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List of illustrations xiii

Foreword by Eric Schaeffer xv
Online content for Directing in Musical Theatre xvii
Special thanks and acknowledgments xix
Permissions xxiii

Introduction 1

A directors job in a musical 1

What is a musical? 3
Conventions of the musical theatre 4
How to use this book 6


Charting a detailed course for your production journey 9

Timetable 1: preparation 10

CHAPTER 1 Preparing for collaboration 13

Unit 1.1 Reading and listening to the musical 13

1.1.1 Gathering impressions 14
Questionnaire: first impressions 14
Unit 1.2 Creating a research portfolio 16
Unit 1.3 History and society viewed selectively 17
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Unit 1.4 Tradition 18

Unit 1.5 Dissecting the script and score 19
1.5.1 Units of action 19
Questionnaire: unit analysis 20
Unit 1.6 Character analysis 22
1.6.1 Facts 23
Questionnaire: a characters given circumstances 23
1.6.2 Character journey 25
1.6.3 Charting change 26
1.6.4 Attitudes 26
Questionnaire: character attitudes 27
1.6.5 Ambitions 28
Questionnaire: character ambitions 28
Unit 1.7 Directing and style 29
1.7.1 What is style? 29
1.7.2 Establishing style in your production 30
1.7.3 Unity of style 32
1.7.4 History and genre 33
1.7.5 Worldview 34
Questionnaire: defining worldview 34
1.7.6 Articulating style 36
Questionnaire: elements of style 36
Unit 1.8 Visiting the theatre 37
Unit 1.9 Getting it down on paper: creating a concept statement 38
1.9.1 This is the story of . . . 38
1.9.2 Themes and ideas 39
1.9.3 Images and visual style 39
1.9.4 State your passion 41

CHAPTER 2 Imagining the chorus 43

Unit 2.1 What is a chorus? 43

Unit 2.2 Populating the world of your musical 44
Unit 2.3 The power of the group 45
Unit 2.4 Applying pressure 45
Unit 2.5 Chorus as storyteller 46
Unit 2.6 Chorus as spectacle 47
Unit 2.7 Chorus as characters 48
Unit 2.8 Engaging chorus actors 49
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Timetable 2: setting your production in motion 54

CHAPTER 3 Collaborative partners 57

Unit 3.1 The passionate center 57

Unit 3.2 What is a choreographer? 59
Unit 3.3 Theatre dance vs. concert dance 59
Unit 3.4 Musical collaboration 61

CHAPTER 4 Directing the design 65

Unit 4.1 Design process: scenery 65

4.1.1 Scenic design preparation 66
Questionnaire: scenic design 66
4.1.2 What to expect in the scenic design process 68
Scenic design process: Big River 71
Unit 4.2 Design process: costumes 76
4.2.1 Character analysis for costume design 77
4.2.2 Practical requirements 79
4.2.3 Cast-by-scene breakdown 80
4.2.4 What to expect in the costume design process 80
Gregg Barnes costume design process: The Drowsy
Chaperone 83
Unit 4.3 Design process: lighting 86
4.3.1 What to expect in the lighting design process 86
Lighting design process: Follies 90
Unit 4.4 Budgets and creative limits 92
Checklist: effective design 93


Timetable 3: auditions to final studio run-through 96

CHAPTER 5 Auditions 103

Unit 5.1 Casting breakdowns 104

Unit 5.2 Principal role auditions 106
5.2.1 Principal role callbacks 107
Unit 5.3 Chorus calls 108
Unit 5.4 Addressing multiple casting needs 111
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Unit 5.5 Non-traditional casting 112

Unit 5.6 Negotiations and waiting 113

CHAPTER 6 Staging and coaching 115

Unit 6.1 Staging stories 116

6.1.1 Levels of staging 116
6.1.2 Staging questions 117
Questionnaire: staging action 117
6.1.3 Believable spontaneity and inevitability 118
6.1.4 Types of musical numbers 120
6.1.5 Prompts to staging opportunities 122
6.1.6 Staging structure 124
6.1.7 Storytelling through staging 126
6.1.8 All staging is action 127
6.1.9 Storytelling beat by beat 127
6.1.10 Group staging notation 131
6.1.11 Choreographic staging 132
Unit 6.2 Staging tools 133
6.2.1 Movement and images 134
6.2.2 Principles of effective blocking 135
6.2.3 Compositional qualities 136
Unit 6.3 Blocking scenes and songs 139
6.3.1 Blocking script setup 139
6.3.2 Ideas into action 140
6.3.3 Blocking notation 144
6.3.4 Giving blocking to actors 146
Unit 6.4 Coaching your cast 148
6.4.1 Actor/singers 149
6.4.2 Ten keys to coaching the singing actor 149
6.4.3 Dancers are actors, too 156
Unit 6.5 Entertainment values and selling it to the audience 159


