Chasing Away a Director’s Worst Nightmares
By Brian D. Taylor, Project Editor, Pioneer Drama Service
Brian D. Taylor is the project editor for Pioneer Drama Service, a published playwright and a former drama teacher. Working with K-12, college and community theatre groups, he has a wide theatrical background with experience in directing, acting and technical theatre.
Nightmare #1: You’re nearing the end of a whirlwind production schedule. Your head is spinning from nights of blocking rehearsals, music rehearsals, design planning, cast meetings and set construction. It’s finally time to start rehearsing off-book. Your actors’ heads are spinning as well with all the time spent working on lines. The rehearsal begins, and somehow, the actors have forgotten the blocking you gave them a month ago. When they ask, you can’t recall what moves you gave them either, because you never wrote them down.
The funny thing is that artistic types like us aren’t usually big on list-keeping, note-taking or form-making. It’s very unnatural and seems to go against the grain of the organic process of the creation of art. But it is essential. So where do you start?
You know of other directors who refer to their “bible,” also known as the Director’s Book. This is the giant notebook where the script and all of the notes and information for the show are kept. This can include blocking notes, light and sound cue notes, cast and crew contact information, rehearsal schedule, prop lists, set design sketches, promotional information and so on. Most seasoned directors already keep one and stage managers swear by them (their version is very similar, often called the prompt book, and is required if they are supposed to call the show). You know you should be keeping one, but you already have so much to do, this just feels like one more task.
Nightmare #2: It’s nearing curtain time on opening night, and Rip Van Winkle is nowhere to be seen. You can’t find anyone with his contact information. Your show starts in 15 minutes, your Rip Van Winkle is snoring on his couch at home, and you have no way of waking him up.
Luckily, Pioneer Drama Service is here to help you. We have created Director’s Books for all of our top-selling shows, developed with you, the busy artist, in mind. In one easy-to-keep-track-of, spiral bound, 8½ x 11 Director’s Book, we include a complete enlarged copy of the script plus all the basic tools to help you get through the production schedule without a hitch. All you have to do is fill in the blanks.
Nightmare #3: After auditioning actors for your upcoming production of Cinderella, you’re riding high because you’ve found the perfect Cinderella. But as rehearsals begin, you realize that the evil Stepmother has a lot more scenes and a lot more lines than you recall from when you first read the show. How is that possible? The show is called Cinderella, right? The Stepmother turns out to be a huge part, yet you’ve cast a novice actor who can’t handle such an enormous role.
Did we mention our Director’s Books indicate line counts for all the characters? Following is a description of the forms included in the books and how they can save you time. Of course, everyone’s “bible” will be a bit different, depending on the particular needs and personalities of the director. Even if you don’t use Pioneer Drama’s Director’s Books, hopefully these descriptions will give you insight as to what your Director’s Book should look like to keep you organized, save you time and chase your nightmares away.
Prompt and Notes Pages
These pages appear opposite each page of the script. They are divided into three sections. On the left, there is space for Blocking and Business notes, so you or your stage manager can keep track of all actor movements and are prepared for those inevitable questions. Do I exit left or right? Do I sit now or on my next line? Do I read the newspaper or the magazine? And so on.
On the right half, you’ll find space for all the Warnings and Cues notes, a must-have for stage managers who call the show and for the director who does it all alone. This is where you can keep notes about when each light, sound, special effect or other cue will happen. This is also where you can give yourself a warning note for upcoming cues a half-page or page away still.
At the bottom of each Prompt Page, you’ll find a miniature stage diagram. Many directors and stage managers like to plot out the stage locations of all actors at the end of every page. Others go further, by plotting the actors’ movements using colored arrows on the diagram. The diagram can also be used to plot out prop movement or set change assignments for the crew.
Character Scene Breakdown
This form identifies which characters are in each scene. Many directors spend hours poring over a script to create this useful form. That’s no longer necessary as we’ve done the work for you! This form is extremely helpful for the difficult decisions and plans that directors have to make. It will help you build the rehearsal schedule, since you’ll be able to easily identify which actors are in each scene. It will help you with audition decisions as you’ll be able to see which roles will require a lot of stage time. It’s also useful in determining doubling options as an actor whose character appears only in Scenes One and Nine can also play that character who only appears in Scene Five.
An audition application is a great way to keep track of who is auditioning and to help you with casting decisions. Photocopy as many as you need and have each person trying out complete it prior to auditions. Our audition applications are customized specifically for each show and give you a tool with which you can quickly and easily collect all of the basic information for each actor including contact information and which role(s) he or she is interested in. The form also includes agreements for their commitment to the show, an important step to take at the beginning of the process. By giving actors some of your expectations in writing and having them (and their parents if you want) sign their agreement to them, you have a stronger leg to stand on if you have to dismiss an actor for missing rehearsals.
Audition Notes Pages
During auditions, you’ll need to keep notes on who you’ve seen or who you like for each role. Keep good audition notes so those maddening casting decisions can be made a bit easier. On our version, you’ll find space for notes on each role. The line count for each character is also included, so you won’t make the mistake of giving that big role to an inexperienced actor!
This page is intended as the final cast list. Insert the names of the actors as you make each casting decision. It can be used as the list you post announcing the news everyone has been waiting for. A copy should also be kept in the director’s book for future use. You may also find this form useful as a signup sheet if you need your cast to sign up for t-shirts or the closing night pizza party. It would also make a great sign-in sheet during production week, so you’ll know that your Rip Van Winkle is present and getting into costume rather than sleeping on his couch at home.
You should definitely keep basic contact information for your entire cast and crew all on one page. You’ll find this helpful in theatre emergencies, such as when Rip Van Winkle is having a nap just before curtain. It’s also very important to have in case of medical emergencies. You’ll need to be able to call someone quickly, and you’ll know right where to find the phone number. Keeping email addresses is useful as well for emailing rehearsal schedules, schedule changes, rehearsal updates and other announcements.
This blank calendar page, laid out by rehearsal week, helps you see the big picture and schedule your rehearsals to ensure you’re where you need to be by production week. This format is a great way to communicate with your actors what scenes or pages will be rehearsed at each meeting, when they have to be off-book, etc. Once you have it filled out, make copies for every member of your cast and crew. You can even put a PDF of it online to keep parents “in the know.” This way, you’ll also have a permanent record of what you did, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel next year.
Lighting Cue, Sound Cues and Props Lists
Now you and your crew can work from the same concise list that puts all the information on one page. You’ll love the peace of mind that comes from knowing cues won’t be missed and props will be located where they need to be.
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