Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Directing Magic @Debby Myers

Debby Myers is with us this week to talk about directing in community theater. A veteran of 15 shows from "behind the camera," she's sharing the process. After reading this, check out Ole Olsen Memorial Theatre Inc., where you can find out all about her next show, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.

A good director creates an environment, which gives the actor the encouragement to fly. - Kevin Bacon

Liz asked me to write a piece on directing in community theater. She felt like I should have some knowledge of it since I’ve directed 15 shows for Ole Olsen Memorial Theater here in Peru. It seems, however, that each show brings forth new knowledge and challenges. I’ve directed casts as few as five to as many as 27. There really is no magic wand; however, I often turn my shows over to the “Ole Gods” to finish them! More on that in a later article….

Debby Myers
Honestly, from the time I decided to be a director, I learned that my work isn’t done until the curtain closes on the final performance. It begins with ordering and reading through scripts, then choosing a script and reading it many more times. This helps me develop a vision of the playwright’s intentions and how I can bring the script to life – my own interpretation. This sense of “what the play is really about” will shape my thoughts about every other aspect of the production. I then go into the process of investigating royalties and script costs and putting together a budget for the show to present to the Board of Directors and membership for approval. I’ll talk to you about a BIG royalty mishap in the next article…

Once I feel like I know the play inside and out, it’s time to set audition dates to
Debby Myers, Brandi Murphy, Jo Hayes, Anne Loy
cast the show. I study the characters in the script – their intended physical and psychological traits. However, for me, they are just a guideline. With most play scripts, as long as you don’t change the words, you CAN change the characters. Sometimes a male role must be converted to a female or ages must be adjusted to fit those who audition. I select the actors who are best able to bring the characters to life in my vision, even if it’s not the obvious choice to others. I enlist three other experienced directors to be at auditions and give their opinions. Something to know about me is that I am willing to take a chance on someone new to acting. In community theater, the more we increase our members and keep them involved, the more likely they will stay. I let everyone know that the final casting choice will be mine. I have a great story about…oh…next article.

Once the show is cast, I begin scheduling the rehearsals, often to fit the needs of the cast as well as my own. It’s also important to select a crew before casting. All shows require set builders and designers, lighting and sound technicians, a prop person to gather items, a costumer to find and alter costumes as needed, a stage manager, and an assistant director. Surrounding myself with these critical pieces of my production gives me peace of mind to begin to direct. I’ve been brutal a few times when I didn’t…you’ll love this--in the next article.

Blocking the play by adapting the actor’s movements to workable floor plans on the set is my next step. Although most scripts have stage directions I have to determine if they are feasible on our stage. Leading rehearsals, I’ve learned to collaborate creatively with the actors and the technical crew to make the blocking natural, changing it when necessary and allowing the inspiration of the actors themselves. Blocking the show takes up half of my total rehearsal time. Finally, I strongly suggest the actors write their blocking in their scripts to save time later. I have the nickname in our group of “Blocking Nazi”….next article…haha!

Actors draw out character motivations and relationships under my watchful eye because ultimately I make the decisions. I strive to develop these expressions and characters as rehearsals continue. It’s important to me to have excellent communication through notes taken during the rehearsals for each individual actor as well as the group. I always set a deadline for being “off book.” Most often this is two weeks from opening night. There was one time I broke my own rule…next article.

There are many details that I handle behind the scenes. Gathering information from the actors for the show’s program, taking photographs to use for publicity and scheduling media, working closely with the crew as well as with hospitality and tickets. At Ole Olsen, we also seek out a sponsor for each of our productions and I feel like I should be a part of that solicitation.
Debby Myers on set
Something we directors often joke about is becoming “fetal” about a week before opening night. This is when we begin to wonder if we’ve succeeded or failed. Tweaking characters and movements begins to feel like treading water. It’s when I invite in other directors for approval. Of course, there was one time I didn’t like what they told me….next article.

Finally, I must write a “Letter from the Director” for the program and put together a curtain speech and a curtain call. I’m not finished with my work until I feel that pace during the final dress rehearsals and see my vision coming alive – it’s satisfying. I bring together the many complex pieces of a production—the script, actors, set, costuming, lighting, sound, and even all the little stuff —into a unified whole because I love it. For me, as a seasoned director, it’s also often just the reaction of those watching the play that completes me. No matter how much hard work is involved, it’s the finished product that always makes me beam with pride. Not just in myself, but in the whole village it takes to make small town community theater so special, and sometimes unpredictable! Join me for the more mishaps I’ve had as a director if Liz will have me back…next article!


  1. Thank you for sharing a little about your job, Debby!

    1. It is a job, but I don't get paid. Everyone in Ole Olsen is a volunteer. Glad you enjoyed reading it!

  2. Interesting stuff! I've never been part of a play production in any capacity, except as a stagehand in a high school production. I often think I'd like to give it a try--even just as a stage hand.

  3. You should come in & see one of our shows & get to know us.