Director's Diary: The Final Curtain
GMT’s current production, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, sees regular cast member and film director Alasdair MacRae take the directorial reins for the first time in the theatre. In this final edition of his rehearsal diaries, and with less than two weeks until the show opens, he talks to Assistant Director & Choreographer Emma Fraser about what they’ve learned.
Alasdair: So, Emma, I’m a first-time GMT Director, and you’re a first-time GMT Assistant Director, and very soon our show will be taking to the stage. How has the experience been for you?
Emma: It’s pretty much as I imagined, only on steroids! Whilst this is my first time on a GMT production team I have actually been involved in the production of shows when I was in the Cecilian Society, University of Glasgow, so I was generally aware of what would be involved. That said, every company and every production team works differently, so I had no idea what it would be like to be behind the scenes with GMT - a company that I have been on stage with many times. I was also excited to take on a new role, as my previous experience was solely as a choreographer.
If anything it’s a lot more intense than I thought it would be. I feel like I’m constantly thinking about the show - more so than I do when I’m performing - and what feels like a long gap between rehearsals when you are in the cast feels like mere hours when you have scenes and movement and costumes and set to plan all at the same time.
Alasdair: I agree. It feels like a never-ending set of deadlines. “What did we say we’d do this Wednesday again? Argh, let’s block something, quick!”
I find thinking of your cast as a pack of Velociraptors does wonders for your productivity.
Alasdair: So, I spend way too much time thinking about what makes someone a good director, and a key part of it is making sure you work with the right people. A large part of my reasoning for asking you to be Assistant Director was because your skills complemented mine: you've studied literature, whereas I'm immersed in geek and pop culture, and you have some costume and choreography experience whereas I both dress and dance like a very, very white man.
But on a more fundamental level, the fact that you're female is important too; we're doing a show about women working as prostitutes, and how they are treated by the mainly male leaders of their community, so it would be really inappropriate if the story was told only by a bloke. That happens far too much in Hollywood, where everything is produced by men who think they know how female characters would behave, but don’t.
Emma: I never thought that my oft joked-about feminist rants would ever be useful for something artistic like this! But upon reflection I could see that a one-sided gender approach to a subject such as this would probably have brought some of its own problems, so - positive discrimination or not - I was glad to be considered, and I didn’t need much time before I decided this would be a great opportunity to join a production team.
I think we were both at the exact right level to take on this project together, so we both had things to learn and to teach one another and I think that has worked to our advantage. That said, we both work very differently - you are frighteningly organised! I’m also frequently impressed by just how detailed your vision for the show is - you’ve really thought of everything which is great. By my own admission I’m much more scatterbrained, but not on purpose. I’m not the sort of person who can prepare things meticulously in advance, so my ideas will often not be fully formed until I actually have the actors there in front of me and can see them working with the material. So maybe in future I would make a point of being more organised.
Alasdair: Well, I do try to be as prepared as possible but I wouldn’t want to stifle the creative process either, and you’re right: you can’t tell if something’s going to work until you experiment in rehearsals.
Emma: But that’s part of the challenge, and the fun, of the creative process; you learn from other people and they learn from you. Despite our different approaches, I think what we are really good at is communicating and also trusting one another’s abilities, and we were friends enough to begin with that we can be completely honest without feelings getting hurt or arguments starting. In general, I think it really helps that we ARE friends, as we’ve spent so much time together in the last few months that I don’t think I could cope otherwise!
A typical GMT production meeting
Alasdair: So, I was the Assistant Director on Merrily We Roll Along last year before stepping up to direct, and I assume you might be interested in tackling a show yourself someday. If anyone reading this is interested in directing theatre, what skills would they need, and what advice would you give them?
Emma: I think probably the best advice I could give is to actually perform. Most of the people I have worked with have been or still are performers themselves, and I think it makes for a much better director if you know how it feels to BE directed. That aside, I think having a clear vision of what you want to achieve is key, but you also need to be prepared to be flexible, because sometimes ideas that work great in your head might not translate to the stage, and it’s good to let actors work with the material so you get the most organic result possible - it’s easy to spot forced acting. That’s probably the most pretentious thing I’ve ever said but it’s true.
Alasdair: I agree! About the performing bit, I mean. I’m sure you’ve said something more pretentious than that before. As well as performing, I think getting experience of many aspects of theatre is great too. You’ll never be brilliant at everything, but you’ll gain a great idea of what’s possible and how to better talk to the people you’re working with.
Emma: So to summarise: perform, clarify your ideas and be flexible. And if all else fails? Gin. Gin is your friend.
Revealed; the fuel that keeps Glasgow Music Theatre running.