Before journalism found me, I trained for a while to be a director, and in a medium that’s purportedly the “director’s” medium: film. Even those who don’t entirely buy the classic auteur theory, which ascribes a film’s authorship to its director, tend to acknowledge the director’s authority over screen storytelling. You can see it in most film reviews, which typically treat directors as primary creators, seldom giving screenwriters the same prominence, if they mention them at all. This preference isn’t accidental or incidental: It’s built into the art and business of filmmaking, which gives directors “film by” credits and, usually, final cut over films whose stories and dialogue are often attributed to small armies of writers (many uncredited).
Theatre directors, by contrast, are the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them apparitions in most theatre reviews, unless their name happens to be Julie Taymor or Ivo van Hove. Playwrights are seen as the stage’s primary creators, at least in the U.S., and as such are typically the ones to get the lion’s share of acclaim, attention, and emerging-artist awards. There are no cushy commissions for directors; MacArthur’s theatre “geniuses” are almost invariably playwrights. It’s not as if directors don’t carry any weight onstage: Most nonprofit theatres are run by directors, who in turn often privilege director-centered programming, and in some genres—new plays, musical theatre, classics—the director is often accorded greater centrality than in others. But in an art made to bloom and flower in a single room for a short time, the director is like a hothouse caretaker. The job is more about finding the best temperature and environment for things to grow than about making the things themselves.
Unless, of course, they make the work as well as shepherd it, as do the “generative” directors Pamela Newton profiles in a story in this issue’s special package on the craft, trade, and training of directors. The issue also includes Allison’s Considine’s clear-eyed look at a group of mid-career directors, most with MFAs, in which they reveal their ambitions and strategies onstage and off, and how they learned to do what they do. In another story, Fabiana Cabral talks to veterans of the helmers’ trade, some of whose careers predate the proliferation of theatre degree programs, to discover what universal truths they’ve uncovered in their long and diverse careers. And Jenn McKee looks at the thorny, often extra-legal issue of intellectual property rights for non-writers, including directors and designers.
On the educational beat, Nicole Brewer offers a bracing call to action for schools and training programs to diversify their theatre styles beyond the Method and the Western canon to embrace approaches from around the world and from marginalized cultural traditions in the U.S. What might some of those non-Western traditions look like? As if on cue, Amelia Parenteau files a report from West African capitals in Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, where the theatre practice reflects a hybrid of indigenous traditions and adapted Western dramaturgy.
Closer to home, Zachary Small looks at the state of queer theatre at a time when some of the 20th century’s iconic gay plays (Torch Song, The Boys in the Band, Angels in America) are now period pieces. Young queer artists, Small writes, have moved so far past the coming-out drama, not to mention the gender binary, that they’re not just pushing aesthetic envelopes, they’re inventing new ones to push. The expressive potential of theatre—whether under a director’s watchful eye or at the edge of a playwright’s pen—springs eternal, as long as there are bodies to gather and rooms to gather in.