Act I, Scene I: Wherein you get the crazy notion that it would be fun and challenging to direct a full production on The Merc Playhouse stage, never having done anything remotely like that before. Oh sure, you’ve done some acting — and doesn’t every actor, in their heart of hearts, believe they can be a director? A play you’d like to consider directing doesn’t make the cut for a variety of reasons.
Act I, Scene II: Wherein, as a member of The Merc’s programming committee, the group that recommends the upcoming season’s shows to the board, you suggest a play you’d like to see produced and volunteer to direct it. The committee says yes, the board says yes, and there you are, with the production’s title and your name on all the promotional materials. No problem, you’ve got almost a year to get ready.
Act I, Scene III: Wherein the scripts arrive, royalties are paid and Merc Executive Director Miss Smith sends you a copy of something called “production flow chart, pre-production through strike.” (“Strike” means taking down the set after the last performance.) It outlines, in daunting detail, over many pages, the roles of nearly everyone involved in a production — director, stage manager, technical director, executive director, house manager and volunteers — and spells out what each of them should be doing as the days count down to opening. There are multiple tasks in advance preparation, pre-production, auditions, casting, rehearsals, technical (lights and sound), marketing and more. Then there is costuming, makeup, building and decorating a set, finding props, etc. You understand that it takes a village to put on a play, which is why it’s called community theater.
Act I, Scene IV: Wherein you realize that this is actually going to happen, and you really need to get your — um, stuff — together. You scour the internet for tutorials on how to be director. There are a lot of them. None of them make it sound easy. And all that time you had? Gone. You are scarily behind schedule.
There will be no intermission.
Act II, Scene I: Wherein you read the script so many times that you could probably do all the parts, in different voices of course, and you wear out pens marking up the pages using several different ink colors. You lose track of what the individual colors mean. You wish you could find the play’s author (who is dead) and ask him what the bleep he was thinking on page 46, because you really can’t tell. You “block” the script — that is, plot out every movement of every character throughout the play — and hope you don’t have actors colliding with each other. Unless the script calls for it. You’re grateful you didn’t take on a musical, or anything that involves dancing or having live animals on stage.
Act II, Scene II: Wherein you actually set the logistics in motion — auditions; talks with other, more-experienced directors; casting; scheduling; hunting down things you need on stage and back stage. You learn that an on-top-of-everything stage manager is God’s gift to directors. You mark up your calendar for the next couple of months, using multiple ink colors again (no more effectively) and lay awake wondering how you can do it all — work, eat, exercise, sleep, have a personal life and be A Force For Impactful Drama.
Act II, Scene III: Wherein you rehearse. And rehearse. And so on. Rule of thumb for a full production: at least 100 hours of rehearsals. You’re barely going to make it. Unforeseen circumstances will create drama within your little world of drama. People will have issues. Events will intervene. You despair for the realization of your artistic vision. You may crawl under a desk and whimper.
Act II, Scene IV: Wherein opening night arrives, and you have done all you can do and the play now belongs to the actors and the audience. Lights up, it starts, and it’s everything you hoped it would be. Blackout, curtain call. Repeat a half-dozen times. Strike the set, say thank-yous and goodbyes. Vow you will never do it again. But of course you’re wrong about that.
Don Nelson is directing The Merc Playhouse production of “Rope,” which opens Nov. 15.