Essential Rules for Theatre Directors

If you’re on Twitter, you’ve probably seen Sam Mendes’ recent list of 25 “rules” for directors. It’s an interesting read, and offers some important ideas to keep in mind for new and experienced directors alike.

I’m a list person. I like giving order to ideas, and keeping track of things, and putting complex ideas into little bite -sized containers. When I read a list such as Mendes’, each item opens up a whole host of questions, experiences and practices, and a single line can become a challenge for the day’s rehearsal. For this reason, I’ve always admired Jon Jory’s book Tips: Ideas for Directors, as a quick way to keep me on my toes.

Some might question Mendes’ use of the word “rules”, rather than suggestions, but I think that making a definite statement not only leads to conversation (Remember this article? And see what I did with the title of this blog?), it’s also a much-needed show of decisiveness in an art form where everything’s subjective.  The strong statements that Mendes makes in his list reminded me of Canadian Theatre Review’s wonderful 2012 Manifestos edition. New manifestos are something I think we need a lot more of in theatre- too often I find conversations about theatre are framed in hypotheticals, apologies and situational explanations.

As much as I like and agree with many items on this list, it is (obviously)  flavoured by the kinds of work Sam Mendes does; many items on the list compare theatre and film, and reference large-resource productions (“There are no such things as “previews” on Broadway” and “when you have a cast of 20…”) . I would be really interested in seeing a list of rules from an indie theatre director, or someone who does immersive work.

Lists can give us a way into another director’s process. Directing can be a lonely job- most directors don’t have access to eachother’s rehearsal rooms. For this reason, it can be isolating, and I often find myself wondering about how other directors would handle a situation. Assistant directing has been a great way for me to learn from experienced directors and see a range of approaches, but for non-emerging directors, opportunities like that are rare.

I want to put out a call to directors of all practices and experience levels: share your “rules” on Twitter, Facebook, your blog, and we can start a conversation. If you have a list of directing tips or personal “rules”, please share it here!