By HATTIE CLAIRE ANDRES, 2016/17 Directing and Artistic Leadership Fellow
As I wrap up my year-long fellowship at The 5th Avenue, I look back on my experience assistant directing five shows this season, directing Rising Star Project and shadowing my mentor Bill Berry to gain Artistic Leadership experience and insight.
Planning Is Everything
- So much of theater administration and leadership is being an expert planner: planning the shows for next season, planning who will work on those shows, planning financial allocation and strategy and planning calendars so that everything that happens in this busy building works in harmony.
- As a director, you can spend more than a year planning your show before rehearsals even begin: in auditions, deciding how you want to cast the show; in meetings with designers to create the visual life of the story on stage; and in preparation for working with actors to decide how the story will be staged.
Communication Is Key
Artistic Leaders, such as David and Bill at The 5th, are charged with the job of developing a creative vision for the theater they work for, and communicating that vision to their staff, the artists, the board and the audience. This communication happens in many different ways but one of the most important outcomes it achieves is to have everyone understand the importance of the shows and the stories The 5th is choosing to tell on our stage.
- As the director of a show, it is essential that you masterfully communicate your vision for the show to everyone working on the production – the choreographer, music director, actors, designers, crew and producers – so that each person feels confident in their ability and inspired to tell a unified story on stage with you. As an assistant director, you are often part of facilitating this process, delivering notes to actors and designers when the director is busy with another aspect of rehearsal.
Relationships Are Crucial
- “It’s all about who you know” is often said as cliché in the entertainment industry but there is a large element of truth to that statement. Because creating a show together is such a personal experience, highly dependent on the chemistry of everyone in the rehearsal room and their ability to collaborate, it is not only important to be skilled at what you do – be it dancing, designing costumes, or running the sound board – but it is also important that people trust you and find you enjoyable to work with.
- As the assistant director, I got to work with five different creative teams this season, most of whom I didn’t know before beginning rehearsal. Each time I started with a new team, I intentionally spent time and energy to get to know each person and build a trusting, working relationship with them. By the end of the season, I had over 20 new collaborators with whom I’d built relationships.
Each Day is Unique
- One of the most exciting aspects of working at a theater is that monotony is non-existent. When looking at Bill’s calendar to find shadowing opportunities, I saw that he had a completely different schedule every day: from meetings with a wide array of people to attending auditions in New York to directing Beatsville in Florida or The Pajama Game here at The 5th.
- In my own experience, working on five shows throughout the season, I saw first hand how wildly different each show was – from Man of La Mancha as a reimagined classic to The Little Mermaid as a family-favorite contemporary hit to The Pajama Game which embraced its Golden-Era identity to Rising Star Project with its abundant student energy to The Secret Garden revising its script and score for the revival production to Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion developed from the ground up as a brand new, world premiere musical. No show was the same and each day brought a different set of challenges and exciting revelations.