Timetable 4: technical rehearsals to final dress rehearsal 163

CHAPTER 7 Moving into the theatre 167

Unit 7.1 Getting acquainted with the theatre space 167

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Unit 7.2 Spacing rehearsals and adjustments 168

Unit 7.3 Safety first 169
Unit 7.4 Adding scenery and props 169
Unit 7.5 Adding lighting 170
Unit 7.6 Adding the orchestra 171
Unit 7.7 Sound design and reinforcement 172
Unit 7.8 The stage manager takes charge: technical rehearsals 175
Unit 7.9 Adding costumes 177
Unit 7.10 Crew 180
Unit 7.11 Special rehearsals 180
Unit 7.12 Putting it all back together 180
Unit 7.13 Finding the heart of the show again 181
Unit 7.14 Prioritizing and problem solving 181
Unit 7.15 Please and thank you 182


Timetable 5: previews to closing 184

CHAPTER 8 Shaping the production 187

Unit 8.1 Curtain calls 187

Unit 8.2 Previews 189
Unit 8.3 Advice and opinions 191
Unit 8.4 Opening night 192
Unit 8.5 Notes and rehearsals after opening 192
Unit 8.6 Postmortem 193

CHAPTER 9 Etcetera and all the rest 199

Unit 9.1 Directing new works 199

Unit 9.2 Directing revues 202
Unit 9.3 Habits of successful directors 204


Appendix A: Sample documents 207

a. Weekly rehearsal schedule: Seussical 208
b. Daily rehearsal schedule: Carousel 209
c. Blocking/staging checklist: Seussical 210
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d.Cast-by-scene breakdowns: Nine 211

e.Scene and song rehearsal unit breakdown: Kiss Me, Kate 213
f.Concept statement: Into the Woods 214
g.Scene/song unit analysis: Fiddler on the Roof 218
h.Character analysis (short): The Light in the Piazza 222
i.Staging road map (beat breakdown): The Night Waltz from
A Little Night Music 225
Appendix B: Complete production timetable 229
Appendix C: Questionnaires 233
Questionnaire 1: first impressions 233
Questionnaire 2: unit analysis 233
Questionnaire 3: character given circumstances 234
Questionnaire 4: character attitudes 234
Questionnaire 5: character ambitions 235
Questionnaire 6: defining worldview 235
Questionnaire 7: elements of style 235
Questionnaire 8: scenic design 236
Questionnaire 9: staging action 236
Checklist: effective design 236
Appendix D: Brief glossary of useful stage terms 239

Index 245
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A directors job in a musical

Directors tell stories. While others usually write those stories, the director guides
their telling. He or she decides whats important to highlight in the text and how
the story will be expressed, and then takes the audience on a journey into and

Figure I.1 Cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Dallas Theater Center
(director: Joel Ferrell; photo: Karen Almond).
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through that world. In a successful production of even the most complex script,
the story emerges clearly and richly for the audience. Arriving at that kind of
clarity takes a great deal of preparation and craft. In the musical theatre, this task
can be geometrically more complex than in many plays. Yet, the obligation to
guide your production with clarity remains. This book is for those of you who
take on this task.

Directing a musical involves everything directing a play does and more. The
multilayered texts, logistical concerns and elevated performance styles of many
musicals create a complex puzzle for the director to solve. These complexities,
while essential and undeniable, can distract you from the central thrust of your
job. The premise of this book is that your mandate, as director of a musical, is to
guide the crafting of a body for the spirit of the musical to live in. The word craft
is deliberate here because this book will help you develop skills and techniques
to realize your ideas through collaboration with designers, actors, creative
collaborators and everyone else you guide in the making of a production, which
is the body that animates the spirit of your show.

This book is organized to follow the five phases of creating a successful musical

1. Conception the period when you research, fantasize, analyze, conceive

and articulate the theatrical world of your musical. Though a great musical
production seems to spring full-born onto the stage in a way that suggests
there is no other possible version of that story, someone read and listened
to it and made choices about what story to tell and how everyone involved
would tell it.
2. Collaboration a director leads the charge for a small army of co-
interpreters to tell the story he or she has drawn from the script and score.
Designers, choreographer, musical director and all the many people who
function with them need to have a clear sense of where theyre headed and
whether theyre on the right track as they take the directors inspiration and
express it in their own discipline. This all begins in the second phase.
3. Rehearsal when you assemble a cast to inhabit the detailed and amply
realized world youve constructed with your partners. The cast is the newest
group of collaborators to enter this world. While many people contribute
great ideas in rehearsal, someone ultimately has to select the performance
choices that add up to your production. For a musical, this also requires
creating musical staging, which constitutes an entire new set of storytelling
opportunities. In a talented group, youll have a lot to choose from. But,
without an effective editor, your production will lack cohesion.
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4. Production when you bring the show youve rehearsed into the theatre
and marry it to the physical and technical elements in ways that fulfill
the imaginary world of your show. No single collaborator is responsible
for maintaining and reinforcing an overall vision of the show in the same
way as the director. And, though the musical director, choreographer and
designers all have a myriad of details to attend to, none of them is expected
to guide a show through the reefs and shoals of auditions, studio rehearsals,
technical production and opening in the same way a director must.
5. Performance when you bring an audience into the fully realized world of
your show, and adjust performances and technical elements to maximize the
audience experience. Although the greater part of a directors job is com-
pleted by opening night, the last major part of your work is the important job
of calibrating every element of a production and maintaining the intention and
integrity of performances.

