- The Director's Craft: A Handbook for the Theatre
In The Director's Craft, Katie Mitchell takes on the daunting task of examining her own artistic practice and distilling years of hard-earned experience into an extremely accessible, step-by-step reference manual for theatre directors. The book is the product of Mitchell's firm belief that directing is a craft that can be taught and learned, practiced and mastered, as opposed to a notion of directing as an innate talent that relies on "a process based on chance rather than skill" (1). The Director's Craft is impressive for its attention to detail, comprehensiveness, and practical approach to being the artistic team leader.
The handbook is organized into four parts, the first three of which chronicle the artistic journey from page to stage. Each part is divided into chapters, and each chapter into subtopics or steps. For easy reference, a summary of main ideas appears at the end of each step and each chapter is capped with a checklist of the material covered. Throughout the book, she provides personal examples to illustrate her points.
Mitchell dedicates almost half her pages to part 1, "Preparing for Rehearsals," an indication that the bulk of a director's work happens prior to actors engaging with text. In her pre-production work, Mitchell seems to adhere to a directorial approach that relies on identifying the simplest explanation for the play's questions. Above all, she is concerned with clear storytelling; all of the steps she outlines in the book are a roadmap for creating behavior onstage that is wholly legible. She warns that personal affinities for themes or characters will create blind spots in a director's preparation, resulting in an unbalanced, unfocused, and confusing end-product. To further illustrate her methodology, she uses Michael Frayn's translation of Chekhov's The Seagull to give concrete examples of her own process for each step. Her discussion of The Seagull is tantalizing and all too brief, but her straightforward, incisive analysis achieves a dual purpose, effectively demonstrating the usefulness of the director's tools she has described and inspiring practitioners to thoughtful and thorough practice.
Part 2, "Rehearsals," offers advice on multiple fronts, from "Establishing the Language of Your Process" to "How to Sit in the Rehearsal Room" and "Twelve Golden Rules for Working with Actors." For Mitchell, "the main skills required from the director are patience and long-term thinking" (115)—the goal is to let the production evolve over time. Meticulous preparation of the text allows for focused, efficient use of rehearsal time; any directorial plan should, she insists, remain flexible enough to invite collaboration with actors, whose insights will help the director refine his or her own ideas about the play. This section addresses how to structure rehearsals, how to work with the actors on creating character, how to set up improvisations that will deepen understanding of given circumstances, and how to work on scenes of the play by diagnosing characters' intentions. Mitchell also addresses how to communicate effectively with actors, giving notes in such a way as to effect real and lasting change in their performances. Because production conditions vary, Mitchell offers helpful suggestions on which parts of her process might be compressed or cut altogether to accommodate an abbreviated rehearsal period.
Part 3, "Getting into the Theatre and the Public Performances," includes discussions on "How to Work with Your Creative Team during Technical Rehearsal," "How to Manage the Transition from the Rehearsal Room to the Theatre for the Actors," and "Analysing Your Work after the Run Has Ended." Mitchell shares that her "greatest error early on was to worry away at the insoluble problems, often in the area of casting" (198). She counsels that directors must often acknowledge a mistake, especially in casting, and compromise on the outcome. This section also addresses how to give notes during the run, how to handle criticism, and how to self-evaluate.
In the fourth and final part, "Context and Sources," Mitchell briefly describes her own training and influences...