I don’t think of myself as a director, and it’s not something I do very often. I’m not the most visually oriented person, and apart from some sound design experience I don’t have the requisite technical experience and vocabulary. So I’ve never pursued it, and don’t particularly regret it; even in a pandemic, I have enough to do as a writer and actor to keep me occupied. But the thing about writing, is that you tend to have small pieces going up in small little festivals and readings happening in hole-in-the-walls, and while it’s useful to have a director with an outside perspective when working on a full production, for these kinds of small little workshops and salons you frequently wind up directing your own work, for expediency’s sake.
A new short piece of mine, For the Benefit of Jimmy Mangiaroli, is being mounted in just such a salon for new works taking place next month, and I’ve been asked to direct the piece as well. Fortunately, it’s a very simple two hander, and the artists are friends of mine, so this isn’t the most demanding project I’ve ever undertaken. And having worked in theater for (redacted) years now, there’s a rhythm to the rehearsal process that’s easy enough to follow. It’s a gradual expansion; you start by siting around the table dissecting the text, then move about in a small studio room working on physical business, and then finally work your way to the full stage and the live performance. Simple and natural.
Or at least it would be if we weren’t on freakin’ Zoom.
Yes, while the performance itself will take place in Manhattan, live and in person, our rehearsals are taking place over Zoom. And after a year and a half of relying on the remote platform as the only vehicle for live performance, it’s no longer disconcerting to act to the laptop camera, or hear your words coming through its speakers. But trying to direct over zoom? It’s weird as hell.
It’s strange not having the ritual of sitting around the same table – that first day of school energy – to do a first reading.
It’s strange to be doing your dishes one minute, then sit down at the keyboard and instantly switch into a director’s headspace.
It’s strange to describe what blocking should look like without actually being able to move.
It’s strange referring to something in the script and having no idea if your actors are able to follow along on a hard copy, or a pdf on a corner of the screen, or some other format you’ve never imagined before now.
It’s strange to describe live theater as some half-remembered thing you’re trying to reconstruct, as opposed to something you regularly, actually do.
I’m not worried, per se – my friends know this script, and they’re very good, so really they’re doing the bulk of the job for me. And who knows, maybe I’ll be able to do more Zoom directing as this pandemic wears on.
(Of course, if all of you get your vaccinations like you’re supposed to I won’t have to find out.)