Behind and Beyond the Stage – Directing for the First Time

Jonathan showing example as the director of Chemical Imbalance, Thespians Anonymous 2012

Being a director is a conflicting job. This fact becomes evident in each and every rehearsal, where one must guide the actions of the actors from behind the scenes. On one hand there is a huge yearning to be there on the stage with the actors, saying the lines, making the strange faces and noises, studying actions and reactions, just acting. On the other hand you have to take that step back and study what you see: does that look right? Is that fork in the right place? Does that comment sound right? Does this scene feel right?

You make this movie of the play in your mind as you read the script, and what you really see on the stage can be something completely different – trying to reconcile that image in your head with what’s on the stage can at times be tasking indeed. However, another thing which one has to keep in mind is that the way you’ve planned it in your head is not the only way – not to mention the best way – to make it happen. The actors will surprise you (as mine have many times now) in finding new ways to approach a scene. So the lesson, I suppose, is to leave one’s ego behind while directing.

The title of director came to me more or less by surprise. Last fall as I had joined Thespians Anonymous, I had occasionally quipped about wanting to direct at some point. The thought wasn’t in the forefront of my mind though – I had just joined a theater group after all. I was still a complete greenhorn! But, come January, the question was raised concerning the director for the spring play, and with great zeal I said: “maaaaaybe….?” But soon my “maybe” turned into a “yes”.

Yet to direct, one must find a play. After weeks of searching through plays of all sorts, we finally stumbled on the mother lode: Chemical Imbalance. The slapstick comedy infused with the sinister plot seemed to reach out to me, as if the laughing Mr. Hyde himself were beckoning me on this path.

The prospect of becoming a director did make me feel nervous, but I also felt excited about being able to take on such a huge project like directing a play and coming out on top. Of course, I’ve had more than plenty of help along the way – without which I’m sure I would have ended up becoming a blubbering wreck hiding in a dark corner somewhere. Yet one of the first things that you learn in a smaller theater group and as a director in particular: it’s a team effort. Often times the line between cast and crew blurs considerably, as almost everyone is keen to participate on making the play a better experience for everyone. And although, when comparing acting and directing, I feel myself more comfortable on the stage than behind it, being the character rather than dictating him, I can still safely say this has been one of the most memorable events of my life. All in all, it has been an inspiring journey to take.

Jonathan O’Brien is a melodramatic drama queen… king, and thus also an addicted Thespian. He loves spending time with friends, as they mean the most to him. He can be seen laughing extremely loudly at jokes (even bad ones) and philosophizing over deeply existential issues. His is a fervent believer in the phrase “carpe diem.”

Thespians Anonymous proudly present Chemical Imbalance: A Jekyll and Hyde Play on 15, 16, 17 and 18 May 2012 in Helsinki. For more information see Thespians Anonymous website or Chemical Imbalance Facebook event.

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