Episode 149: Do-it-All Directors
Are you a do it all director? Today we talk to a number of teachers who have to do it all. We have high school and middle school teachers and teachers who are running both senior and junior programs! Listen to their experience and how they handle their situation. Hint: it’s all about the students.
Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, and theatre educators everywhere.
I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.
Hello! I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening!
This is Episode 149.
You can find… ooh, I really hit that nine, didn’t I? That was unexpected – 149.
You can find any links to this episode in the show notes at theatrefolk.com – I slid into that one – episode149.
So, how are you today? Apparently, I’m a little silly, but maybe you are feeling cool, calm, or overwhelmed, stressed. Are you looking at your day thinking, “How is this all going to get done and I’ve got rehearsal tonight?!” I put three exclamation points – no, not exclamation points – question marks! Both – exclamation points and question marks after that!
Today, you’re in luck because you don’t have to listen to me very much longer. Today, we have some folks who know that feeling very well. Today, we are talking to and about do-it-all directors.
We have high school teachers, middle school teachers, and teachers who do both – they have to run both senior and junior programs. I have to tell you, these are my favorite podcasts – the ones where, again, less of me and more of sharing other people’s thoughts, tips, insights – teachers talking to teachers. Maybe some of these teachers are going through your exact scenario and you will be able to go, “I am not alone.”
Let me tell you, when I put out the call that I was looking for do-it-all directors, there was a tidal wave of response.
So, pull up a chair and listen to what our guests have to say about their experience and how they handle their do-it-all situation. I’m going to give you a hint: It’s all about the students – isn’t it always?
All right, let’s get to it.
LINDSAY: Okay, I am talking to Connie Voight.
LINDSAY: Where in the world are you?
CONNIE: I am in Huntsville, Alabama – just south of Nashville.
LINDSAY: Awesome. What makes you a do-it-all director?
CONNIE: Well, I’m the only theatre teacher here in the upper school. I teach at a small college prep school so we have about 380 kids in our upper school. We call it upper school instead of high school. I’m the only full-time theatre teacher so I’m directing, I’m teaching classes, I’m conducting students in building the set and designing the set and the lights and the sound and the costumes and the competition plays and everything like that.
LINDSAY: So, what strategies do you have when everything is sort of coming at you all at once in terms of doing it all?
CONNIE: That would be what has just happened in the past few weeks.
LINDSAY: What’s that?
CONNIE: Yeah, it really would have because, on top of everything, I’m chairing a competition that’s happening this weekend and then my son got married.
Over the course of not just shows and stuff, I give a lot of the responsibility to the students, especially in stage craft. The way my stage craft is structured is I have four levels but they all meet at the same time. So, as you continue on into those levels, you learn more and more and you become crew chiefs and tech directors and things like that. When we get ready to move our show onto the stage from the shop, those kids each have a specific task to do and they’ve kind of come up in the ranks so they’ve earned that responsibility and they’re very competent, very hard-working, and very talented. And so, you know, obviously, we have meetings and we converse about the theme and our goals, but I do leave the majority of it up to them. That helps me a lot because it frees me up to be more of a director than someone who’s in the trenches backstage.
LINDSAY: Well, it must be sort of a blessing and a curse to have four levels all at the same time just because you have to come up with four different things. But then, also, the older students can model behavior for the younger students when it comes to stage craft.
CONNIE: That’s exactly what happens. Stage Craft II students will take a couple of freshmen or new students and they actually help train. They actually help do the safety training – the older kids. But they’ll take them and work in small groups and, as they gain more experience, their responsibility grows with what they can handle.
At first, it might be taking a group of students just to build a platform. And then, it might building an actual structure on that platform. As you get older, your responsibility gets greater and your leadership skills also grow. That helps. If it wasn’t for that system, I think I would be a wreck. I don’t think we would be able to be where we are and producing the kinds of works that we do.
LINDSAY: How long did it take you to put this into motion like that?
CONNIE: It’s probably been eight years or nine years that we’ve been structured. I’m trying to remember. It’s been at least seven or eight years that I’ve structured it this way. At this point, it’s a fairly well-oiled machine with the kids. When they’re freshmen, they come in. If they have an interest and they stay in the program for four years, they readily learn what will be expected of them as they get older.
LINDSAY: I think that’s important to note – for anybody who’s listening who is sort of at the beginning of their teaching journey and maybe they’re feeling a little bit in the weeds – that it’s something that does take time to set up, if you’re going to put students in positions of responsibility like this. It takes a little bit of time.
CONNIE: Yes, it does. You can’t do it overnight. You know, unless you’ve walked into a situation where something like that’s already been developed.
LINDSAY: It sort of sounds like, for your shows, it’s your students in your classes who are building a lot of the elements.
