Today I went to the American Theatre Wing “Working in the Theatre” seminar on Directing. They had five guest directors there. Scott Elliot(Three Penny Opera, Barefoot in the Park) Doug Hughes (Doubt, Frozen), John Rando (The Wedding Singer, Urinetown), Leigh Silverman (Well, Wit), and Joe Mantello (Wicked, Assassins, Take Me Out). The seminars are televised, so when I got there they put me in the center about three rows back, to fill up the camera wide shots. The Recital Hall were it was taped is not that big by any means, and it was a surprisingly low turnout. Nonetheless, the seminar was very interesting and well worth the $10 to get in.
Doug Hughes reminded me very much like Orson Welles, just from his style and demeanor. He started off directing a series of original one acts at Harvard. He said somethig really profound which I liked. He said a director’s job was to “force a consensus” He admitted it was a little militant and dictatorial, but he felt that’s what a director does when dealing with actors, designers, producers, is to guide or “force” the entire group into agreement on ideas and concepts. He was very eloquent, and had an interesting accent that I couldn’t quite place.
Joe Mantello started his directing career by acting at Circle Rep (now defunct). He said was was not happy with the shows there (I guess from a directorial standpoint) and so he basically stated he wanted to direct the next show there. He described Circle Rep as being a very nurturing theatre, and so they let him direct a show there which was very successful. That show then transferred to their mainstage (I think a year later?) and he said it was a disaster. Nonethless, they let him continue to direct, and the rest is history. One thing about Mr Mantello is that I can tell he thinks faster than he talks. You can see the wheels turning in his head as his mouth tries to articulate what he’s thinking. His demeanor reminds me of John Gould Rubin, whom I assistant directed earlier this year. Consequently, they both come from an acting background.
Leigh Silverman, the only female in the group, was very articulate. She spent 6 years assistant directing and actually assisted Doug Hughes. Notably, Ms. Silverman worked with Doug Hughes at the New York Theatre Workshop. I think she was the youngest out of all the directors on the panel. She seems very saavy.
John Rando AD’d for many years as well, and couch surfed during those years as an assistant. He got to assist Jack O’brien (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). John Rando is very unassuming and reminds me of a typical high school teacher. He’s got a very trustworthy quality about him. Something about him puts me at ease.
Scott Elliot surprisingly started off as an actor doing broadway musicals for several years, in which he claims he hated it. That’s when he became a director. He started his own theatre called The New Group Theatre and he states his first show he produced for $5000 and built all his own sets. Sounds strangely familiar. When talking about Assistant Directing, he had never done it himself, but has one that he always works with. She is 25 years older than he, and was a soap actress once, but she assists him on every single project that he works on, on and off Broadway.
The common themes of the director’s early career moves was that they attached themselves to really good playwrights. Also, some served as assistant directors for many years before becoming a professional one themselves. It was also great to see Scott Elliot taking charge of his career by starting his own theatre and basically producing himself and creating his own opportunities, which is something I highly believe in.