Mark Bruni (above), director for the touring production of Legally Blonde coming to Popejoy Hall next weekend, described the job simplistically as “standing up in front of the room and telling people what to do.”
But you do have to know what to tell them.
A director’s job begins with his concept for the show, an idea of how to translate a script — something that exists only as words on paper — to four dimensions. After a director formulates the concept, she starts working with the choreographer, the music director and the designers, explaining the concept to them and working with their contributions to make sure their work will fit that original idea.
The same holds true for actors. Directors discuss the characters and how they might be played. They work on specific scenes and the emotional line for those characters in those scenes. They develop the movements and other physical business for each scene. The director always keeps the concept in mind while working with the actors, to make certain that how they interpret and physicalize the characters melds with that concept. As rehearsals progress, the director works on smaller and smaller things.
“In rehearsal, you’re talking about this little thing,” Bruni elaborated, “waiting for just an extra pause here and picking up a cue over there and tightening this [timing] and making that detail a little more vivid. Suddenly you’ve fixed five different things and at the end, the net effect of all of those things is way more than the sum of the parts.
“Sometimes the difference between a scene really clicking and just kind of being okay,” he said, “is something that’s as simple as a head turn. It’s amazing, when you have an audience that’s really engaged, how much they pay attention to those details.”
But those tiny details come from the larger idea, that original concept. Some directors bring every detail into the rehearsal, giving the actors every move, every line reading. Others work cooperatively with the actors to help them shape characters and find business that surprise both the director and the actor, but make for wonderful moments in the play. As long as the choices made for the characters are honest (not fake), both approaches can yield theatrical success. But the devil is certainly in the simplest of details.
“A lot of the clarity of direction … is about making sure all of those moments … are supported and clarified and that the audience can hear them,” Bruni explained. “I mean, sometimes it just gets down to something as simple as enunciation because when the actor is good and the material is good, it just becomes about playing it honestly. If the audience doesn’t recognize real people up there, then they’re not going to get invested in the show.”
When Legally Blonde comes to Popejoy next weekend, watch for those special little moments in the play. You may not know whether they came from the director or the actor, but you will know that the director evaluated it against everything else in the show to see if it fit. Otherwise, it wouldn't be there. That is, if the director did his job.
Terry S. Davis