CONNIE: It is. As far as technically, the kids in classes with a few kids that’ll come by if they have a study hall during that period or we have an additional work day on a Saturday or after school, we might have kids who aren’t in stage craft class. But 95 percent of what’s being done is being done by those students in class.
LINDSAY: Awesome. I think that’s excellent. When people are feeling the struggle, I think that the answer is always right in front of you – to use your students and to give them responsibility. What a wonderful teaching moment.
CONNIE: It works really well. By the time they get to be seniors, I actually become more of a mentor than a teacher. You know, that changes depending on what show we’re doing and what needs we have and what we need to explore together rather than apart if we’re building something unusual.
Like, last year, we did Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and that was just unusual thing after unusual thing. But then, again, I relied a lot on my students who were really good in science and physics to be building some of the things that needed to be built in order to do the show.
LINDSAY: Och. Well, I think that’s awesome! A little cross-curricular, too.
CONNIE: Yeah, I mean, they can teach me, too.
LINDSAY: Yeah! You know what, I think that’s an awesome thing to learn, too – that you don’t have to be the expert, you can’t be the expert on everything and that, sometimes, learning with your students is not a bad thing.
CONNIE: Yeah, it’s actually, to me, a very exciting thing when you don’t know something and together you research what you’re looking for and you find out together. I don’t know, there’s something really invigorating to me about that.
LINDSAY: Oh, that’s lovely. Oh, I like that! That just gave me a little chill.
Thank you so much, Connie, for sharing your time with us today!
CONNIE: You’re welcome!
LINDSAY: Hello, Kellybrooke!
KELLYBROOKE: Hey guys!
LINDSAY: I am speaking with Kellybrooke Brown.
All right, Kellybrooke, tell us what makes you a do-it-all director.
KELLYBROOKE: Okay. So, my job’s a little unique because I’m a teaching artist which means that I contract with different schools and they contract me because they don’t necessarily have theatre programs at their school so I come in there, we make sure that there’s a program, there’s a poster, I cast the shows, pick the material, keep up with the budget, make sure that the set gets designed and built and moved in. I design the lights, I sit with the sound board operator, and we plug in sound cues. We sit with the script and make sure that everybody that has a mic is supposed to have a mic so I get to design sound as well.
There’s a lot of elements with my job that we haven’t really trained anybody else to do so, in the process of show production, we’re also training not just students but other adults how to build the process.
LINDSAY: I can just imagine the chaos sometimes as you are going into schools without programs. You’re dealing with folks who don’t have a background in theatre.
KELLYBROOKE: That’s right. A lot of times, we go into a school that’s totally blind to the theatre arts program which can actually be a blessing and a curse sometimes. I mean, sometimes, when you go in with a fresh slate, you get to teach them the correct way compared to when you go into a school that may have a very developed arts program in the past that’s taken some time off and so you walk into a situation where people go, “Well, this is the way we did it before.” It’s not always a bad thing to start with a fresh slate.
LINDSAY: What would you say is the thing that you’ve learned the most on this job?
KELLYBROOKE: Just patience that, in the end, the result is most of the time going to be excellent; the kids are going to be excited; the parents are going to be happy; and the school system and the community is going to benefit. You know, the show doesn’t have to be perfect. We’re going to miss sound cues. Sometimes, the light board is not going to come on. Whatever the situation, you’ve just got to be a little patient and a little bit flexible and just proud that the kids get the opportunity even if every show is not to perfection.
LINDSAY: Gee, I wonder if that’s one of the most important things a do-it-all director needs, eh? Patience.
KELLYBROOKE: Absolutely. I can promise that, if you can’t be patient, you might need to pick another profession totally because every day is a challenge, especially, you know, when you’re a do-it-all, you have to be patient and know that, if you’re training new people, they might not show up that day. There might be a soccer game they might have to go coach. So, you’ve just got to be okay with it and figure it out as you go along.
LINDSAY: So, when you sort of got thrown into this aspect of having to be a do-it-all, what did you do with the areas of production that aren’t your strong suit?
KELLYBROOKE: A lot of research, a lot of begging, finding people in our communities that maybe they run their sound board at their church. We have an excellent community theatre here in our community that, you know, people do those kinds of things and so we go and ask for volunteers, ask for help. “If you can’t come and volunteer then run this light board or set these lights or set these sound cues, can you show me how?” It’s a lot of asking and all they can tell you is. “No,” and you’ve got to be brave, I guess.
LINDSAY: Oh, well, all drama teachers are brave, I think. It’s a good thing to have.
And then, what’s something that you find is your biggest challenge?
KELLYBROOKE: Just knowledge, I think, a lot of times about how technically to make things work. You know, for example, if you’re doing Beauty and the Beast and you’ve got to make that beast transform is X amount of time, you’ve got to have somebody that’s either (a) got a smoke machine or knows how to do magic tricks or something. I mean, you know, finding the right people and being really careful not to break the magic or break the spirit of the kids because we may not have all of the resources that we need.
