In Episode 12, I enlist my husband George (the coolest guy on the planet) to ask questions about stage direction. I cover how to approach work when you are a beginning director, how to collaborate without giving away your job to enthusiastic performers and staff, and how a director can make an impact on an audience.
What’s the most important advice for a successful collaboration? Communicate with your stage direction team. They can keep you on point while they lighten the load.
What’s the best way for a beginning director to approach stage direction? Start small and keep it simple. We used to say, “Keep It Simple, Stupid” or K.I.S.S. Now we say, “Keep It Simple, Simon.” It’s nicer.
What’s the most important thing for a director to remember? The Story, The Story, The Story. Everything we do must serve the story. That truly is all there is. We are, after all, story tellers.
What does it mean to create a safe space in terms of stage direction. Andhow would you do that? It’s about maintaining a rehearsal environment where actors feel free to collaborate. It doesn’t serve anyone if your team is afraid to express their ideas in what is, essentially, a creative space.
What do the most successful directors do that we can emulate?Collaborate while maintaining the vision. For the director, the vision is what holds the whole together; set, lighting, costumes, performances, script. Without vision, these are a jumble of pieces that don’t necessarily go together.
What is the unseen work in stage direction? A good director will spend a lot of time with the script. They will also talk to designers and other staff before performers are selected. Do your stage direction homework. Solid front end work saves time and creates confidence in your performers.
How can directors make an impact on an audience? Have a clear visual notion of the story you are telling. Design cohesion in stage direction means paying attention to details and honoring the work of collaborators. Everyone’s contribution counts as long as everyone is building the same world.
Birthing the Crone
You will often hear women (and men) bemoaning the lack of meaty roles for women in film, TV, and on stage. I agree, yet I do so with a caveat: Meaty roles for women written by women are different from the meaty women’s roles written by men. This is not to suggest in any way that men are unable to write for women. My son is a damned good playwright who writes women’s roles with great sensitivity and insight. Yet, much as an elevator stop in the sub basement, performing your own work written from your unique perspective reveals new mysteries.
A Writer Observes
Writing a play about someone else’s life experience seems like a tough job. It’s especially hard when writing for more than one character. Consequently, the writer’s own experience gets spread like peanut butter over every character. This character speaks from your high school point of view. And this character says things you wanted to say to your grandmother but didn’t get the chance. And this character speaks from the feelings wrapped around a moment of deep embarrassment, or grief, or shock. The payoff comes because we improve our skills of observation. Lisa Wilson embodies this skill.
Birthing the Crone
I interview actor, director, playwright, and University of Tulsa Women’s Studies professor, Lisa Wilson. Lisa acts as playwright, performer, director, and producer of her own work. As a result, she shares her observations with a live audience. It sets her work apart from the performances of actors depicting lives written by other playwrights. Because Lisa so richly embodies the character based on her own life, you forget you’re watching a play.
Lisa Wilson – Old Crone with a New Voice
Furthermore, Lisa is a recipient of the prestigious Jingle Feldman Individual Artist Award for her original one-woman show, “Only Four People Know About This”. “Birthing the Crone” is the second play in a series titled, “The Crone Chronicles”. Lisa based the series on her experiences of aging and loss with some hilarious and vulnerable insights. Finally, we talk about women’s voices and the effect of life’s changes on the artistic process.
Listen to Episode 3 – Student Performers with Daniel Bowers
Shakespearean Moments As the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) comes under fire and the conversation for saving the arts in schools pops up on social media yet again, I want to introduce you to Daniel Bowers. Daniel is a well-rounded kid with a hunger for performing. He sings in choir, he acts on the stage. It would not surprise me to see him take up tap dancing. Despite being a 6’4” 15-year-old football player, Daniel speaks as eloquently on acting as any acting coach. He credits his stage experience with building confidence, making friends, learning how to solve problems under pressure, and developing an appetite for working with a diverse group of people creating a big collaborative work from the ground up. These all seem like the things we would want kids to learn to succeed in life, never mind having a career as an actor. I met Daniel when he entered 6th grade at the school where I taught theater arts. He seemed to be a quiet kid but there was a lot going on in that busy brain. In addition to being an avid reader, Daniel is interested in history, languages, and making people laugh with the cast of characters living in his head. He auditioned for Alice in Wonderland. After landing a small role, he set about creating a character that stole the show. Without mugging, or ad libbing, Daniel did something adult actors occasionally miss. He took what was on the page along with a small bit of directing, and he created a memorable moment within the context of a story. I have directed Daniel in two other plays and it has always been a joy. The last show, Juliet Rescue, was a new piece written by my son, Will Inman (episode 2) and me. Daniel played “Young Will Shakespeare”. He eagerly took on the role and, while speaking in the Bard’s style, he created several hilarious moments that added warmth to the play. When I retired from teaching a year ago, I told him to come visit me in Virginia and I would take him to the Folger Library in Washington DC. It is the foremost Shakespearean library in the world. Daniel and his mom took me up on my offer and we spent quite some time learning about the collection at the Folger. I can imagine Daniel on stage there one day. But for now, I am thrilled to have seen him savor another kind of Shakespearean moment. There are lots of kids who benefit from performance experience. They are girls and boys, shy and outspoken, theatre nerds and athletes, straight-A students and strugglers, and everyone in between. They are a generation of leaders and innovators. And we want them all to have Daniel’s confidence. I hope you will enjoy Episode 3 of SallyPAL with Daniel Bowers.
