When I think about directing a play, I think about having one, clear vision for a production. I think about gathering a team and – as the director – leading them through the production process to a final product of a live, onstage show. That’s what I think. And that’s (thankfully) not how I’ve been working for the past few weeks.
I was introduced to WTF at the Southeastern Theatre Conference earlier this year. I was really excited by the work they were doing, and I knew the summer Festival was something I wanted to be a part of. Then came COVID-19 and all the closures it brought with it. While it was discouraging especially for theatre artists, I kept my eye on how companies I cared about responded – WTF included. I noticed an INCREASE in thrilling programming! WTF had shifted their plans for the coming months to a fully virtual platform. A few lucky emails later, and before I could register what was happening, I became a WTF 2020 Apprentice and a member of the Fringe Lab Directing Cohort.
With the Cohort, I would be directing a section of the play Love & Information by Caryl Churchill. This play is completely different than anything I have ever worked on. There are no definite characters. There is no definite order. It is made up of seven sections, each of which contains scenes that may be performed in any order. It has a set final scene and a number of optional “Random” scenes (my section) that may be played at any time. And when I say these scenes can happen in ANY order and at ANY time . . . I really do mean any.
Seven sections = seven directors. Each director came to their section with ideas of what the play was and how it should be presented. We were given a few unifying traits for our sections: three actors, a discovery, two exits, an orange, lipstick, and a mirror. We had to use the text of the script, and we had to use those moments/objects. Beyond that, we were left to our individual, creative devices.
I was given the task of analyzing multiple one-line interactions and determining where they could and should fit within the larger scope of the production. It’s been a unique challenge, to say the least. I’ve had to go with my gut, brainstorm with my actors, and, most importantly, share my thoughts with the other directors to make sure I’m not interrupting or ruining any of their work. Their sections flow all at once, so it’s like they have mini-plays they’re directing that fit together to make one big play that my sections of very tiny plays interrupt.
The biggest factor in determining where my pieces fit has been reading the script. Reading and reading it over and over again. Then I think: what moments in my section share a throughline? What moments are isolated in their oddness? Are these characters real people? Or am I embracing the strange and using humans as idea representation? I found success in mixing all of those options. I’ve used the moments in my section titled “Depression” as an overarching story, and I’ve let the other lines come and go as truly randomly as they please.
The rehearsal process has been so much fun and an incredibly unique experience. I have lines that deal with everything from social media to deep depression to Santa. I have unlimited virtual capabilities to play with. Instead of the normal stage options of lighting, projection, and sound, I have the virtual options of frame positioning, overlays, and more sound manipulation. DIrecting on stage is directing shapes and storytelling of a piece, and that’s still what I’m doing.
Honestly, it doesn’t feel as different as I thought it would. I have a team of eager, intelligent, fiercely brilliant women working on the same project. To be a part of a collaborative effort means to listen and support each other. And I have to say, it’s exciting to not know what everything is going to look like. It’s exciting to play with off-the-wall ideas and throw them into the mix of more structured work. Directing a piece of Love & Information has caused me to think outside of all my preconceived boxes. This play is all virtual, fully collaborative, and overflowing with ideas from so many new and brilliant directing minds.