LINDSAY: Oh, I love that idea, you know. If you keep the spirit up, then you’ll be good, right?
KELLYBROOKE: Yeah, always.
Thank you so much! I really appreciate you talking to me today.
KELLYBROOKE: Sure! Thanks, guys!
LINDSAY: Okay, now I’m talking to Joanna Fellows.
Joanna, where are you in the world?
JOANNA: We are in Germantown, Maryland.
JOANNA: We’re in the DC Metro area.
LINDSAY: Yeah, and you consider yourself a do-it-all director.
JOANNA: I do our lighting design, our set design, our costume design, our publicity. I run our thespian honor society, our improv club, and I teach full-time. Oh, and I direct the plays – I forgot to mention directing. Oh, and choreographing.
LINDSAY: You know, basically, just basically everything
JOANNA: Yes, essentially.
LINDSAY: So, what are you strategies to deal with having to deal with everything?
JOANNA: Very careful planning. I always make sure that I’ve got my season picked out at least by June of the previous year and that allows me to spend a good deal of the summer planning and it also allows me to give roles to students and that’s been a huge asset – training kids. “Hey, Noah, we’re doing these shows next year and I need you to be the sound designer so I need you to start researching.” Being able to give different roles to students, give them the time to work on it, and then as well as for me to come up with, “Okay, we’re going to build this so we need that, that, and that.” I try to set up our rehearsal schedule as early in advance as possible. For The Laramie Project, I had the whole rehearsal schedule set up in May of last year. That way, it’s just I don’t have to think about it.
Pretty much anything that I can anticipate, I try to get done ahead of time because there’s so many last-minute things. You know, putting the program together, it’s always the week before the show that we’re putting the program together. You don’t want to have anything else on your plate there.
We’re about a month out from production and we’re already starting to add in our lighting and our sound because, when you do it all, you need to be able to be flexible in those last two weeks leading up to the production. I can’t turn to anybody else and say, “Hey, we need to get this prop.” I have already ordered all of my props; they’re all either here or on their way. Just trying to predict what kind of mishaps may happen and get everything accomplished before there’s any issues.
LINDSAY: I like that. There’s the two biggies there, right? Planning and prediction.
LINDSAY: You’ve got to look in that crystal ball and kind of figure out what’s going to happen. But I’m going to assume that, the longer that you are a do-it-all director, the problems that crop up probably crop up time and time again.
JOANNA: Oh, absolutely. I always kind of joke about Hairspray. I did Hairspray my second year here. It was my second full-scale musical that I directed and choreographed and all of that and I always kind of joke that Hairspray almost killed me because it did. I pretty much had a nervous breakdown, I lost a bunch of hair, I lost a bunch of sleep – you know, your typical stuff.
But, after Hairspray, I really made sure that I took some time to not only rest and recover but also reflect and to say, “Okay. Now, why was that such a disaster? Why did I have such difficulty getting the parents involved?” and to be able to talk to some of my students that were involved in the production and say, “Hey, what would have helped you to get this set piece done sooner?” and, therefore, engaging them in reflection as well, but being able to reflect and then say, “Okay, now let me apply all of these faults and downfalls to my planning for the next show.”
LINDSAY: Well, that’s the only way that you can grow in this, can’t you? Like, if a team is just not going to happen so it is just you, it’s like, “Okay, I would like not to have my hair fall out next time.” I really like including the students. You know, you’ve got to do that post-mortem. You’ve got to do that post-show reflection and, you know, let them see that they’re helping you.
JOANNA: Oh, yeah, and we do IB Theatre here. I don’t know if you’re familiar with IB.
LINDSAY: What does that mean?
JOANNA: It’s International Baccalaureate. It’s advanced.
LINDSAY: Oh, yes!
JOANNA: We just started doing IB Theatre so one of the things that’s really essential in the IB model is this concept of reflection and so it’s something that I not only employ in my classes but in all of my classes regardless if they’re IB or on level, but also with the production elements and being able to give those kids those production roles, I feel like my job as a theatre director is to (a) prepare these kids for college if they’re going to study theatre in college, they need to have an idea of what they’re getting themselves into, and (b) to nurture a life-long love and appreciation of theatre and of the arts. I feel like, by enabling them to take on production roles and to do some of the planning and really engage in thoughtful reflection, I’m fulfilling those two objectives.
My ultimate goal for my theatre department – and we’re getting there, this is year six so we’re getting there – my ultimate goal is that this will be entirely student-run. I’m just going to be there and make sure that nothing catches on fire.
LINDSAY: Well, how else are they going to learn – unless they’re going to do it themselves?
LINDSAY: I think that’s fabulous. I think it’s fabulous and that is absolutely the direction to go in – whether you’re a do-it-all director or not. I think that having a student-run theatre program, a student-run theatre show, I think is pretty fantastic. All the best with it!