Listen to Episode 3 – Student Performers with Daniel Bowers
Listen to Episode 3 – Student Performers with Daniel Bowers https://sallypal.podbean.com/mf/web/sgeydf/Ep_3_Student_Performers_with_Daniel_Bowers.mp3
The Final Collaborator
No matter how you define it, performing arts are collaborative. “But Sally, what if I have a one-man show I wrote, directed, and produced?” Unless you are performing for the shadows in your basement, even your one-man show will include at least one or two other collaborators. Your audience could be described as ‘the final collaborator’. Unlike stories told in the movies, on tv, or via the internet, a live performance assumes a live audience. Referring to a ‘dead’ audience simply means the audience isn’t noticeably responding to the performance. A live or lively audience is laughing, clapping, gasping, leaning forward, or otherwise exhibiting signs of participating in the moment. When audience members are emotionally engaged for the duration of a performance, they collaborate with performers in subtle ways. The academic term for this is suspension of disbelief. The illusion becomes real so long as the audience allows. A performer, director, or designer who ignores the value an audience brings to a live performance is in real danger of producing a lackluster show. Whether or not your audience members know it, they provide the final collaborative effort of an ever evolving medium. Listen to Episode 2 – Team Building
Listen to Episode 2 – Team Building
Will Inman In 2013, Will Inman’s one-act play, Bad Days, was selected for a staged reading at the Kennedy Center as part of the VSA student playwright competition. Will’s plays have received a variety of writing awards and productions including the Rogers State University Original Recipe retrospective, and the Writopia Labs Comedy Playwriting Festival selected by David Letterman’s writing staff, both in 2014. In 2015 His play, Lesbian Exhibit, was featured as part of his hometown’s Fringe Festival. Lesbian Exhibit also received a staged reading in February at Rogers State University and a portion of that play was performed at Torrent Theatre in New York City in the Fall of 2016. Will starts his senior year in the University of Houston playwriting program in the fall of 2017. Listen to Episode 2 – Team Building
Darian Silvers Darian Silvers is a native Houstonian who comes to directing through his work as a dancer/choreographer. He has performed on stage as an actor/dancer in the Houston area for the last 16 years. He recently directed a staged reading of the new opera, North Pond, at MATCH-Midtown Arts & Theater Center in Houston. Darian will direct Legally Blond and Little Shop of Horrors in the Adirondacks during the summer of 2017. Listen to Episode 2 – Team Building
Blog Post – What’s in Your Way?