These are the functions youll prepare for as we work through the entire process
of creating your musical. The goal of this book is to give you at least one way of
doing everything required clearly and thoughtfully as you move from the fateful
day of receiving the script to the end of the journey where you place that tattered
binder on your shelf to gather dust.

What is a musical?

Musical theatre is a curious animal in the world of live performance. On one hand,
it is exactly like a play, where you create an imaginary world for actors to play
out the story. This involves interpretation and expression of the text, decisions
about movement and behavior for each character, and visual communication of
the world of the script through design and composition. Yet, with all these
similarities, there is a great deal of difference in the theatrical world of most
contemporary drama and that of musical theatre. Those differences fall into a few
central areas:

Heightened text Musicals require characters to sing their most passionate

experiences. This simple act thrusts artists and their audience into another
theatrical world. The effort that much contemporary drama exerts to make
everything seem like real life gets tossed aside when a group of musicians
begins playing underneath the stage and characters begin singing. And the text
itself is sometimes poetic, intentionally witty, powerfully emotional and always
tightly constructed. It is not Kitchen Sink Realism.
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Heightened behavior Not only do characters express themselves in vocally

different ways, but they often employ stylized behaviors that involve facing the
audience directly, moving in highly organized choreographic patterns and aban-
doning the logic of typical daily activity for a vocabulary that leans more closely
to concert dance. Yet, this is part of what makes a musical powerfully a musical.

Heightened visual expression There are certainly no rules for how one
expresses a play or a musical onstage. But, we tend to identify certain patterns
and practices with different forms. Among these in the musical theatre are the
ideas of amplified theatrical design and the elaborate use of bodies to create an
imaginary world that invites the other conventions we talked about.

Heightened reality All these heightened elements really add up to an elevated

sense of reality. All theatre, film and television are artificial and carefully selected
imitations of reality. But, musical theatre often puts artificiality downstage center
as one of the appealing features of the art form. So, as some entertainments seek
to convince us that things are completely real, the musical theatre embraces
its own un-realness and makes a virtue of it.

The musical theatre is not for everyone. Detractors point to just this set of
theatrical conventions as reasons they dislike musicals. Typically, they also rankle
at the pure emotionality we associate with many musicals. But, those who like
musical theatre, in all its forms, are often attracted to these theatrical oppor-
tunities and expectations. We go to the musical theatre to experience something
big and to be swept up in the passion of the event, even in its most intimate
moments. If you direct a musical, youll need to come to terms with these
expectations. This book embraces them with the strong insistence they be
employed with an equally heightened sense of truth and passion behind them.
Good acting, spoken or sung, is not a negotiable element in any production. But,
there are many forms of good acting, dance and singing.

Conventions of the musical theatre

In directing musicals from all periods, youll also discover their writers understood
a few more central premises and expected them to be embraced.

Music tells the story What makes a musical a musical is the practice of having
characters burst (or gently slide) into song and dance to express their most pas-
sionate experiences. The pure emotionality of seemingly spontaneous singing,
musical accompaniment and dance are the defining features of the musical
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Condensed dialogue The dialogue portion of a musical script is often much

shorter than those in a play. Compare Pygmalion and My Fair Lady to see how
much dialogue is excised in telling almost the same story. In its place are a lot of
songs and dances. This condensation of the script is a highly efficient distillation
of character and circumstance that leads to the inevitable pressure to sing and
dance. And the most potent experiences are expressed in those songs.

Expanded time As much as we accept the tight construction of dialogue

scenes, we also understand that time can seem to stand still, or at least stretch,
as characters explore their feelings through song and dance. The same kind of
forward momentum we crave in many plays is often forestalled in a musical as
we explore and expand on multiple facets of a single experience.

Romance Even contemporary musicals are very much the descendants of

those that went before them. And in many of those early musicals and operettas,
romance figured prominently as the major force driving the stories. The prime
motivator for almost all the complications in these stories was to get the boy and
girl to the altar. The urgency of new love can still fuel musicals.

Comedy Just as romance forms part of the foundation for many musicals, so
does comic performance. Vaudeville and the broad world of early comedy still
inform many characters and storylines in the musical theatre. The combination
of romance and comedy can make for a charming and moving theatrical expe-

Complexity Early musical writers often avoided psychological complexity in

their characters. Instead, purity of spirit and power of intention were the hall-
marks of those shows. Starting in the mid-twentieth century, however, writers
began drawing more complex characters. Now, with a wide range of new works
exploring every imaginable theme, characters are infinitely more complex in every
way. Even so, the primacy of emotional response rather than psychological or
intellectual complexity remains a common trait in much musical theatre.