JOANNA: Oh, it’s been so much less stressful. Those first two years, I really thought I was going to lose my mind because I was trying to do absolutely everything for them and they didn’t realize how much was going into everything so they couldn’t possibly appreciate it and they couldn’t possibly go into college or go into community theatre and replicate it. I realized I was doing myself a disservice but, more so, I was doing them a disservice.
One of the things I’ve started to do is take on a student director. Sometimes, it’s more successful than other times but, like right now, the kid I’ve got student directing, he is phenomenal and I can say to him, “Look, Tuesday and Thursday, you are running rehearsal. I want you to do some Stanislavski and some Adler and then I want you to run Act II. He’ll go in and he’ll research the exercises and he’ll say, “Okay, we’re going to do this Stanislavski and we’re going to do this Adler and then we’re going to run Act II. We’re going to do a soap opera run of Act II because I feel like that’ll really help.” Great!
LINDSAY: Well, and it puts them in the role of responsibility – either they’re going to do it or they won’t.
LINDSAY: Fantastic! Ah, that’s really great. Joanna, that’s just some really excellent tips and we’re here to let some other do-it-all directors know that they’re not alone in this.
JOANNA: And I love that because I felt like such an island until I started meeting other people that were crazy as me.
LINDSAY: That’s what you learn, isn’t it? We’re all crazy!
JOANNA: I love the Theatrefolk resources. I used a bunch of the lesson plans within the first two weeks of my Theatre I class this year and they went over so swimmingly and I’m also on the board of a community theatre and I’m always sending articles. Like, “Check this out on Theatrefolk Look at this!” So, I appreciate everything that you guys do as an organization to really support us crazy theatre people.
LINDSAY: Well, we think you guys do a fantastic job. That’s what we’re here for and thank you for doing what you do!
JOANNA: Thank you, Lindsay!
LINDSAY: Hello! I am talking to Lea Marshall.
LEA: Hello, Lindsay!
LINDSAY: How are you today?
LEA: I am great. I am finished teaching for today!
LINDSAY: That’s good and you sound like you’re in an excellent mood which is sometimes I know is not the case.
We’re talking about do-it-all directors. What’s your story with being a do-it-all director?
LEA: I feel like I should probably start by saying I am a know-nothing director. I kind of got thrown into directing two years ago – directing the musical at the school – when I didn’t teacher yet and then I got the job after directing so I guess I did an okay job.
I literally knew nothing about directing. I had watched shows be directed. I guess that was all I had so I had to really kind of learn on my own about it. I think my biggest thing was I wanted to do it all at first. I’m like, “Costumes, set, props, lights.” Like, I had no idea what lights went with what or how to turn anything on.
I didn’t know how to open the curtain, let’s start with that. I did not know how to open the curtain. I think my biggest thing was, every year, I just have chosen a different thing to major in. last year, it was set design. I studied a ton of set design and we did Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I really got into kind of the concept and carrying a pattern through on my set and talked to the kids a lot about that and so we had some awesome set design last year.
This year, I’m like, “I’m going to have a set, obviously, but I’m not really majoring on that anymore because I feel like I’ve kind of learned what I needed to learn from that.” This year, I’m really working on the sound and we’re doing Thoroughly Modern Millie and so I’m really studying up on the sound and trying to hire a guy to actually come and help us with that because you need that, I realized.
And so, I think that’s my biggest advice as a know-nothing do-it-all director – choose one thing to learn each year and really concentrate on in your production because you really cannot, from the beginning. I tried to do everything and it just was very overwhelming and I was way too scattered on my first production to everything in at one time at the level that I wanted it to be at. I just know that in maybe five years I will have it at a level that is a little bit more professional but I’m just going to have to every year kind of really concentrate on studying one area and work on that and then that’ll carry through to the next year and pick another area.
LINDSAY: Well, I mean, if you’re trying to do it all and learn it all at the same time, something has to give way.
LINDSAY: Whether it’s your sanity or it’s a less than up to par lighting. I love the way that you address it by saying, “This year, I’m majoring in this.” You’re looking at the long game.
LEA: Right, and kind of bringing some kids along with me, too. Like, “Let’s study sound this year and how we can do this,” you know? Because it is; it’s a study and the internet is so helpful. Thank you. Thank you! Thank you, internet!
Also, for me, the idea of having a concept for the play last year was great and just with Willy Wonka, we went with kind of this concept of that kind of swirly, hypnotic kind of thing and that just kind of carried through in all of our set design – the swirly kind of thing – and all of our scenes, it was a swirl. It was almost like, you know, where’s Waldo? Where is the swirl? So, that was really fun to carry through with the students and then to also put in with the props and the costumes and all of that and I do have a great costume sewer so I will say that is an area that is awesome because I do have somebody that can do that here at the school so I haven’t really majored in that yet and we do have great costumes. But, yes, lighting; I know another year I will choose lighting and I will learn how to turn on all the lights.
