October 2, 2000

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


I am now officially a director. I have ordered my director’s beanie and canvas back chair. From now on I am making my children call me “DC.” I have mastered a one-act play and next comes Hollywood. Actually, my participation in Northern Lakes Arts Association’s workshop for directing wannabes and aspiring actors was an eye opening experience. It was a lot of hard work and it made me realize how much everyone puts into creating even a short piece of stage magic.

Peter Kess was the workshop facilitator and it was up to him to make sure that our efforts did culminate with a show. Kess did much of the groundwork that a full fledge director would do. He picked out the plays that would be presented. He assigned novice directors and actors to the task of flushing out a presentable play. He handed out the book “Stage Directions” by Peithman and Offen which offered a concise crash course in directing. On top of that when we were short one more body in the acting department, he stepped in to try his hand at being a leading man.

On the day of the play there was an all day workshop that very effectively stripped away much of my modest feelings of doing a good job. Directors probably spend as much time in prep work as they do in rehearsals. Real directors deal with set designers, music directors (if it is a musical) and other experts who’s talents are needed. Line by line, character by character, scene by scene the director must shape the play’s action.

I learned about production concepts. Every director has to make decisions as to how a play will feel. For instance, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado has been produced in many different conceptual ways, such as a mobster play from the 1930’s to having a 1950’s look complete with poodle skirts. Sometimes new concepts work and sometimes you close in one night.

One important element is called blocking. That is where the director figures out where the actors will be on stage at any given time and what they are doing on stage. Acting is more than just standing and delivering lines. How one walks on stage, how one interacts with the set can add as much to the play as the playwright’s words. It is like a complex dance with no music.

In Community Theater, it is amazing how collaborative an effort it is to create a set. Everything from the furniture to the items on the furniture must be found. In my play we had to create an expensive lady’s boutique. Mannequins had to be found. Merchandise needed to be borrowed. Tea cups, a watch on a chain, a non-glass mirror - all needed to be found quickly, for it is important for the actors to get use to the things they will be interacting with.

Two of my fellow trainees I felt were frauds. Tom Speros and Lis McCrea should not have been allowed to be in the workshop. Instead they should have helped to teach it. I was in awe of McCrea’s acting ability. Most people, when they think of Lis think of bakery goods. Her stage presence is so powerful she could easily convince the Pillsbury DoughBoy that he is Hamlet. She was directed by her brother, Tom Speros, who has equally excellent theater skills in all areas. The detail that he could get down to was remarkable, yet his observations showed that even small changes can result in big insights. If Ely is lucky we will see more of them.

I applaud the NLAA in this experiment of unproven talents. It was an important new program which I hope others will take the opportunity to try when it is repeated again. It is by allowing people to take small baby steps that future theatrical leaps will be attempted in the future.

I, myself, am just finishing up an original play entitled, “The History of Man” that I intend to personally direct. It is a sixteen act musical representing the rise of Ely as the Florence of the North. Now I only need to cast 200 people as loggers, 450 as miners and a chorus of 2000 tourists, then I am set to start rehearsals. Is there a doctor in the house? Me thinks the director is insane!


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