These conventions are not ironclad rules, but really patterns that have emerged
through common practice. You could probably identify others from your own
experience and find excellent exceptions to every one of these patterns.
Nevertheless, understanding these conventions and using them to your advan-
tage will make your job easier.
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How to use this book

This book guides you through the process of directing a musical in two ways.
First, it spells out clear and pragmatic steps for completing each step of the
directing process. The book is arranged to take you through the five phases of
production in a well-prepared, thoughtful and effective way. We will utilize a
handful of features to help carry you through the process.
Timetables Each part of this book begins with an overview of one phase of the
directing process so you can integrate every production element into your master
plan and feel secure you arent leaving anything out. This plan tells you how to
start and offers detailed instructions on what to do and when to do it. The complex
nature of musical theatre production requires you to solve regular problems on
schedule. The book provides you with a clear and flexible timeline you can adapt
to your own production, saving you worry and allowing you to focus on the
immediate needs of your show.
Forms and formats Many talented people have gone before you and come up
with systems to help you get and stay organized using tried and tested methods
for success. You will see examples of proven formats for every step of the
process, including setting up a directors script, scheduling, auditioning, creating
checklists for staging and rehearsals, and much more. I include more examples
in the Appendices and you can download templates for all these forms online at
Skills workshops Directing in Musical Theatre provides how-to directing
techniques at the right stage of rehearsal so youll encounter a concept when you
need to apply it.

The second approach to directing a musical involves thinking about broader

questions of analysis and interpretation, and how you can draw those into
practical expression onstage.
Prompts/investigations Directing in Musical Theatre marries the purely
pragmatic with the theoretical in simple and applicable ways. Before we can
answer the how of directing, we often must ask the why of it. This book
engages you in answering conceptual questions about interpretation, style,
characterization and design, and helps apply the answers to your production.
Youre provided with a series of questionnaires to prompt creative thinking and
focus your ideas.
This book uses examples from well-known and easily accessible musicals so
you can explore these practices using commercial scripts, scores and perfor-
mance video even if youre not currently in production.
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If youre in a classroom or workshop setting, this book can be equally effective

if you focus on individual skills and questions as part of a progressive course of
study. Routledges companion website to Directing in Musical Theatre will
provide you with sample documents, forms and formats, and exercises to explore
every aspect of this process. Teachers will also find lecture presentations to
guide lessons for many subjects in this book and a sample syllabus for a course
on directing musicals. Go to www.routledge.com/cw/dalvera

Part of the reason for writing this book was the response of directors to Acting
in Musical Theatre: A Comprehensive Course, by Joe Deer and Rocco Dal Vera.
They commented that much of that book was applicable to their work in prepa-
ration and rehearsal. The same might be true for you. A handful of subjects in this
book are developed in greater detail in that text, from the perspective of the

Now, lets get started!

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Directing always requires you to operate from a place of informed intuition. Your
ability to rehearse, stage or collaborate with your artistic colleagues is closely
tied to your early preparation and analysis. This section of the book leads you
through an investigation of the script and score to get ready for the road ahead.

Reading and listening to the musical UNIT 1.1

Your first step in preparing is to gain a strong sense of the text and story, and to
gather first impressions. Interestingly, what this book refers to as a first impres-
sion may well be a renewed acquaintance, since so many popular and frequently
produced shows are familiar to readers. But, we arent seeking to recreate
someone elses production. Rather, the approach this book advocates is one
where you begin with a clean slate, creating your own original production from
the ground up. Well talk about incorporating tradition and influence later. But, for
now, were going to make a fresh start.

Consider a three-layered system in beginning your preparation. Youll end up

reading and listening to your show three times (at least) as you start. If you can
avoid compressing this process, youll have a better chance of real familiarity
with, and immersion in the world of, your musical.
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UNIT 1.1.1 Gathering impressions

Reading 1: the pleasure of the story

Find time to read and listen to your show without distraction, simply for the
pleasure of absorbing the story. Get a clean copy of the script and score and a
good recording of the show so you can hear all the musical textures and be taken
into the show as its creators wrote it. Avoid interruptions for this reading and
resist the urge to take notes or make decisions. This is your chance to be an
audience member. And, dont watch filmed performances of the show, yet. You
should seek to enter the theatre of your imagination, not someone elses. After
this first experience with the text, give yourself some time away from the show
at least a day or two. This digesting period is useful as the show works on
you. Ideas and images, emotional responses and so much more will begin to
percolate. This is the beginning of your response to the text.

