Orchestrating a vision

What does a director actually do?

This simple question formed the basis of TimeLine’s Directors Salon, an intimate fundraising event featuring food and drink

intertwined with Q & A which delved into the world of the director. Hosted by Paul (TimeLine’s Board President) and Nancy Knapp at their lovely Gold Coast home on Tuesday, May 3, the discussion was led by UK ex-pat director John Green, chair of the theater department at Columbia College Chicago. He was joined by TimeLine Theatre directors Nick Bowling, Louis

From right: Host Paul Knapp introduces panel members Kimberly Senior, Louis Contey, Nick Bowling and John Green.
From right: Host Paul Knapp introduces panel members Kimberly Senior, Louis Contey, Nick Bowling and John Green.

Contey and Kimberly Senior, who treated attendees to personal insights into the creative processes, problems and questions continually faced by directors.

The concept and role of directing has developed immensely over time. John explained that during the Shakespearean era a

Book Manager would merely order actors what to do. This mechanical taskmaster position is far removed from the concept of what we now define as a director.

… to bring out the play, bring out the actors
… communicate to get the actors to fulfill the director’s vision
… take the vision of a play and make it happen in front of an audience

These were just some of the observations made by attendees when asked what they thought a director’s role required. The answers given were cohesive with the panel’s own views on what their role may be. It became clear that the process of interpreting and harnessing the central ideas of a text and shaping them onto a stage is key to a director’s responsibility.

TimeLine’s Directors Salon was attended by approximately 40 guests and hosted by Paul and Nancy Knapp and their beautiful view of Chicago.

TimeLine Associate Artistic Director Nick Bowling described one aspect of his directing process — undertaking plays that are riddled with puzzles that need to be deciphered and solved. For instance, with one of his most recent directorial works at TimeLine, In Darfur, the script included a car chase at both the beginning and end of the play (action generally more suited to film), which posed an interesting challenge. This hurdle in the theatrical transformation from text to stage appears to be a creative spur for Nick, as it forces an innovative solution to the structural challenges within a script. Nick laughed that in the past fellow Company Member David Parkes has described his directorial process as being one in which he will “paint himself into a corner” so he must “figure a way out,” illustrating how his creativity is ignited through problem solving.

Listen in as Nick describes how he discovered he had a talent for directing:

Like all TimeLine plays, a script that has “something relevant to say” is central to Louis Contey’s method of undertaking and directing a play. Through carefully exploring a piece of text, Lou seeks to discover what the writer wants to articulate to the audience. When speaking about his experience directing TimeLine’s recent production of Frost/Nixon, he talked about the need to analyze the significance of the events that surrounded the play, making a connection to how they may be relevant to today’s society. Celebrity culture, the media and the individual social power that transpires from this were seen by Lou as key questions addressed in Frost/Nixon, that could also be made relevant to the current socio-political landscape. Acting as an “entrée” into the play, this enabled Lou to develop the theatrical elements to best communicate those questions.

In this audio clip, Lou talks about the “alchemy” of casting a play:

Kimberly Senior likened her role as a director to being an “immune system,” in which she must ensure all parts of theatrical process are “functioning at their best.” Speaking about how she came into directing, Kimberly addressed the opportunity as a director to have a dialogue with the audience. Though she also enjoyed the direct connection she had as an actor with the audience in her early career, being a director has allowed her to have more “gravity” in communicating and creating a relationship between the script, herself and the audience. Kimberly explained that a large part of this process involves asking questions about what she doesn’t know about the play, which in turn helps her highlight what the central issues may be within the text.

Hear Kimberly describe what is unique about TimeLine’s audience:

Hearing the words of three experienced professionals at TimeLine’s Directors Salon highlighted the creativity, challenge and thought that is continuously required in such a role. We thank Paul and Nancy Knapp for hosting this great fundraising event, all those who attended for their support of TimeLine, and John, Nick, Kimberly and Lou for providing us with great insight into the dynamic work of directing theatre.

Leave a Reply

One Response to “Orchestrating a vision”

  1. A thrilling year starts today « Behind the ‘Line :: TimeLine Theatre Company Blog

    […] dialogue, TimeLine’s Company Members chose Lee Blessing’s 1986 Pulitzer-Prize finalist A Walk in the Woods, a poignant, funny and provocative debate about the art of negotiation. Written and first presented […]