Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.

The Drama of Directing


[This post isn’t meant to be a political discussion but an insight into the role of director, to which I am re-acclimating after a three-year absence.]

As some might recall, this past Saturday was the table-read for the play I’m directing this year. It was the first time our two actors were in the same room, along with the playwright, the producer, the producer’s assistant, the stage manager and myself. The two actors are fairly well-known, recognizable men who have worked with the likes of Spike Lee, Julie Taymor, Taylor Hackford and many others. As thespians go, they are heavyweights, and their participation in the staged reading will help us get the funding for the full production.

The play is about two former Black revolutionaries who reunite after not seeing each other for 10 years. One has become a white collar professional now living in the suburbs with his wife and children. The other hasn’t changed at all since the 1960s/70s, literally stuck in a time warp. He’s called this meeting because he believes the political climate is now ‘code red’ (i.e. the revolution is about to jump off) and President Obama isn’t safe. The only people who can truly defend him are people like themselves. The play is called The Last Revolutionary.

After the actors read it and we all congratulated the playwright on his fine words, one of the actors announced that he wouldn’t be able to do the staged reading because this was a “pro-Obama” play. Then the other actor said he wouldn’t do the staged reading if the first actor wasn’t involved. Our attention focused on Actor #1, who went on to passionately explain his views which can be summed up as follows: “Obama hasn’t done shit for Black people in this country.” The actor was especially irate about the situation in his hometown of Chicago, where 22 people were gunned down the weekend before and nobody heard about it.

After much back and forth about the merits and counter-arguments to this viewpoint, I brought the conversation back to the PLAY itself and specifically, the upcoming reading.

Was Actor #1 refusing to do the staged reading because of his personal political views?

Yes, he answered.

Do artists always have to agree with the views of the pieces they work on?

Absolutely, he said.

Okay, so what if we took out the word Obama and just said The President?

Actor #1 said he would do the reading if that change was made.

After more discussion, the playwright agreed to think about everything and we all agreed to reconvene in a few weeks.

Last night I had a discussion with the playwright that felt as delicate a balancing act as walking a tightrope. Writers are generally very protective of their work, especially in theater, where the writer is Numero Uno (unlike film). And this playwright is no different. He is an award-winning, highly produced, highly respected playwright with a reputation and his integrity to uphold. His concern is not only with his work, but also with the perception that if he makes any changes it’s going to look like he did it to appease the actor. He has a valid point.

But if certain changes actually serve the drama of the play, maybe it won’t look like that or maybe it won’t matter, I told him. Personally, I believe the play would benefit from more disparity between the two characters. If one character views the President as the iconic symbol of both the President and the first Black President, deserving of respect and protection… and the other character views the President as a slimy politician who has betrayed his own people to get into power, that would be a highly dramatic, controversial and thought-provoking encounter, especially if both characters are former Black revolutionaries.

The playwright said he heard my passion and would think about it. Whether I made my case enough is yet to be seen. I will support whatever the playwright decides to do. But this is part of directing, seeing the bigger picture and communicating it clearly, passionately and non-dogmatically. At least, that’s my M.O.

It feels like I’m flexing an old muscle, sore but good.

Author: nivaladiva

Freelance writer and independent filmmaker.

9 thoughts on “The Drama of Directing

  1. Interesting. I’m a project manager, and apart the politics (and the far more interesting things you’re doing) a lot of what you’ve described sounds really familiar. I often end up in a situation where the specific goal on the table is subsumed behind other, ongoing issues; where the key players show up with different agendas and spins on things, and then I have to work like crazy to figure out how to get everyone to focus on the actual project and get it moving forward. It’s fascinating to get this peek into your world. thank you.

    • Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, we don’t have dragons like Khaleesi in Game of Thrones. We gotta manage people the old fashioned way, very carefully.

  2. Sounds like you did some good work. Now, rub some linament into those sore muscles. Or, better yet, treat yourself to a massage.

  3. I agree, good work. If the play is about disparity, it makes sense that the actors playing those parts represent that . THAT

  4. is what makes good things great (stupid system hit “send” b4 I wanted “. 😉

  5. impressive to hear the level of discourse between you, the actors and the writer. It’s about creativity and expression. I, too manage projects and people, but our discourse never gets to this level of thought and expression. Since you’ve been away from it and working only in administrative part of labor, this must come to you as a open armed challenge. At least there is open discussion and NEGOTIATION – the alternative to war – n’est pas?
    Great blog Niv!

    • Thanks! And yeah, this type of creative discourse is both foreign and familiar. It’s like remembering a language from long ago. I’ve been writing the last few years, not directing. A world of difference. Negotiation is the opposite of war.

  6. Sounds like you’ve got your hands full. But, it also sounds like it makes you very happy. So, it’s worth it. There is nothing like directing. Nothing! I truly envy you.

    Out of all three: directing/producing, acting, or writing (and I have done all three in my long life)… I just adore directing. Remember the old T-shirts that they used to sell at Samuel French many moons ago that read: What I really Want to Do is Direct? When I studied (and did a little) acting for about 7 or 8 years in Hollywood, I always hoped that some day I would wear one of those shirts rather than going in to purchase a small playbook for my acting class. Now, I’m writing again and I wish that I was directing (again).

    C’est la vie!! I guess just as long as we’re doing something that is creative, something that makes us feel a part of the whole…we’re OK. (But, I am extremely envious.) Savor every minute – even with the impossible actors and the close-to-the-chest writers. Above all, Enjoy! :o)

    • Yes, I do remember those t-shirts. More importantly, you know Samuel French!! Are you in LA? What’s your creative focus these days? It’s funny, I used to consider myself a director first, writer second. Now I think it’s the other way around. All I’ve been doing the last few years is writing. I’m still getting used to interacting with folks and having these types of discussions. The producer on this play is being very helpful so far. He’s helping me navigate and reminding me how to lead. For example, at the next table read, I’m not allowed to set up the table and chairs. 🙂

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