Reading 2: questions

Your next reading is slightly more deliberate in that you will go through the show
again, taking note of important images and ideas, allowing yourself to stop and
start as needed. But, this is still mostly for the purpose of allowing your own
chaotic responses to spill onto a page. Your own form of journaling, doodling,
sketching or cryptically noting your ideas is what matters here. You wont show
these musings to anyone else. Take as much time as you need to get through
the show. And when youve finished, continue journaling. Dont go back and edit
your ideas. Simply let them take over and youll often be surprised at what you
let yourself write. The following questions may help you at this stage to stimulate
ideas and responses.

Questionnaire: first impressions

1. What does the world of this show feel like to you? It can be useful to
recognize the emotional experience of the show on first encounter order-
liness, comic chaos, pastoral romance, emotional austerity, psychological
intrigue, etc. The qualities of the music can often tell you a good deal about
this question. Stephen Sondheims Pacific Overtures will suggest a very
different world than Grease. Try to articulate your gut reactions. No one has
to read your notes, and you can refine the wording later on.
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2. Do any strong staging images stand out? Compositional ideas can some-
times come to you as you read and listen. Note these. Phrases like a
swirling mob carrying protest signs, the city is his enemy, the earth
opens up to reveal her can be provocative as you move forward. These can
also come from the text and stage directions.
3. What does this world look like? Do you imagine any specific scenic
elements? Colors, shapes, textures, lighting qualities? Is this an architectural
world, a natural world, fragmented scenery or highly realistic? Do you
want to employ a specific audience configuration in relation to the playing
space? If you know the space, are there ways that youd like to use it for this
specific production? Adjectives such as gritty, pristine, pastel, earth-
toned can be useful. These may differ for various portions of the show. As
you consider this question, resist designing the set. You probably have a
very gifted scenic designer who can interpret your impulses and marry them
with his or her own. This question can be a powerful spark to the designers
imagination, while presenting your finished design can be profoundly limiting.
4. Whose story is this? Is A Little Night Music Fredriks story? Desirees? A trio
of characters sharing focus? And, why do you care about these people? Who
attracts you or distances you? We dont need to think simply in terms of
heroes and villains to identify whose story matters most to us. No need
to judge any characters. Just react.
5. Are you reminded of any works of art, culture or fiction? Did any works of
art, popular culture, literature, TV, film, etc. come to mind as you read and
listened? These references can sometimes provide you with an anchor for
your production and help your designers get a handle on your ideas for the
show. For instance, the original production of Fiddler on the Roof was
powerfully influenced by the directors attraction to the work of painter Marc
6. How do the historical setting of the story (or the writing of the show) and
the location affect your ideas about it? Jason Robert Browns Parade is
deeply rooted in 1913 Georgia. History and culture have a great deal to do
with that story. On the other hand, Anything Goes, a sophisticated riff on the
fantasy of high society life, was an intentional escape from the reality of
Depression-era America. Does historical accuracy matter to you?
7. Do I have strong biases about the show coming into this process? Were
often very familiar with a show before we sit down to read and listen to it.
You may have seen it before, watched the film or even been involved
in previous productions. This can impact your vision of the show from
the outset. This isnt always a bad thing, but it can definitely limit your
capacity to discover new ideas and possibilities. Consider what you already
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know and feel about the show and whether you want to recreate those
impressions, reject them, modify them or do something else. The original
production of a show certainly reflects one way to tell the story, but its not
the only way.

The notes you gather from this questionnaire will be important to you later in this
phase of directing. For now, take another break from the show. Again, youll
discover the show follows you wherever you go and works on your conscious
and unconscious mind. This is a valuable experience and one you dont need to
force or supervise. You may choose to revisit your notes and continue adding to
them. We often begin repeating important themes and ideas in our notes. This
is part of your unconsciously building an interpretation one youll articulate soon

Reading 3: specific requirements

The final reading in this process begins considering the practical concerns youll
address with designers and on your own. You dont need to answer all these
questions, but you will need to start assembling a list of questions to answer
eventually. Begin reading again with a notepad at your side and a handful of
pencils. Your task now is to go scene by scene through the show and note every
technical or artistic element you anticipate using not just those listed in the
script, but also those you have begun imagining. Scenic needs, props, lighting
moments, choreographic impressions, costumes, etc. are the point here. You
may find it useful to organize these notes by listing the scene number, songs
in the scene, setting, time of day, etc. as you begin. Below that, youll make
an equally long list of ideas, observations and tangible needs. Avoid counting
forks and spoons for a dinner scene. Rather, you can simply note table settings.
All of this will be elaborated on and specified later on. The point here is to take
stock of the big picture of your design and collaborative requirements.

