Live performance reaches its full potential when it partners with communities and individuals in an artistic exploration of ourselves and our place in society. It needs to speak to us in the present tense, with an awareness of the cultural, psychological, and sociological forces that both empower and constrain audiences. It can look deeply into our society’s values, passions, and problems as well as imagine transformations we wish for the future.
Directors need to share the joy of these discoveries by making audience interactions vibrant and engaging. Therefore, form and style should adapt to assist function.Theme should arise from a collision of contrasts so that it resolves freshly in the minds of an active audience. Moments of realization for characters should be sharpened, as should moments of surprise for the audience.These are merely ways to keep an in-the-moment artform alive and present, but unfortunately, they often are neglected in favor of cliché or hollow theatricality.
Live performance is also highly collaborative, so a director’s job, in addition to setting the project’s bearings, is to inspire other artists and help them perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. This includes respecting the playwright’s vision, while still applying creative choices to interpret and convey that vision to audiences. For example, how does casting both Cabaret’s Emcee and Sally with African-American actors embolden Kander and Ebb’s explorations of complacency and subversion for U.S. audiences? How can subtext vividly evoke self-destructive denial in Carousel’s infamous line, “It is possible that someone may beat you and beat you and not hurt you at all,” as opposed merely to cutting it as did the recent New York revival?
Finally, a director must partner with rather than dictate to actors, especially in academia where the presentation of ideas can be intensely personal and techniques that work so well for one might prove miserably ineffective for another. Certainly, directors need to be well-honed in the crafts of creating focus and conveying context and be skillful at conjuring moments ranging from intimate psychological revelations to panoramic evocations of the eternal. However, ultimately success hinges on the connections between live performers and audience, and empowering actors with truth and granting them freedom to live in that truth is essential for creating entertaining, engaging, transformative experiences for everyone involved.