I had an enlightening conversation today with my friend Sheila about how I have been avoiding putting my podcast out into the world. I already had the first episode fully produced. But I have been second guessing myself daily until I finally went back and listened with people whose opinions I trust. That’s all it took. They didn’t even have to say anything. Just the act of listening to the podcast with my husband and daughter gave me fresh ears to hear what was missing. That is not to say Episode 1 is the most fabulous podcast ever made. I assure you, it is not. It is, however, the start of something I anticipate will improve as I learn and grow with your suggestions. It’s like that with original work, isn’t it? When you first write an idea into a document, or try dance steps alone in your kitchen, or sing some song phrase into your phone, you are not quite ready to share it. Or you struggle to make your partner or your mom (or your kid) understand what you’re creating. A few key strokes, dance steps, or musical notes later you might be ready to share. When you share, if you want your work to grow, you must start by finding someone who a) validates you as an artist, b) understands the value of constructive criticism, and c) is given the go-ahead (by you) to give an honest reaction. Most of the time you don’t even need to hear what they think, it will become clear what needs to be done as soon as you reveal this early draft. But your audience of one or two may still want to talk about what they noticed. When you allow people to express opinions about a work of art you are never suggesting that every idea expressed will be incorporated into your work. That would be silly. Allowing another person to share an opinion about something precious to you is the beginning of collaboration. To be able to hear what other people think about the work, your ego must step out of the way. Take what you can use, disregard the rest and thank all your critics for their opinions. Thank them with genuine gratitude. I promise, this gets easier to do after some practice. Don’t be confused about comments made about your art. A person commenting on your work is not critiquing your character. Listen for the contribution to the art. Sometimes, the most ridiculous ideas can lead to sublime finished work. Listen to Episode 1 of SallyPAL the Podcast
At the recent Creativity Summit in Tulsa this month my kids and I joined a breakout session where we could share our ideas on the question: “How can our schools continue to produce creative young people in a climate of reduced support for education, especially in the arts?” I made a short video and both of my kids answered with a piece of poetry. My daughter’s piece, titled A Sense of Urgency has to do with the reason kids feel misunderstood in the current system. My son’s piece is a reworked poem titled Wasteland. He approaches the idea from a more absurdist perspective because, as he says, the current thinking about education is absurd. Both kids are award-winning writers and I love being able to get a glimpse into their heads. Enjoy!
Barnett Berry Video I gather that some people have had trouble with the embedded video so I am instead making it a link to the Edutoipia site where you can view his video as well as other resources related to education reform. Thanks for letting me know!
Barnett Berry is the president and CEO of the advocacy organization Center for Teaching Quality. In the preceding video he clarifies for all of us just who is going to reform our current system and outlines ways in which that can be done. He bases his ideas on what he calls the Four Emergent Realities:
4. Teacher-preneurs (we used to refer to these progressive educators as mentors) who teach but are also allowed time, space, geography (connecting in person or online) and reward to spread expertise in and out of Cyberspace.
When I was growing up and my family had dinner table conversations, I was allowed, encouraged even, to express my opinion on just about any subject. As I became a teenager I grew to believe my opinion mattered. But as a teenager in the late 70’s I had strong opinions but lacked the information to back them up. My kids have opinions and ideas based on real information. If I want to debate who rode the bomb in the movie Dr. Strangelove, it’s a very short conversation. In my youth we could spend half an hour debating this topic. My kids don’t even take half a minute before they go to IMDB.com and tell me it was Slim Pickens. It’s not that they’re equipped with bigger brains or faster synapses. They are trained in information retrieval. They know 10 times more stuff 100 times faster.
This ability to access information faster than our 1976 Zenith TV could warm up means now we debate ideas rather than information. Information is at our fingertips so there is no need to debate it. Many in education argue that our students lack the experience to know what information is legitimate. We assume our children are not experienced enough to tell the difference between fact and fiction. Kids today are experts at discerning the difference between good and bad information. We certainly want to help them develop their BS radar but that comes with time. My generation is trained to accept the word of an individual who appears to be an expert. My children, however, know how to find the source of the information. They listen to the experts interpret what the President said in the State of the Union speech and then they watch the President’s actual speech. They may even read the speech online. This generation is culturally literate for modern as well as historically significant culture. On the one hand they’ll catch Charlie Sheen‘s Tweet where he claims to have invented Tulsa, their birthplace. Then they’ll turn around and look for examples of letters and other scanned documents from early historical figures and read contextually the parts they only see in quotation marks in books.
It is absurd to think professors will sustain the attention of a class of 200 students with a chalkboard and a clip-on microphone when students have wi-fi and a laptop in the classroom. Complain if you want, but it’s like saying teenagers shouldn’t think about sex. The pull of relevance is too strong and higher learning institutions must become relevant or die. This problem is just as pronounced in secondary schools but the compulsory nature of K-12 classes means change will come more slowly.
Universities are closely linked with the free market economy and the savvier students become, the more likely it is they will comparison shop. When they compare colleges, it is unlikely lecture-style classrooms will appeal to them. What a lecture provides in two hours sitting in uncomfortable chairs can be found by a resourceful student in twenty minutes sitting on a couch in the Commons. Perhaps this will be the educational model; a group of students sharing resources and developing projects while hanging out in their pj’s. What will that mean for the living and working environments of the future? Who knows? It could mean our kids will spend more time with their families. Maybe they’ll get back to sitting around the dinner table debating Dr. Strangelove.