From the Publisher
“More engaging than a textbook, Thinking Like a Director is a concise and highly practical guide to the craft. It's a required reading for young stage and film directors, students, and anyone who wants to know what a skillful professional director does.” Gilbert Gates, Producing Director of the Geffen Playhouse and Producer of the Academy Awards Show
“It's rare for a ‘how-to' book to be at the same time so practical and so literate.” Robert Brustein, Artistic Director, American Repertory Theatre
“Thinking Like a Director helps fill the void of practical handbooks that are available to theater directors. It is smart and lucidly written and should prove to be an invaluable guidebook for students and emerging directors.” Donald Margulies
“Bloom's deeply instructional and encouraging primer takes the mystery out of the art of directing without taking out the joy. I've never seen anything quite like it.” Mariette Hartley
“A lucid, concise, and admirably undogmatic manual for aspirant directors, from which writers, actors, and ordinary theatergoers will also learn much about the complex business of putting on plays.” David Lodge
“With a relaxed, informal style, Thinking Like a Director captures the experience of stage directing as well as any book I can think of. Its section on working with living playwrights is a welcome addition to the literature, useful to playwrights as much as directors, and Bloom's writing on language will be highly informative for actors, too.” Arthur Kopit
“I very much enjoyed Michael Bloom's Thinking Like a Director. A taste for directing is like a taste for pickled herring--those that like it seem to like it a lot. For those who've tried it and liked it, I think this book has some pretty good ideas.” David Mamet
Producing Director of the Geffen Playhouse and Pro Gilbert Gates
More engaging than a textbook, Thinking Like a Director is a concise and highly practical guide to the craft. It's a required reading for young stage and film directors, students, and anyone who wants to know what a skillful professional director does.
It's rare for a 'how-to' book to be at the same time so practical and so literate.
Thinking Like a Director helps fill the void of practical handbooks that are available to theater directors. It is smart and lucidly written and should prove to be an invaluable guidebook for students and emerging directors.
Bloom's deeply instructional and encouraging primer takes the mystery out of the art of directing without taking out the joy. I've never seen anything quite like it.
A lucid, concise, and admirably undogmatic manual for aspirant directors, from which writers, actors, and ordinary theatergoers will also learn much about the complex business of putting on plays.
With a relaxed, informal style, Thinking Like a Director captures the experience of stage directing as well as any book I can think of. Its section on working with living playwrights is a welcome addition to the literature, useful to playwrights as much as directors, and Bloom's writing on language will be highly informative for actors, too.
I very much enjoyed Michael Bloom's Thinking Like a Director. A taste for directing is like a taste for pickled herringthose that like it seem to like it a lot. For those who've tried it and liked it, I think this book has some pretty good ideas.
Read an Excerpt
If professions move in cycles of desirability and glamour, then directing is surely in an ascendant phase. In theater and film, training programs have burgeoned, while writers and actors by the dozens parlay their success into directing. In contrast to the world of conglomerates and multinationals, directing is a means of creative expression, allowing a single artist a significant measure of control. Its allure is confirmed by the ubiquitous memo pad sold in bookshop's that bears the epigram but what I really want to do is direct."
Yet the nature of a director's work, most notably in the theater, remains surprisingly vague and mysterious. Audiences generally assume directors tell actors where and when to move and, perhaps, how to recite certain lines. Critics often think directors are occupied primarily with speed and pace. Even some actors find it difficult to characterize the differences between one director's process and another's.
The truth is that there is no one accepted method for directing, any more than there is for any other art. How a director fares is greatly dependent on who that person is, his collaborators, and the project at hand. To complicate matters, the relationship between product and process isn't always direct and causal. Some directors work themselves to the bone, while others do very little. Paradoxically, there is success and failure in both categories. But it would be naïve not to believe that most successful productions occur because of the intensive efforts of a skilled director. As this book's title indicates, a crucial step in acquiring and utilizing those skills is developing a particular way of thinking.
An actor friend once asked my advice on whether he should become a director. He'd spent some years playing mostly less-than-rewarding roles and now wanted greater artistic control. He was a smart, talented performer who was attuned to the subtleties of the rehearsal process. His experience in acting and coaching others in scenes and auditions suggested that his knowledge of behavior and his intuitive sense of the dramatic would give him a head start. But that was all I knew about his qualifications.
