Directing in the theater, is the supervision of the acting, sets, lighting, and all other details of a dramatic performance. The director must translate the playwright's script into the physical terms of an actual production. Although directing techniques vary widely, there are certain basic steps that all directors follow.
In preparing the production of a play, the director makes a careful study of the script. He must be able to understand its logic and development, otherwise he will be unable to emphasize the appropriate speeches and actions. He must also sense the mood or atmosphere of the story, which he projects through the physical style of his production. For example, bright colors and lively movement are usually more appropriate to comedy than to tragedy.
When he thinks that he understands the play, the director begins to plan the actual production. His first consideration is the stage itself. Sometimes he will decide to have a bare stage with only a few props. He may conceive his set in terms of movable platforms and dramatic lighting effects. If the play is a realistic drama of modern life, the director will use contemporary furniture and natural effects of lighting. The director usually presents his set and lighting designers with general ideas of what he wants. He may also decide that music or sound effects will increase the effectiveness of his production.
The director's most important tools are his actors. A cast is usually chosen after a series of readings, in which actors recite scenes from the play. The choice of actors will depend largely on the director's conception of the characters. Much of the casting done in the professional theater is known as type casting. The director simply chooses an actor whose appearance or mannerisms closely resemble those of the character he is to portray. Some directors believe that makeup or lighting can produce the required type and that general acting skill and adaptability to the director's instructions are far more important than physical resemblance.
When the director has determined his general stage design and has chosen his actors, he is ready to begin rehearsals. The rehearsal procedures of different directors vary widely. Some directors have every movement of the actors blocked, or written down, before the first rehearsal. Others have only a general idea of the action and prefer to let the actors improvise some of their own movements.
In the American professional theater it is customary for the director to spend the first few days reading the play aloud and discussing it with the entire cast. During the first rehearsals the actors learn their entrances, exits, and other essential movements and begin to create mannerisms or gestures appropriate to their roles. As rehearsals progress, the actors deepen and refine their interpretations under the director's careful guidance. Although the director usually maintains his original interpretation of the play, he must adjust it to the strengths and weaknesses of his actors.
In the final stages of rehearsal the director combines all the acting and technical elements of the production. During the rush and confusion of this period" the director is the only person with enough perspective to evaluate the effectiveness of the work and to offer advice. The final rehearsals are known as dress rehearsals, because the costumes and all the other elements of production are exactly as they will be in performance.
In the American professional theater, during the tryout period, or first public performances, the director usually stands in the back of the auditorium and observes the reactions of the audience.
Afterward he gives the actors notes of any changes that he thinks should be made. It is the director's responsibility to check a production periodically as long as it runs.