuburb, USA, today.
I am truly torn between a literal representation of the house in the play and just suggesting the house with some furniture.
The house is important to this play. It is almost a character. The boy haunts it, not in a specific sense but we need to be able to see him there, imagine he was there, know that he was there.
If literal, it’s important to have a ‘real’ kitchen, with island and place for sink and fridge where the light comes on when you open it and there is food in there. I think we need an island to separate the kitchen and living room. The kitchen needs lights, either under the cabinet or over the island or both. The cabinets need to open, we need to put stuff in them. We need to see stuff in them.
The living room can be quite simple, with a couch and chair or love seat and coffee table. We need a bookcase or two.
The bedroom is a conundrum, but it must exist. Do we put it “upstairs”? That would work. It needs to start as clearly a boys bedroom and change when we redecorate to clean house.
If we use a minimalist set we would just need a bed, a couch and chair, a dining room table and perhaps a single cupboard or just a refrigerator. Granted. I am still mulling this over.
There are select sounds during the play. Some of them can come from the sound system, but I will want some of the to come from the stage. In an environment as intimate as the Katherine Randolph theatre, it takes us out of the play to have sounds that should be onstage come from the sound system. I can help with this.
Lighting this play should be fairly straightforward as we are always inside, so variances from scene to scene are minimal.
The only thing I would change in the play is the scene where a character walks off and returns with a dictionary, I would just have him return with his smart phone.
Share your ideas for costumes, hair and make-up. Again, please attach supplemental materials as they are available.
I am absolutely entirely unconcerned with this and would let the actors decide, with my approval, what to wear in accordance with their character.
How will you approach casting the show? What are you looking for? Are there any special requirements/skills for any of the characters?
Age and gender appropriate are my only concerns.
As a director, how do you approach a show? How will you work with your actors to realize your vision?
As stated earlier, directing is collaboration. Rarely if ever will I say ‘Do This’ and issue an edict. I will say “Let’s try it this way once”, and try a scene or line or bit of business several ways and see what works best. I will be more than willing to try an actor’s idea and see if it has wings. If something doesn’t work I will be able to articulate why before moving on. Exploring a scene is part of the joy and creativity of bringing a play to life.
I don’t want to issue edicts on line reading. “Say it this way” is something I don’t want to say. I want the actor to find the right reading.
Also I will not be one that finishes out a scene in rehearsal just because we started it. If there’s something to correct, I want to correct it right away and go back. Or if we’re trying something new, try it several times in a row before moving on with the rest of the scene.
Are there any other special considerations in the show that you must consider as a director? (i.e. special effects, violence, strong language, content) What are your thoughts on these components as they relate to the play?
There is strong language in the script (well, strong for the Red Mask regulars) but I think it can be left in without offense. In general my philosophy is that the playwright spent far more time agonizing over the words on the page than I or the cast ever will, and I am loathe to change a single one. While being off-book as soon as possible is important, it is NOT more important than getting the words right.
<I’ve redacted my section on the Production Team, since I don’t really have their permission to put them out there. Let me just say that I was extremely lucky to get HIGHLY qualified (perhaps OVER qualified?) folks to help me with Stage Management, Set Design, and Producer and I already owe them a debt of gratitude for agreeing to come onboard.>
So there you have it. That and some conversation with a few old friends and a couple of new ones got me the gig.
Only 287 days until we open!