We’re all hyphenates these days; it’s impossible to make any sort of career in the arts without multiple creative outlets and multiple revenue streams. (Something to ponder this Labor Day.) That said, not everybody tries to do everything for the simple reason that not everybody can do everything. For example, I label myself as an actor-playwright because those are the two things I’m actively doing, the two fields where I know I exhibit at least basic competence. I used to dabble in sound design, but the technology of that field has advanced far past anything I’m comfortable with. Beyond that, I wouldn’t presume to present myself as a potential candidate for other theatrical work, even work I have a little experience with. I was paid to stage manage a showcase once, many years back, but I’m not a stage manager. I’m not a visual thinker, and therefore not a set, costume, or lighting designer (though I’ve made a prop and footed one or two electrician’s ladders in my day). And since I don’t have that sort of production experience to draw upon, I would never, ever claim I was qualified to direct.
So naturally, I’m set to direct my third project of the year this month.
Now in fairness, the third directorial project will be a reading of my own piece Before Vinson, for the Playwright’s Theatre of East Hampton. This piece was read at the Valdez Theatre Conference back in June, and while I’ll be testing out its subsequent revisions I am familiar with how the piece works in performance. I’m also familiar with the actors – it’s my friends in Dead Playwrights Society, whom I’ve worked with for years, and Josh Gladstone, who’s running Playwright’s Theatre, who’s read a lead role of mine before, and who’s known me for more *cough-decades-cough* than either of us are going to admit. So while I’ll be guiding folks through the script, it’s not like I’m asking anybody to make a monumental leap of faith by nominally putting me at the helm.
Though there are other folks making that leap of faith, and asking me to do precisely that.
This coming weekend, I’ll be directing a one act play by Kelsey Puttrich called And We Lived Beneath The Waves, which is going up at the In Death’s Company Short Play Festival in Maplewood, NJ. I know Kelsey from the Tuesdays at Nine reading series, where this was workshopped a while ago; out of the blue, Kelsey asked if I’d like to direct the two-hander. We started rehearsals this past weekend, with me offering guidance on acting choices, finding intro and outro music, and generally pretending to know what I’m doing. The proverbial impostor syndrome is kicking in nicely, but I was asked by a friend, who presumably had some reason to put her faith in me, and I did have two whole weeks to familiarize myself with the script. (Which is lovely, I’d like to point out.)
Now by contrast, my first directing “gig” this year took place back in Valdez. I was performing in another playwright’s work in addition to having my own read, and the rehearsal for that piece was just finishing up when its director pulled me aside. At first, I thought he had notes for my performance (I’m known to go rather big in my choices). But no, he wanted to talk to me about one of other plays going up at the conference, Scott Sickles’ The Presidential Chili Cook Off. (Which you can find on NPX here.) That play was scheduled for rehearsal next, but its director, who was supposed to drive into town that day, had been delayed by mountain traffic and was now unavailable. And given how the rest of the conference had been scheduled, none of the other directors was available either. So perhaps I’d like to do it? Direct a script I’d never read before, with five minutes’ notice?
How on earth could I possibly do that? But at the same time, how exactly was I supposed to say no?
And so I skimmed the script in the most cursory manner imaginable, gave the performers a few general suggestions about tone, and then encountered the text of the play for the first time during the table read. Leaving me all of forty minutes or so to try and refine characterizations and transitions and the general job of being a director. I have very little memory of what I did, because how on earth could I, but Scott was happy with the results. And it got laughs the next day – which, being a comedy (which I probably should have mentioned), was the goal.
Perhaps I’m more qualified to be a director than I thought. Which is not a bad thing – after all, we’re all hyphenates these days.