Every rehearsal room is a sacred space where extraordinary artists gather to re-imagine the world as we know it. Reimagine time as we know it. Reimagine the human condition as we know it. Ideally, so the audience might recognize some unique insight—simple or profound-- into their own lives. The playwright provides a story, that gives the company a very specific reason for being in the room together—to literally bring the story to life.
There are infinite ways to play the parts, infinite ways to design the setting, infinite ways to reveal the script to an audience. This is particularly pronounced when dealing with “classic” texts that are hundreds of years removed from their origination. No one in the room can know the original intentions of playwright within the context of when it was created, and thus gives need for the art and craft of directing. A director must provide a perspective that creates agreement on the story of the playwright. Although the script remains the creative property of the writer, the living production of a classic script is in a way authored by the director who provides the unified vision that allows all artists to be telling the same version of the same story.
Classical theatre productions are largely defined by who the director is, as much as what the playwright was trying to say. Each director leads each process by the wisdom of their own lived and learned experience. No director can be so bold as to think they are doing Shakespeare as it was really intended. I once heard from a mentor: you can do “you plus Shakespeare”, or you can just do “you”; but you can never do just “Shakespeare”. I love watching directors and actors who humbly yet unapologetically embrace this reality. I love watching directors and actors reveal themselves as they discover the meaning of the text. They share their own personal worldview and experiences to discuss and try to understand the important moments of the play.
The director’s responsibility from the first day is to find a way to inspire everyone in the room to be at their best within the landscape of the script being brought to life. Inspire them to invest and risk all of their creative selves in the process. Greatness is not really possible until someone in the room risks something--shows they are not afraid to fail or be wrong. Not afraid to draw from their own well-spring of joy and pain that they typically keep hidden from the rest of the world. Not afraid to try something new or follow a new impulse that was not pre-planned the night before but discovered by looking honestly and sincerely into the eyes surrounding them within the moment of this very room. Once all individuals are willing to risk collectively, the character of the company is defined and their power and potential to transform everyone who enters the room is truly unlimited.