LINDSAY: Hey, man, that’s a good step!
LEA: Yeah, turn on all the lights – that would be a good step. Have the microphones working is our step for this year. You know, baby steps, people – baby steps.
LEA: And, the internet, just, I mean, looking up everything and really studying it and bringing kids along with you. You know, I had a sixth-grader last year who was my stage manager. This year, she’s in seventh grade so I think she’ll be better at it this year and we’re just all kind of learning as we go along. By the time I send her to high school, she’s going to be the best darn little stage manager in the world.
LINDSAY: I love that! That’s right. Bring your kids along and baby steps! You do not have to conquer the world of theatre in one day.
LEA: Or one play.
LINDSAY: Or one play.
LINDSAY: Awesome! Thank you so much, Lea!
LEA: Oh, thank you!
LINDSAY: All right. I am talking to Gretchen Thompson.
LINDSAY: Hi! All right, tell me about your experience as someone who has to do it all.
GRETCHEN: I am the theatre department at my school and I’m also the music department at my school. I direct the plays – sometimes, musicals. If we’re doing a musical, I direct the pit. You know, I’m the band and choreo director as well so it’s very busy and I’m lucky to have lots of parents that help me and some colleagues that help me, and especially the kids – I do rely on them a lot more than I think most teachers might.
LINDSAY: I think that’s great!
GRETCHEN: I ask them to be a little bit more mature and, you know, if I run into something, I have to say to them, “Guys, if you can’t help me do this, we can’t do this.” So, I just really put it out there for them and they really step it up so I’m pretty lucky.
LINDSAY: I think that’s really awesome because, first of all, the first that you’re not just a do-it-all director but you are a do-it-all department in more than one department just shows how much you have to go it alone. I don’t think it’s great to hear that you have a great time with it. I think that there are lots of people who are listening out there who might be in the same boat and who, instead of feeling some stress, the fact that you’re like, “Hey, man! I think this is great,” I think that’s pretty awesome. I also think it’s awesome that you are asking your students to step up. I think that’s a great strategy for a do-it-all director, yeah?
GRETCHEN: I find it to be really helpful. It’s not failed me yet – thank goodness! I do get overwhelmed but, luckily, I think I’ve learned a lot in the last two years, especially at the school that I’m working at. I’ve learned who will help me and, when I say I need help, they know I mean it.
LINDSAY: I think that’s good, that’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that! I think that’s a great thing for our listeners to hear. Thank you so much!
GRETCHEN: You’re welcome.
LINDSAY: All right. Now, I’m talking to Rebecca Cates.
LINDSAY: How are you today?
REBECCA: I’m great. I’m exhausted but I’m great!
LINDSAY: You have shows going on, you’re in competition. You’re going to competition next week.
REBECCA: Next week, that’s right.
LINDSAY: So, it’s safe to say that you are a do-it-all director.
REBECCA: Definitely, absolutely.
LINDSAY So, tell me, how do you do it?
REBECCA: I don’t know, really. I have people ask me all the time if I have ADHD and that’s what prompts me to constantly spin my wheels. I think I do it, I find the strength to do it just because I know the kids love it and, if I don’t, then there’s nobody else there to do it.
LINDSAY: Ah, I think that’s a good way to think about – that, if you’re not doing it, then it doesn’t get done.
REBECCA: Right, right.
LINDSAY: So, how are some ways that you deal with it so that you don’t drive yourself crazy?
REBECCA: One of the biggest things that I do is I have to put trust in the students and delegate some of the responsibilities to them – which I think helps them grow as actors and artists within the theatre because I’m not doing it all for them. They are doing a lot of the work. I delegate costume management to them. I don’t have a costume manager on duty. I don’t have a costume designer so I have to train kids to do that and I don’t have set designers and I don’t have tech designers so I have to delegate those things to students. There’s no way I could handle all of that by myself.
LINDSAY: No, and, well, it would make you crazy if you did it all yourself.
REBECCA: Yeah, it would, absolutely!
LINDSAY: How do you handle aspects that maybe you don’t have as firm as grasp on as maybe, if you’re really solid in costuming, how do you handle set design?
REBECCA: Part of my job, I feel like, if I don’t know, I need to know. I spend a lot of time researching and asking questions and finding the answers to those questions from other people. I think it’s part of my responsibility – not just as a director but as an educator. As a teacher, there are often times we don’t know the answers to questions and it’s our job to find the answers to those questions.
LINDSAY: I like that, you know, because then it’s in the aspect of “this is part of the job.”
LINDSAY: What advice would you give to someone who is floundering?
