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  • Liberatory Pedagogy and Activated Directing: Restructuring the College Rehearsal Room
  • Jonathan Cole (bio)

The role of the director in higher education is split between mentoring students and directing a play in an artistically successful manner, yet the available literature concerning the methods and practices of directing contains very little discussion of this double task and its peculiar challenges. The director in higher education generally develops a personal directing style based on a mixture of his/her studies and understanding of the available literature, selected (and often sporadic) coursework at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and, most importantly, applied practice in the theatre itself. This last frequently begins when the educator serves as an assistant to a mentor/director. As Tom Mitchell states in a 1992 Theatre Topics article:

Most directors learn their craft through some kind of apprenticeship, either as assistants to senior directors, or as actors, designers, or stage managers who absorb ideas about directing by working with a variety of good or bad role models. . . . There is no doubt such apprenticeship can be effective, but it perpetuates idiosyncrasy in directing practice as one director mimics the personality traits of a mentor.


This statement points not only to a general lack in the codes and structures of teaching directing, but also the difficulty of communicating pedagogically the function of the director.

In the introduction to his article “Directing as Analysis of Situation,” Richard Trousdell finds difficulty in defining the tropes of directing practice not only related to watery communication between mentor and pupil, but also to a lack of maturity in current directing theory:

For most of us, directing is an unmapped art or an academic discipline with almost no fixed landmarks. Unlike acting, where we have many theories and methods to guide us, directing offers few schools of thought about its nature, preparation, or technique. Most directors learn their art through practice, often serving as an assistant director before developing their own craft by trial and error. Even in formal classes, directing is taught mostly in critiqued workshop and fleshed out by methods borrowed from the visual arts, acting, or literary criticism.


As Trousdell states, the difficulties that arise in precisely articulating the specific function of the director are compounded in the context of the classroom laboratory. The lack of fixed landmarks also points to the ambiguity concerning an agreed-upon body of knowledge that the director is supposed to master. In looking at this ambiguity historically, one finds what Trousdell predicts: three general pedagogical approaches to codifying the director’s experience and breaking it down into teachable components. These posit the director’s primary duty as either visual arranger, literary analyst, or actor coach. What none of these approaches addresses, however, is the director’s work with actors in an educational environment.

In considering the role of the director, it is useful to think that, rather than being defined as an authority or a facilitator, the director may be a catalyst to those he/she works with. This is particularly true in an educational context, where the director simultaneously directs actors and [End Page 191] teaches students. This director-teacher is a leader who uses power constructively, to help his or her collaborators practice co-investigative theatre, which seeks to involve the production team (and particularly the actors) in a more direct and vital role in the process of meaning-making. The role the director in higher education plays is unique, and it is one that has clear and valuable connections to the structure and organization of the higher educational classroom.

Since this unique role is not addressed in the literature on directing, we need to look to outside sources. Liberatory pedagogy speaks eloquently to the dynamics of the collegiate classroom, and provides fruitful areas of investigation for directors in higher education. It is precisely because it is not concerned with directing that liberatory pedagogy offers a perspective that will helpfully interrogate traditional strategies of directing.

This examination of intersections between liberatory pedagogy and directing is undertaken in hopes of re-visioning the director’s role in the process of directing in higher education, not to supplant a mythologized “old guard” approach with a new...


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pp. 191-204
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