In an effort to satisfy my readership (both of you), I’m combining “what an improviser needs” with “what an improviser doesn’t need.”
[Note: I should point out, maybe, that I didn't form any of these opinions based on my experience with any one director. I've worked with quite a few...from professionally trained, nationally recognized improvisers to local folks directing their first shows. Plus, I've violated my own rules countless times. Just sayin'.]
For context, here’s what I believe to be true about directors: Their job is to focus on results—they’re responsible for the product. They might envision and create theaters, shows or troupes; it’s on them to put the elements in place to create something successful.
So here’s what I expect from a director:
—A clear (and clearly articulated) vision of the show, theater or troupe. What makes it different? Why is it cool? What are we trying to accomplish?
—Leadership. Give me the tools, information and direction I need to help you realize your vision. Be specific. Be decisive. Inspire me.
—Responsibility. Want the director title? Then it's your job to figure out and then give the cast what we need to be successful. It's a lot of work, but that's why you get...um...the fulfillment and satisfaction and resume fodder.
—A creative environment. Want a good product? Make it a good place for us to create. Use rehearsal time efficiently. Know when we need intensity and when it’s time to lighten things up. Notice what’s getting in the way—whether it’s as easy to deal with as a lack of focus or as difficult as a cast member who doesn’t fit—and fix it.
—Direction. (Dur.) Know what you want and plan how you’ll get there. Come to rehearsals with an idea of what you want to accomplish that night. Be flexible enough to adapt on the fly. Bring out the strengths of individual players. Be clear about when we’re exploring options and when we’re polishing techniques. And figure out how much feedback we need to get better.
—Empathy. Watch the cast. Know when we’re comfortable and when we’re anxious—and when to push us out of our comfort zones and when it’s OK to be a little anxious. If we get hung up, give us something—an exercise, a break, feedback, something new to try—to get us unstuck. Figure out what kind of warm-up we need to go into a show with the right energy.
—Objectivity. Don’t be so married to your methods that you don’t notice if things aren't going well. Reevaluate the whole package regularly to see what’s working, what needs improvement and what should just be scrapped.
What I don’t need—or to be more blunt, here’s how to make me wish I’d never committed to this freakin’ show:
—Drama. If you’re stressed or frustrated or insecure or egomaniacal or any other energy-sucking negative emotion, keep it out of rehearsal. And for heaven’s sake, don’t bring it to the show.
—Divided attention. Sometimes it works to direct and be in a show. Most of the time it doesn’t. The biggest issue is that you can’t give objective feedback about the work—and you end up putting performers in the position of critiquing their scene partners, which is horrible for building trust.
—Navel-gazing. Learning improv is experiential. If your discussion of the scene is longer than the scene, we’re not getting better. We need to get up and do it until we get it right. And dear sweet pappy, don’t talk for more than 10 minutes at the top of rehearsal.
—Production stress. At this point, most KC directors are also producers. Unless there’s some sort of agreement about division of labor up front, the following are your jobs, not ours: Scheduling rehearsals, finding rehearsal space, promoting the show, communicating about what’s going on, staffing the box office and tech booth, setting call times, warming up the cast and giving notes.
—Half-assed preparation. Think through your format. Figure out what to change it if it never, ever, ever goes well in rehearsal. Rehearse the tools and techniques we’ll need to do a great show. Give me enough rehearsal to be comfortable with what we’re doing.
So…what did I miss?