When I said I wasn't sure how to advise him, he seemed puzzled. I explained that the actor-director interaction in rehearsals is often very different from coaching. As evidence, I cited how rarely master acting teachers become accomplished directors. Did he have an appreciation for narrative, I asked, an instinct for staging, a strong visual imagination, an innate musicality, a critical facility, a background in theater history, and an ability to take the heat, ride the lows, and keep a level head around praise and criticism? While he certainly possessed some of these attributes, he confessed to not realizing the extent of the directorial job description.
The seminal American director Elia Kazan once put forward a far more daunting list of prerequisites that included expertise in economics, warfare, religion, food, travel, sports, and a host of other subjects. His point was that to create the world of a play, to sew a whole cloth from the threads of language, a director has to know a good deal about many things. For the director and critic Harold Clurman, the job entailed being "an organizer, a teacher, a politician, a psychic detective, a lay analyst, a technician, a creative being . . . All of which means he must be a great lover." A director is a medium between actors and text, between the text and the physical elements, and of course between the producer and the production.
Directing demands polymaths, those who are at home in a library, a rehearsal hall, a production meeting, and a producer's office. To construct entire worlds and coordinate so many elements, you must have an appreciation for literature, an understanding of the actor's craft, and a visual and verbal acuity. Other than an orchestra conductor, no other artist is as dependent on the contributions of others. Ultimately, the director is a creator of communities someone who can recognize talent and inspire the very best from other artists, lead them but welcome their contributions, and make everyone feel they are important partners.
THE DIRECTOR AS STORYTELLER
In the most basic terms, the director is a production's primary storyteller. A play has only one plot (including subplots), but it contains many potential stories. The interpretation of the primary characters largely determines the story, so in effect, every production of the same play will inevitably tell a different tale. One of the most important functions a director fulfills is determining, with the actors and designers, which story to tell and how to tell it coherently.
As plots have become less linear, the job of telling a story has grown more complicated. While postmodernism and other aesthetics have increased our awareness of the disjunctions inherent in most stories, they have also incited some to reject identification between characters and audience and even storytelling itself as passé. At the same time, many artists, in theater, film, and novels, have demonstrated that coherent stories can accommodate contradictions and reflect a fragmented world.
One instinct in particular is indispensable to storytelling: the ability to discover what delights an audience. Throughout his writings, Peter Brook, one of the extraordinary minds of the modern theater, recounts how each time his ensemble of actors visited a remote corner of the world, whether a village, a hospital, or an open field, they were obliged to relearn how to hold an audience's attention. No matter how ambitious or experimental his work, Brook has never drifted far from the simple question of what makes an audience respond. If this ability seems basic to doing theater, it is all too often absent in practice. Some time ago I attended a performance by a local ensemble that advertised stylized, cutting-edge theater based on new acting theories but actually produced a cartoon that completely concealed the performers as human beings. The play was meant to be a comedy, yet when I scanned the room, only the stage managers, seated behind me, were laughing. The production was raucous but completely failed to entertain because the actors and director were far too absorbed in celebrating their process to gauge the audience's attention.
THE DIRECTOR AS ANIMATOR
Nearly everything a director does is in the service of animating the story. To that end, most successful directors employ twin points of view simultaneously. One consists of living inside the play, discovering its energy by probing and empathizing with the characters' deepest desires and flaws; the other is a focus on structure.
By analogy, if we were to examine an automobile closely, we'd want to look at it from both inside and outside. We would study its engine to learn how it runs, and scrutinize its design to determine its structure. This dual perspective would disclose far more than describing its color or accessories, which, in analyzing a play, would correspond to merely hunting for themes rather than probing more deeply for the inner workings of a play its motor.
Like many actors, most directors work from the inside out and the outside in. On the one hand, using action, obstacle, and given circumstances, most skillful directors animate the acting with a vocabulary that is organic to most actors. But they also concentrate on the play's structural or external elements, including its central conflict, function, event, architecture, and suspense. As this book strives to demonstrate, in a dynamic directorial mindset these two angles of vision work in tandem, with each balancing the other.
Copyright © 2001 Michael Bloom