FIRST STEPS, Part 2: Finding A Director

In part one of FIRST STEPS: Things To Consider Once You’ve Written Your First Musical, some of my great writer friends shared their thoughts on first steps in development of that new musical you have sitting on your shelf and some tips on making those first parts of the process take shape. This week we look at some of the details involved. New writers take heed: some of these early steps may not be things you would not initially seek out, but they are important to furthering the life of a project.

If you’re like me as a writer, I prefer NOT to direct my own material initially. I want a director attached who not only knows where the show has been and where it is headed but ALSO one who will keep me honest when it comes to finalizing dialogue, pace, and stage directions. A good committed director can also keep writers grounded and prepared for steps beyond the current one.

How important in the development process is attaching a director? And at what point should writers get a strong director involved? 

Musical Theatre writer Kait Kerrigan (The Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown) agrees that finding a director is an important part of the process but also notes that every project has different needs where that is concerned:

It completely depends on the project. But I find that doing a reading without a viable director in the process to be counterproductive. If the project is highly visual, having that person in the room is invaluable. I’ve never worked on a project where the director was attached from the beginning, and while I’ve heard stories of it being problematic, I’ve heard many more where it just moved the project along at a great speed.

That counterproductive-ness she mentions could be the difference between a show that dies after reading number one or the one that finds the all-important second step. A reading can be as simple as a gathering of friends and colleagues in a living room and as complicated as a rented theater with an invited audience. Both can be viable and effective options – so long as the writers have placed people in the room who can offer constructive feedback from a variety of areas.

Sammy Buck (Like You Like It) agrees – particularly as it pertains to the dramaturgical work a show needs and often doesn’t get:

It depends on the project but I think the earlier the better in terms of dramaturgy. When it comes to the selling of the show, sometimes producers want to replace the director, whom the writers may love, with a more “investor-enticing” director, so it can be a double edged sword for writers, especially those who very much want to remain loyal to their director collaborators.

Drama Desk nominee Ryan Cunningham says it may not be necessary initially to find a director but agrees it can be enormously useful when deciding the trajectory of a show and identifying its audience:

I don’t believe that getting a director attached is necessary early on–however, working with a strong director can be very useful. If you are lucky enough to have a director that you know and trust, that can be a fulfilling collaboration that strengthens the work. And if you are even luckier and work with that director over several projects (as we have with John Simpkins), that collaboration can grow into something truly special. But, if you’re a writer and you don’t have a director that you frequently work with, there can be something great in that as well. It opens you up to working with several directors on the same project. That can give you multiple perspectives on your piece, which can help you discover what the piece truly is. 

So, in addition to finding a single director, the advice of many directors whom you respect and whose work you value and appreciate is paramount to getting the kind of nuts and bolts feedback writers need to move a project in the right direction.

Stay tuned for Part 3, coming soon!

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