Creating the Magic of Theatre is a series that explores how the director, the actor and the audience all contribute to creating exciting & immersive pieces of theatre.
Theatre is an experience. Many the aim of theatre makers & directors is to create an experience for the audience in the final product. A show that is engaging where the audience, at least for a brief moment in time, fully takes in the story for its short duration & forgets about the world outside the theatre space.
But how can this be done? Well, the director has the power and tools to create such an immersive experience. Directors make choices when staging a show and these choices have an impact on whether a show is successful or not. Let’s look into 4 directorial choices that can make or break a show’s raptness and engagement with the audience.
1. Thinking beyond the limits of the venue.
The venue or theatre space is the launchpad in staging a production, becoming the place where the world and rules of the play is defined. By looking at the venue in this light, the director can challenge the limits of the space.
Look at your typical proscenium arch stage (curtains to the side, audience at the front looking into a square space). Instead of perceiving the stage as a world separate from the audience, bring the world of the play towards the audience. For example, actors can always use the audience area for entrances, exits or even act out entire scenes there.
Instead of going with the usual proscenium arch staging, think outside the box go for the alternative styles of staging. A site-specific work can make for more captivating shows. For example, setting Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream’ (a story set entirely in a forest) in an actual forest instead of recreating one in an enclosed space enhances the realness of the play.
2. Simple is good.
A production doesn’t need to be extravagant and big to get the audience invested in the play. It’s not always about the spectacle, the fancy sets, flashing lights and dramatic entrances. Although some of these things can create successfully engaging shows, they can also distance the audience away from it.
It’s the small things & moments that can draw the audience into the story of the play. A single spotlight that illuminates an actor delivering a soliloquy is enough to create a compelling scene. A noose descending from above can be more profound than having the audience actually see an execution occur on stage, for example.
So, when all else fails and nothing seems to work, go simple.
3. The Synthesis of Technical Elements.
The set, lights, sound, costume brings a entire production to work in tandem. These elements all serve as details of the play’s reality. The director in turn has to make sure these separate aspects come together in perfect harmony to create a scene and play that creates an experience for the audience.
For example, if a play or scene is set in an otherworldly place or a void, the director has to make sure this mood is established for the audience via the technical elements. The director can evaluate whether a certain lighting or music choice effectively creates that ambient, mystical feeling for the scene or play.
The director is also able to focus on the timing or moments when these elements take effect, deciding the important or pivotal moments in the play where there are changes in set, sound or lighting. The director gets to gauge the right moments where these changes have the best result in serving the place, mood and/or its symbolic purpose. Knowing the right moment to execute certain technical procedures can create amazing moments in the play that make the audience go, ‘wow’.
As a director, creating a multi-sensory experience for the audience makes for a more immersive show.
4. Working with the Actors.
Remove the actors from the show and what do you have? Where the director chooses how to tell the story, the actors are the ones that tell it. Directors have an important job of making sure the actors successfully deliver an engaging story through the roles that they play. Although this may seem like the actors’ job (and it is), they too are meant to be guided through the play’s developmental process.
Communicating clearly & concisely your vision of the play to the actors makes for a stronger end result in staging a play. This is because the actors understand what is required in the show and know what and how they can contribute to the play through their acting. Any communication barrier existing between the director and actor is broken, making for a smoother theatre making process.
Another way to ensure the actors can deliver stronger performances is by conducting physical theatre warm-ups and exercises. This enhances the actor’s ability to interact with each other (developing chemistry), knowing the theatre space and get comfortable with their physicality.
The director is the key influencer in staging a production; seeing to that all the elements, from the storytelling to the technical aspects to the actors, all work together in creating an entire production. By looking deeply into each one of these aspects when directing a production, the end result can have the audience deeply engaged and immersed in the world that you’ve built for them.