UNIT 1.2 Creating a research portfolio

Many directors find that researching the world of a show fuels their imagination
and provides grist for their creative mill. It also helps distance them from
unconscious attachments to other productions of this show. One way to organize
this inquiry is by creating a research portfolio. Here are some areas you may want
to investigate:
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Source material Since so many musicals are based on plays, novels, films and
actual events, these are a great place to start. Read James Micheners Tales of
the South Pacific if youre directing Rodgers and Hammersteins adaptation of
it. See John Waters original film of Hairspray if youre directing the stage version.
It would be hard to direct Assassins without substantial research into the actual
lives of the men and women depicted in it. You should look at news accounts of
actual events, photographs or paintings from the period, memoirs, biographies
and anything else you can find out about the sources of your musical. An eclectic
mix of scholarly work, popular reviews and criticism, and interviews will give you
a lot to chew on, even if you ultimately reject much of what youve read.

Authors and composers oeuvre Listen to and read other works by the
creators of your show. Become as familiar as you can with their point of view and
artistic language. Also, find out about their lives and what they have said about
themselves, and specifically about the show youre directing. Their opinions are
useful and often illuminating, but are not sacrosanct. Many wonderful productions
have been created that might not have seemed to fit the dictates of authors at
first pass, but are inspired and inspiring to their audiences.

Visual resources Begin filling your head with photographs, advertisements,

paintings from the time, and any other visual information you can gather that
may begin affecting you and eventually helping your designers. Part of the visual
resources and images you gather can include popular advertising art and the
idealized images that advertisers created to tell the public what they should want
to look like. This is often a clue to the selective worldview of the musical youre

Past productions Consider this the final place to conduct your research
because it can be so impressive that other choices are obliterated by the
completeness of a successful earlier production. Wait until youve begun form-
ing your own ideas before digging into this kind of research. However, critical
responses and interviews with creative participants can be very useful because
they can reveal the original intentions and creative process rather than the result.

History and society viewed selectively UNIT 1.3

This is a good time to remember that musicals often present a highly selective
view of the historical period in which they are set and in which they were first
produced. Oklahoma! is far from an authentic representation of frontier life at the
turn of the twentieth century. Rodgers and Hammerstein had never been to
Oklahoma when they wrote the show. And, although Lynn Riggs (author of Green
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Grow the Lilacs) was born and raised in the state, he presented a highly melo-
dramatic western world. These creators saw the shows historical, geographical
and social setting as an opportunity to look at their own time and social
experience. They chose to leave out much of the harsh detail of daily frontier life
to tell a story that served their purpose. The values of 1906 Oklahoma are
probably less important to consider than the world of 1943 mainstream America,
the world Rodgers and Hammerstein and their first audiences lived in. As a
director of that show today, in your theatre and with your audience in mind, youll
decide whether some elements they left out of the world of the musical might
serve your production or not.

Most productions must speak to their own audience or fail. Consider how the
cultural and performance values expressed in a musical coincide or overlap with
those your audience understands. Coming to terms with these important
questions may bring vitality and new life to a production that would otherwise
feel archaic and anachronistic. Answering these questions of tone and values
can be tricky and will require some thought on your part as you begin meeting
with designers. Heading in one direction may result in vividly colored gingerbread
houses, while a different one could yield dingy shacks and dusty farmland vistas.

UNIT 1.4 Tradition

I have already pointed out that the world of musical theatre is often highly
ritualized and can be strongly attached to a shows original production. Designs,
characterization and staging can all be a copy of a copy of a copy of Dior, to
quote Dorothy Fields in Sweet Charity. This book asks you to consider the original
impulses behind those landmark productions and the staging decisions that
resulted from them. Is there something fundamental to the staging choices
attached to Fiddler on the Roof that is inextricable from the text? Possibly. And
you may choose to echo those choices with your own production without
plagiarizing the work of someone else. We can consciously and intentionally
invoke the spirit of another production without simply regurgitating what we
once saw. Homage, quotation and evocation are not the same thing as imitation
or reproduction. These decisions can be fundamental to your production choices
and are part of the foundation of your own interpretation.

The territory outside of the certain and known is often where your most exciting
artistic decisions lie. So, this book encourages you to take the step across that
border with an awareness of where youve come from.
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Dissecting the script and score UNIT 1.5

An important part of the Conception phase is the beginning of your text analysis.
In addition to investigating the world of your musical, youll also want to take a
close-up look at the show scene by scene. To do this, youll need to isolate the
components of the show. That means understanding what happens in each
scene, song or dance sequence, understanding them in relationship to each other
and knowing the journey of each character throughout the story. To do this, youll
create a series of concise analyses to support you through the rest of your
process with a show. These can be revised as you develop your ideas.

Units of action UNIT 1.5.1

Your first job is to divide the script and score into units of action parts of the story.
If we think of the entire musical as a story being told simply to a friend, every time
you say and then, youve begun a new unit of action. Sometimes a musical is
divided into distinct scenes. These are certainly and then moments. But, within
these formal scenes are often other units of action. We can divide these internal
segments in a variety of ways, many of which are highly subjective. Thats fine,
as long as you understand why you chose to demark a division where youve
chosen to do so. Here are some indicators that a new unit of action has begun:

New scene We just spoke about this above. Each time a scene is formally
marked as ending, a new unit of action begins. Many traditional musicals that
follow Rodgers and Hammersteins model have long sequences of action in the
same location and in continuous time. While the script defines these as a single
scene, they are much more complex than you could ever encompass, or
rehearse, in a single unit of action. That is why we continue dividing with the
following methods.

