Advice for First-Time Directors

Advice for First-Time Directors

I’m currently directing my ninth show at Original Kids Theatre Company (The Wedding Singer, if you hadn’t heard… get your tickets here!).  A lot of my students seem incredulous when I say I’ve only been at OKTC for four years… sometimes it seems like I’ve been there for much longer.  But before I started directing at OKTC, I got my start in London theatre (and youth theatre) at the LYTE program at the Palace Theatre, at their summer camp.  I started as an assistant stage manager; the second year, I moved up to production manager (and playwright of one of the plays!); and then in my third year I was director of the entire program.  To be honest, that’s a fairly quick move up the ladder, but when I moved into the role of director, I knew I was ready.

So if you’re looking into directing theatre in the future, here are 7 tips that helped me get to where I am — directing a full-length musical with 36 young actors!

1.  Learn by apprenticing or assisting with a production (or a bunch of productions).

Like I mentioned above, before I even thought about directing, I was an ASM on three youth productions, and the second year I was production manager.  In both roles, I was able to observe the director and how he worked with the kids.  I’ve also been assistant director on a number of productions.  It’s great to work with lots of experienced directors, to see how different directors go through their process.

2.  Work backstage or as an ASM.

It’s important to know what other roles consist of, so you are able to lead your team effectively.  Working backstage during the run of shows is an extremely eye-opening experience.  You see all the ins and outs of the show, plus you learn to think on your feet when something inevitably goes wrong backstage.

3.  Interview directors and pick their brains.

Reach out to local directors.  Ask if you can buy them a coffee and have them share their stories.  Ask them about their best tips and techniques, have them share their funniest (or scariest) rehearsal stories, listen, listen, listen and take notes.  Who knows; maybe they’ll need an apprentice on their next show?

4.  Take a class.

I went to university for Stage & Screen Studies and one of my fourth-year classes was a directing practicum, with a final project consisting of finding a 10-minute scene, casting it, rehearsing it, and performing it as part of a showcase.  If you’re currently in school, why not take advantage of the courses available?

5.  Start small first, then work up to the bigger shows.

Try choosing a smaller show as your first project, such as a one-act show or a scene as part of a showcase, rather than a huge production with tons of actors, costumes, spectacle and stress.

I’m not necessarily the best advocate of this tip, since my first show at OKTC was Annie Warbucks, a full-length Broadway musical with 25 kids aged 9 to 17 (which, at the time, seemed like a HUGE cast).  On top of that, it was part of a double-bill Christmas spectacular, partnered with a production of (what else) Annie.  It was totally intimidating and I’m thankful for my amazing, experienced team, who really helped me out.  On that note…

6. Get a team to support you.

Don’t try to do everything alone.  Learn to delegate and share the responsibilities!  You’ll definitely want to find a super-organized and experienced stage manager, assistant stage manager, and assistant director.  You’ll also need someone to be in charge of costumes and props.  You may also want to consider directing a musical; it’s not necessarily easier to direct than a straight play, but then you would also have a musical director and choreographer to work with.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Everyone has to be a beginner first.  If you’re feeling confused or overwhelmed, then ASK FOR HELP.  You’re only one person, and you’ll drive yourself crazy otherwise.

What advice would you give to a new director?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “Advice for First-Time Directors

  1. If you’re working with kids, have them sign an ‘actor’s contract’ similar to what professional actors sign when being cast in a show. This helps young actors realize that putting on a show is a serious responsibility, and that they must keep their commitments regarding rehearsal schedules, getting off-book, etc.

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