REBECCA: Don’t give up. Eventually, it gets better. You find things that work. A lot of times, you fail and, a lot of times, you make mistakes, but that’s how we learn and that’s how we grow as educators and directors, and don’t give up because there are times that it’s hard and there are times that you just feel like you want to throw in the towel and you think to yourself, “What is this for?” But then, on those opening nights, when those kids are standing onstage, taking their bows and the audience is standing and giving them a standing ovation, that’s what it’s for. It’s for them. It’s watching them grow and seeing them love it and talk about how much they will miss it and what a family they have. That’s what it’s all about.
LINDSAY: That’s lovely. Thank you so much for sharing that with us today, Rebecca!
REBECCA: Thank you!
I am talking to Kate Olena.
KATE: Hello! Good morning!
LINDSAY: Good morning! All right, so what is your story for being a do-it-all director?
KATE: Well, I teach theatre to fifth through eighth graders and, every single one of them in the school goes through me for a quarter of the year and, at the end of the seven or eight weeks that I have them, we usually put up some kind of a final project. So, seventh graders all do one-acts and eighth graders do two shows that are a little bit longer than that. There’s also a tech theatre class in eighth grade and an Asian theatre history class in eighth grade and then the fifth graders write their own pieces and put them on for their parents.
LINDSAY: What strategies do you have to keep that all together? That you’re working with all these different grades and it’s just you who’s handling it?
KATE: I use my sixth graders and teach them a little technical theatre and have them help me make some of the props and scenery and all the costumes and I think about it all summer. I read thirty to forty plays every summer and choose my season and then try to keep it relatively simple and not do two shows simultaneously that have big sets. Like, if one has a big set, the other should have something relatively simple to move on and off.
My other advantage is I have a thrust stage instead of big proscenium so I can’t have humongous set pieces because they would block the view from part of the audience. New this year is I got this incredible projection screen that’s a rear projection and it’s ten feet by sixteen feet so I started to use that as a backdrop. Consequently, I can get any color I want instead of using cyclorama lights and I can get any image I want and even a moving image, if I want. So, that saved me a lot of time.
LINDSAY: Basically, you’re using, you know, what some might see the limitations of the space to really help you out. When you’re the one doing it all, it’s like, “Okay, well, we can’t have big set pieces, so we won’t. We’ve got this screen so that’s what we’re going to use.” Just using what you have.
KATE: Right, and recycling a lot.
One year, I used all recycled materials for every piece of scenery. We had to have a great big wall that got knocked down in the middle of a particular play and we just asked people to bring in their garbage boxes and we used craft paper that had been used to cover the tables in the art room and we covered them all with that and then we wrote graffiti on them. And so, the whole set was this big recycled project.
LINDSAY: I love that! You know, again, you’re using what you have. Actually, I kind of like the idea of craft paper that’s been used in the art room as the base for some set pieces. I think that’s actually really ingenious.
KATE: Yeah, it was really fun because it added a lot of texture and interest to what was onstage.
LINDSAY: Do you remember when you started out? What would you say was your biggest struggle as a do-it-all director?
KATE: Learning to sew – to sew costumes was just overwhelming to me. I didn’t have any fear of carpentry because I’d done it in college backstage and I knew the rules of heavy spatter to cover up mistakes so that was great. But, costumes, I had never learned how to sew. I think my mother had a genetic predisposition for not sewing and so we just never did it and my husband actually taught me how to sew because he was fascinated with machines and he had like a vintage sewing machine that didn’t even have reverse stitch on it. So, I used to sew everything on that and I used all clear plastic thread which unravelled and came out. So, bit by bit, I learned the tricks of the trade, but I would spend hours just sitting on my bedroom floor until one in the morning, trying to sew costumes. Now, it’s so much easier. I’m still not a great seamstress. I mean, I wouldn’t want anybody to look at my stuff up-close, but I get really good-looking fabrics and I use very simple T shapes and rectangles and that kind of stuff in order to make the costumes.
I do a lot of plays that are based on folk tales from other countries. And so, the basic shape of a kimono is like a T so, if I’m doing a Japanese play, I can do it a T-formation for the costumes.
LINDSAY: It’s basically the same shape for almost everything. If you want to make a toga, you can do a T.
KATE: Exactly. Rectangles and T’s are like my favorite thing.
LINDSAY: There you go. There’s your tip. Your tip for the day is, when you have to do it yourself, T’s and rectangles, that’s all you need to learn. But, I guess, what it comes back to – which is what you’re saying – is, “Look, make it simple. Don’t do plays with two huge sets. Don’t make overly complicated costumes. Just keep it simple.” That’s going to save your life.
KATE: From Asian theatre traditions, I’ve learned a lot of simplicity. Somebody referred to it as Disney on a budget because you take a bunch of streamers, you attach them to a stick, and you have the kids run across the stage with them, and you’ve made a storm. And so, you don’t have to have electronic effects to create the storm; you just have the kids running across the stage.
LINDSAY: And that makes it more theatrical.
Awesome. Kate, thank you so much! Thank you for talking to me today!
LINDSAY: Okay, I am talking to Jarad Benn.
