How Community Theatres Can Maintain a Strong, Healthy Director Pool

Dee Dee O'Connor

One of the most important tasks your theatre has is to put together a successful season. You have to find the right balance of plays that will both entertain and (hopefully) challenge your audience. But a successful season depends on more than just the plays selected; it also depends on the directors you choose. The fact is no play is completely director-proof.

Ultimately responsible for the show, a director can either make or break a production. So the choices you make are crucial to the success of the play. A play that sells a lot of tickets can still do a lot of damage to your theatre’s reputation if it is poorly directed. So keeping good directors, grooming new directors, and weeding out poor directors is vital to your success.

Many to most community theaters face a limited directing pool. Ideally, this pool is filled with directors who:

•    Have a thorough understanding of theatre.
•    Are good planners and organizers.
•    Do their homework with the script.
•    Have the ability to communicate their vision of the script.
•    Provide a positive, respectful, and creative atmosphere for their actors, designers, and crew.
•    Are good ambassadors for your theatre.

Realistically, however, you will probably have some work to do to get there. Here are some ideas and suggestions to keep your directing pool healthy and strong.

Be In Touch With Your Productions

One of the more important things you’ll need to do is to nip any potential issues in the bud. That means you have to know what’s going on with your productions. You want to provide a safe, collaborative environment for everyone involved in a production so if there are problems, you’ll be able to deal with them immediately.

A great way to keep in touch is to have a liaison that reports to the board or head of production for each show. The liaison should attend some rehearsals and check in with those involved in the production. This person should have enough experience to spot serious issues, ascertain their source, and find solutions. 

Some things your liaison should look for are:

•    A director who is inflexible, angry, or abusive.
•    A director who can’t control his cast or crew and allows reckless behavior on or off stage.
•    A director who doesn’t adhere to your theatre’s policies
•    Cast and crew who don’t feel valued or who are struggling or frustrated.

Anyone of these things can be disastrous. By not addressing serious issues, you run the risk of losing actors, production staff and ultimately your audience. People talk, especially about bad experiences. Directors are the face of your theatre for actors and crew. You want these people to have the best possible experience so they want to be involved with your theatre. Unhappy, struggling actors and crew will also affect the quality of performances. You want audiences to have a great experience as well so they keep coming back and better yet, tell all their friends how awesome your theatre is. 

Weed Out Poor Directors

Talk to your directors openly and honestly about any serious issues. Offer assistance, if necessary. Be firm about the changes you expect. You might hurt some feelings but you just might save a director from being culled from your directing pool.

Despite your best efforts, you will probably be faced at one point or another with a director who lacks the skills to be effective doesn’t work within your guidelines and policies, or refuses to correct the issues you have brought to their attention. This director will never, ever be an asset to your theatre and will take a toll on your theatre’s reputation both within the available theatrical talent pool and with your audiences.

The easiest way to weed out poor directors is to simply not ask them back to direct. In the most extreme case, you may have to remove a director from a show in progress. If you don’t already have guidelines in place for carrying out these uncomfortable tasks, develop a policy—and follow it!

Be Proactive in Retaining & Recruiting Directors

Don’t assume directors will be knocking the doors down to work at your theatre. You need to be proactive in not only retaining your current pool of directors, you want to constantly be on the lookout for potential new talent.

•    Have a post-season wrap-up session with your directors. Talk about what went right, what went wrong and how your theatre can better assist directors in the future. 
•    Host a director appreciation/recruiting event. Invite your successful past directors and potential new directors. Make it a party. Provide refreshments. Give a tour of your theatre and a presentation on why directing at your theatre is great. Provide pertinent information about directing at your theatre: the season schedule, including audition dates.
•    Know who’s directing what at other theaters in your area and invite them to your event.
•    Do you have a strong high school or college theatre program in your area? Reach out to these institutions. In addition to finding directing talent, you may find acting and tech talent as well.

Groom New Directors 

You never know where your next great director will come from. Encourage anyone interested in directing to take the steps necessary to move toward directing. 

•    Encourage your current directors to take on those who might be interested in directing in the future as stage managers and assistant directors.
•    Invite these people to your appreciation/recruiting event.
•    Provide new directors or new-to-your-theatre directors all the tools they need for a successful show.
•    Explain your policies thoroughly. 
•    Make sure they understand their budget.
•    Provide them with a mentor. This should be another, successful director who has done several shows at your facility. 

Your directors are responsible for the tenor, vision, and production of their shows but your theatre is ultimately responsible for its directors. Give them every chance and resource to be successful, but don’t be afraid to weed out a director who isn’t up to par. Keep in mind that your theatre is only as strong as the weakest director. Be an inviting place where directing is fun, challenging, and rewarding, and you’ll be a theater where people want to work and audiences want to come to time and again.

Photo Credit: Richard Pettibone