Musical moment The beginning and ending of a musical moment are usually
an indication that a unit of action has begun. Where the unit begins is often less
clear than its ending. You may feel that the impulse leading to the musical
moment is really the beginning of that unit of action. This is true for dance
sequences as well as songs and dialogue scenes.

French scenes One traditional system of dividing the script and score is by
noting when major characters enter or exit. The idea behind French scenes is that
each time a new character arrives or leaves, the pressures on the other characters
change. For example, Henry Higgins leaves Eliza Doolittle alone after hes ordered
her to stay up all night working on her diction exercises, if thats what it takes to
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get them right. His exit gives her permission to rant about this edict. That rant
becomes Just You Wait. If Higgins were still in the room, she could never
have sung that song. This method of division will result in many sub-scenes;
youll decide whether you want to consider them separate units of action or not.

Whether large cast or small, multiple locations or unit set, a story is made up of
many individual events that lend texture and variety to the theatrical experience.
The act of subdividing a script helps you see its dramatic topography in greater
relief and will do the same for your audience.

Questionnaire: unit analysis

Once youve divided your script into units of action, youll need to answer some
basic but influential questions for each unit. This is part clerical work and part
creative decision making. Its amazing how often those two worlds coincide. At
the very least, create a separate page for each scene, answering the following

Scene the actual, formal title from the script: Prologue, Act I, Scene 4, etc.
If youve subdivided individual scenes, you can add an alphabet letter to indicate
that division, as in Act I, Scene 4, Sub-scene A, or I-4A.

Directors title This is your choice. Giving a scene an evocative title helps
articulate what happens in the scene or its central, important idea or experience.
It is often expressed in terms of action and opposition, such as Tevye and Lazar
Wolf negotiate a match or Pressure from the women on the men. It might
also be something more personal to you, like Tevyes World or The End of
the Affair. No one needs to know these titles except you. They are your way
of creating a throughline to the story.

Location Literally, where the action takes place. McConnachy Square in

Brigadoon, In front of Kate Monsters apartment (Avenue Q), etc. This can
also be much more metaphorical: Olives imagination (I Love You from The
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee).

Time When in history, in the calendar year (if this matters) and in the arc of the
story. Harold Hill (in The Music Man) transforms a small town during the summer,
and this pastoral setting matters. Higgins meets Eliza on a blustery and rainy
night, which might imply late winter for London. But, lilac trees are in bloom
when Freddy sings to Eliza from the sidewalk. That sets it in spring. The passage
of time in some stories is important. Try directing I Do, I Do! without tracking the
passage of time in the marriage. Youll very quickly get lost.
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Musical numbers What musical moments occur in the unit? The answer is
usually just one. But, you will want to clarify this.

Action of the unit What specifically happens within the song or musical
sequence? This is usually indicated by a verb-heavy phrase, like Barfe cele-
brates his magical gift (Magic Foot in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling
Bee), or Eliza fantasizes about Higgins painful demise (Just You Wait in My
Fair Lady). This will help lead you to clear staging choices later on. The same
exercise is important for dialogue scenes as well.

Important story events and changes What happens in this scene that matters?
This helps keep the story clear for you and your audience. The reigning champion
is eliminated from the spelling bee, leaving the field open for anyone to win it.
Billy finds out hes going to be a father.

Dramatic function of the unit Writers will often combine tasks within a unit of
action to tell a story efficiently. You need to understand why a scene or song
exists. And you can be practical and artistic at the same time. A songs function
might be to mask a large scene change happening behind the drop, and also
to establish Alfie Doolittles philosophy of life, and also to clarify the world of
the Cockney underclass and their relationships, and also to provide musical
variety, since all the songs so far have been sung by Higgins and Eliza. All of
these statements are true and can be important as you make design, choreo-
graphic and rehearsal choices.

Here is a sample breakdown for the opening scene in Next to Normal :

Scene I, i.

Directors title It Only Hurts When I. . .

Location Throughout the house living room, Diana/Dans bedroom,

Natalies bedroom, Gabes bedroom, kitchen

Time Late night (4 AM) to morning (approx. 8:30 AM), September, the

Musical numbers Just Another Day

Action of number Scene and song are completely integrated. It is a musical scene.
See below.

Action of scene The pressure to present as a perfect family, especially as a

perfect wife/mother/lover, is too much for Diana, so her hidden
fantasy life breaks through the crumbling veneer of suburban
civility. She snaps! The familys tenuous grasp on normalcy is
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broken. They can no longer hide their dissatisfaction. Action

must be taken!