LINDSAY: How are you today?
JARAD: I’m very well. Thank you.
LINDSAY: Awesome. So, right before we started recording, we got into an awesome little thing about this whole notion of do-it-all directors and I’m like, “Oh, we’ve got to get going, we’ve got to get going!”
LINDSAY: You were talking about the stress that can come when you’ve got no one to lean on and being a do-it-all director.
JARAD: Yeah. You know, there’s no question and I think that one of the misconceptions – particularly among other teacher colleagues – is that this job of producing theatre is somehow easy because what people see are the results of our labor. They don’t see the sometimes years’ long processes of putting a show together, making creative decisions, and then implementing all those decisions with a group of people who – in a very real way – are kind of hugely inexperienced about what it means to create a piece of theatre. I think that people think that it’s easy when they’re on the outside and I think that part of our job as theatre educators is not just educating the kids and students but educating the whole community about what it takes to produce something like this.
LINDSAY: And the work that goes into it and the number of jobs.
JARED: The number of jobs. Sometimes, all you need are two hands to help you.
JARAD: Even if it’s just to lift a set piece from one end of the building to the other or one end of the stage to the other. Sometimes, that’s all you need and the knowledge that somebody is there to do that for you is a real stress-reliever – and, obviously, in that case, the more, the better.
LINDSAY: Yeah. So, tell me, what are your strategies with dealing with this stress?
JARAD: I think the number one problem or the number one thing that we can do to alleviate some of the stress is communicate as soon as humanly possible. My first job in this, I think one of my first tasks in this job that I’ve been in for four years now was to communicate with all of my parents and let them know the various jobs that are available to them. I have found that the parents that are involved or the parents of my students and cast members are not unwilling to become involved. It’s that they literally don’t know what to do.
JARAD: And so, I think that the first and foremost step should be communicating with them the exact jobs that are needed and be as specific as you can – whether it be, “We need somebody who is skilled with carpentry to volunteer some time – any time you have – to help us build some acting blocks or to build some canvas flats for us. We will help you with the exactitudes of what those jobs entail but, for now, we need somebody who’s willing to come in and say, “Hey, I can do this for you” or “I can help you with this.” Listing off as specifically as possible what is needed is an important element. And then, I think what winds up happening is you start to develop a culture that’s sort of under – for lack of a better term – an underground culture of knowledge of what’s needed.
LINDSAY: I think that’s an excellent way to put it – that people just don’t know. They want to help but they have no idea – they have no idea what you do or what’s entailed. They think also, too, because it’s like, “Oh, it’s drama, I’m not creative. There’s nothing that I could provide.” You know, exactly as you say, lift this thing from one end to the other – that is a huge lift off your shoulders.
JARAD: Yes, and I’m looking at my shelves of props for Fiddler on the Roof that we’re about to produce. You know, for somebody who doesn’t have help, this looks like a monumental job – to organize and put them on a props table in preparation for a production. I’m sure that there are people who would look at this number of things – tools and benches and candlesticks and things – and be like, “What the heck am I supposed to do with all of this stuff? Where does it go? How can we make this function for a show?” and just totally stress out, just at the look of this shelf. But, with help, especially people who might be inclined toward organization or whatever, it becomes a less scary job.
LINDSAY: Absolutely. Ah, I love that! I think that’s really awesome.
Thank you so much for sharing that, Jared. I just love the notion of knowledge is king, isn’t it?
JARAD: Knowledge is really king and, the more knowledge you can instill in your community around you, the more likely you are to build a community of people who understand what the needs are and then, all of a sudden, you’ll find yourself with things being done without you even asking them. All of a sudden, you’re developing a production team and you don’t even know it by default. You know, that’s the key for me.
LINDSAY: Awesome. Thank you so much.
JARAD: Thank you!
LINDSAY: Alright I am talking to Tricia Oliver, hello Tricia!
LINDSAY: So, um the thing that you said to me, when we were looking for do it all directors is that you consider yourself a master at this point at being a do it all director. Is that right?
TRICIA: Yes, and I am knee-deep in it right now considering we are one week away from our opening with our Lion King junior.
LINDSAY: Oh my gosh. So what makes, for you, what makes a do it all director?
TRICIA: Because I get to have my hands in, and I say “I get”, it’s more of a privilege than a job, um, I get to have my hand in every aspect of putting on a production, and I had some students interview me, um last week, just in preparation of promoting the production, and they said “what’s your favourite part?” and I said, ah, I’m not sure that I can pick one favourite part. I enjoy all aspects, I enjoy designing the costumes and having a say in what the whole big picture looks like. I enjoy creating costumes, I’m just, I’m actually working on Rafiki costume right now that I love. Um, that I also get to have, put my, you know, say in and put my hands on the kids faces and working on the makeup and all the little aspects, the little lighting design, the sound design. Of course with Lion King the music’s already a part of it so I don’t have to design the music for that show, but having that option, um all, not just the directing, but to have my hands in all of it.