Important events/ We meet each member of the family

changes We hear their private thoughts about their anxieties and
critical relationships
We experience the family dynamic before Dianas mental
illness is revealed
Most important: Diana snaps and reveals her mental
instability the inciting event for the rest of the musical.

Dramatic function Exposition of all family relationships (establish status quo).

of song/scene Introduces the simmering dissatisfaction of each family
Experience Dianas first crack in the faade of suburban
Introduce the dramatic convention of how Gabe interacts
with Diana and the rest of the family.

Youll create a breakdown like this for every unit in the show. This becomes a kind
of postcard booklet of the show and guides you clearly through the action as you
proceed into design discussions, working with your choreographer and the
rehearsal process with actors. Distilling your ideas down to this format takes a
lot of focus and revision. But, the payoff for your hard work is a sense of clarity
about the story youre telling and the production youre directing. This preparation
allows you enormous freedom as you begin interacting with your team because
you know the show intimately. This gives you permission to work from a place
of informed intuition a directors ideal state. Well use this postcard as a
launching point when we begin blocking and staging in the Rehearsal phase.

UNIT 1.6 Character analysis

As you begin looking at the script and listening to the score of a well-written
musical, the characters begin defining themselves. They speak and sing
differently than each other and evolve individually over the course of the story as
well. Musical theatre directors learn to read and listen sensitively to articulate
and understand each characters journey through the story. To begin, we need
to understand some fundamental facts of the character; then we can move
on to understanding them from a more subjective point of view.

It would be easy to spend an enormous amount of time discussing Character

Analysis. Many books do this quite well, including the companion to this book,
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Acting in Musical Theatre: A Comprehensive Course. That book discusses char-

acter from the perspective of the actor in a role, a perspective you also need
to understand. But, as a director youll look both through a characters eyes
(subjectively) and from a critical distance (objectively). We begin our analysis of
character with the objective facts of the character as provided through the text
and reasonable assumptions about the world of the play, based on those facts.
These facts are the foundation upon which you build your direction and upon
which the actor in the role will begin his or her work. Facts of age, relationships,
social standing, culture, etc. have a profound effect on the onstage life youll
create with your actors and on the audiences belief in this theatrical world. Much
of that information is equally useful to your work as director.

For now, we will focus on three areas of inquiry for character analysis: Facts,
Attitudes and Ambitions.

Facts UNIT 1.6.1

The facts of a characters life are called Given Circumstances. These facts come
from the author in the form of:

statements by the character about herself;

statements from others in the show as they talk about her;
indications from the authors comments in stage directions; and finally,
indications from the actions of the character. While she may say one thing,
its quite possible for her to do something else. Actions trump words, in
most cases.

Every character lives in the time period and locale of the story, as well as within
the other Given Circumstances of the world of the musical. Beyond that, here is
a short list of essential Given Circumstances to answer for every character in the
show, including chorus members if possible.

Questionnaire: a characters given circumstances

1. Name (full name, if possible), including nicknames and pet names.

2. Age: Be as specific as you can.
3. Height and weight: If known or relevant.
4. Posture/physical stature.
5. General and specific health.
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6. Place of birth.
7. Place of residence.
8. Occupation.
9. Income.
10. Group identity: how your character self-identifies as a member of an ethnic,
racial, cultural or national group.
11. Dialect/diction/accent: Does the writing of the role express any distinct
speech pattern?
12. Social class and status: aristocrat/peasant, lower-class flower seller/upper-
class professor. Every character you play fits into some specific social
13. Social groups: any group the character belongs to whose members share a
set of rules, standards or values especially those that define him.
14. Education (amount of formal or informal education, specialized training):
Some characters display a high or low degree of education because of the
way they speak or behave.
15. Intelligence: the capacity for complex thinking, apparent aptitudes for
different skills, and levels of intuition or sensitivity.
16. Physical characteristics (exceptional abilities, physical attributes, handicaps):
Some characters are defined by a specific physical characteristic.
17. Important relationships (both with onstage characters and those who are
only referred to): Every character has a specific relationship that defines why
he matters to every other major character. And they dont always matter for
the same reasons. In Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Lawrence Jameson matters
to Freddy Benson because he can provide Freddy with access to high-level
con schemes. But, Freddy matters to Jameson because he threatens to
expose or exploit Jamesons very comfortable lifestyle on the French Riviera.
Each character sees the other as important, but for very different reasons.
18. Character history: Authors often create rich and significant backstories for
their characters. Emile De Becque in South Pacific escaped to the Polynesian
Islands to avoid a murder charge in France. He was also married to a
Polynesian woman and has two children from that marriage. Though none
of that takes place during the musicals action, it lays a foundation for his
choices and behavior while we know him. Understanding those events and
how they might impact the story and your interpretation of the character
will help define the casting of the role, costume designs, physical behavior
and even how certain lyrics are sung.