LINDSAY: You know, I think that is an amazing thing to say that, that you think it’s a privilege. Cause I talk to a lot of directors, high school directors who are just a little bit frazzled by the whole thought of doing it all themselves, so I think, I love your attitude! (laughs)
TRICIA: Well and it may have something; I have an art degree as well, so I’m working on my Master’s in Theatre Ed, and I’m also have an art degree, so me that’s another outlet for me, that’s “okay, that’s a release”. I get to make this costume, I get to create something that goes on one of the kids on the stage, it’s not about putting on this big show, but really putting this whole big picture together and putting it on the stage. And that’s I guess the producer, the director, the lighting design, you know, all those little aspects, I get to do it all and it makes me happy.
LINDSAY: I think that’s awesome. So do you, as a do it all director, um, do you use your, do you lean on maybe, do you use your students, ah, to sort of, ah, help get things done?
TRICIA: Yes, I do. Um, I have learned, over the years, to delegate. That was probably a harder concept for me than putting on the show. Um, I will put on a show all day all night. The concept of letting someone else do something is more difficult for me because I know what I want it to look like and I don’t always communicate effectively every detail than i need to have happen. But I am so thankful now that we are 8 years into a drama program at the school where I teach, and the first show i got to sit back and actually watch and let the students take care of running the sound, and running backstage, and all of it, and allowing the parents to construct (i’ll do a prototype and then they’ll follow my prototype) but letting go and allowing the parents to have a part of creating what is on stage. it’s in their contract actually, when they sign their kids up, when the kids audition and then they sign their show contract, it’s in the contract that the parents actually have to contribute, um, to the production, and that helps take some of that stress of actually getting it all done off of me, but at the same time I have control as the designer.
LINDSAY: That is so interesting that as part of the, that you making, your making your show, essentially, a community effort. By, um, by saying that parents have to help. Do you get parents who resist?
TRICIA: No. no.
LINDSAY: Interesting! That’s…
TRICIA: I have one or two that might have, you know, because of conflicts with work or something, but we try to offer enough different kinds of jobs like um, bringing water backstage for the kids – that’s not something that requires a whole lot of time but it’s time that somebody has to take to go to the grocery store, buy it, bring it up to the school, make sure it’s all iced down. It’s not, you know, it’s one less thing that I have to do, but it definitely helps out the students and keeps them cool backstage during the run of the production.
LINDSAY: Ah! I think that’s, I think that’s fa – I think that’s really fabulous, just in terms of you know sharing, sharing something with our listeners about, okay if you’re a do it all director, how do we do this? There’s lots of little jobs, aren’t there? That you can just say, hey do this!
TRICIA: Right, and you know making sure that it’s all… my parents, and I laugh about this, my parents have actually kind of worked their way up to being Chairman it’s like it’s being passed off as their child grows up and gets older and plays a different role in the program. I have like a parent Chair who communicates, uh, with the other parents what i need, so that I don’t have to spend my downtime sending out emails, and I need this and I need that… we have a volunteer spot that we use for parents to sign up and that’s essentially a template. We always know that we need water backstage, we always know that we need kid wranglers backstage, we always know that we need parents that help with costumes and collect them after every show.
Um, our production that opens in a week, we have 47 kids, um in this production that are 3rd through 7th grade and so each of them has a costume that needs to be taken care of after each show, so it’s super important that we have that kind of organization. Um, I could spend my time, but I don’t have to, so it allows me to do what I do well, which is direct a show.
LINDSAY: That’s awesome. Thank you so much Tricia!
TRICIA: I am so glad to have been a part of this – thank you so much!
LINDSAY: Thank you, everyone!
Ugh, I appreciate so much that you guys took the time out of your busy do-it-all lives to talk to me and share your stories. If you’re out there and you’re in the same boat, I hope that you got something useful out of our time together – our listening time and our talking time.
Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.
Okay. So, if you are overwhelmed, if you are stressed out, and you’re working on seven things at once and you might get to a class one day and realize, “I do not know what I’m supposed to do with these students today,” or you wake up and you go, “Oh, hello, insane cold, migraine, insert here whatever. I’m not going to school today.” Well, it sounds like you need an emergency lesson plan and it just so happens that we have some emergency lesson plans in a collection entitled – very conveniently – “Emergency Lesson Plans.” We have twenty of them – perfect for enhancing your drama toolbox, to leave with a substitute teacher or liven up things on a rainy day.
This is an e-book so it comes in a PDF format and you can project the lessons on a smart board, print and copy the lessons for your class. Check out the show notes for a link which you can find at theatrefolk.com/149.
Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every second Tuesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on youtube.com/theatrefolk and you can find us on the Stitcher app. You can also subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search on the word: “Theatrefolk.”
And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.