Nothing Can Touch This

This is one of my favorite moments in our creative process.

Everything up to now has been hard work. First off, I hate teaching music, but somebody's gotta do it, right? And we really don't have the budget to hire someone else to do it just because I don't want to. And then once that's done, blocking the show is the hardest part of my job as director, the most intensely creative. With some shows, a lot of the blocking is really obvious, but other shows take decoding and deconstructing to figure out how they should look and move. It's by far the hardest mental work in the process. And during that time, it's very hard for me to focus on anything else, even outside of rehearsal. It's like the blocking just takes over my brain, and it exhausts me mentally and emotionally.

It's a little better than it used to be because I figure the show out over a long period of time now (and let's be honest, I figured out High Fidelity in 2008). This is my process... I make a copy of the script as soon as we decide we're definitely doing it, I read it over a few times, and then I let it just percolate in the back of my brain. And every so often, an idea or a solution pops into my brain, and I grab the script and write it down. So I end up solving many of the big problems over the course of six to eight months. I live with the show in my head for so long that the style and tone and so forth often become very obvious, without a whole lot of conscious effort on my part. Just instinct, training, and percolating. Not always, but often.

We've now run both acts of High Fidelity separately three times. Last night, we had a dance review on the set for the first time, and tonight, we start running the whole show at every rehearsal. Unlike a lot of companies our size, we have the great luxury of two and a half weeks in the theater before we open and also nine full run-throughs, including three tech run-throughs.

As of this week, my hardest work is over. There will be problems to solve and I'll have to come up with new ideas to replace the ideas that don't work like I thought they would. But now the actors do their most important work, taking the pencil sketch I gave them and making it come to life.

Some directors spend tons of time on each moment in the show as they block. They work on two- or three-page sections and shape it and sharpen it till it's exactly what they want. Then they move on to the next moment. I work in the opposite way, sort of like the way that Jim Lapine works. We move pretty fast at first. We block 12-15 pages in each three and a half hour blocking rehearsal. I give the actors all the basics, entrances, exits, important character or plot info, the essential idea of what's going on, etc. But we don't polish it at all. We'll work through several pages, then we run through that section (usually only once, but sometimes twice), and then we move on. We won't return to that section until we're running the whole act. For me, blocking is the equivalent of the artist who draws the pencil sketches for comic books. He's providing all the essential information, but the inker and the colorist bring it to life, adding depth, detail, shadow, weight, intensity.

Many directors think the actors are their tools to bring a script to life. I think the actors are my collaborators and only together are we going to create something really wonderful. They don't work for me; they work with me. Long ago, I saw an interview with Hal Prince in which he said that he thinks being a director is being an editor. His job, he said, was to set everyone on the right road, make sure they all stay on that road, and then edit what they've created when they all arrive. I love that metaphor.

For the next two and a half weeks, I get to watch these fifteen amazing actors ink and color these fascinating, complicated characters, and like any good editor, I get to work with them to find the greatest insight and emotion and, above all, clarity. Sondheim once said he worries less about whether people like his work, as long as it's clear, as long as the audience understands what he's trying to say. If they get it, but don't like it, he can't control that. But if they don't get it, that's his fault.

I always remember that...

My job now with High Fidelity is problem solver, so my focus is on finding what's out of sync or unclear so we can fix it. But I also try very hard to remember to tell the actors when they're doing something wonderful. This is the most vulnerable part of the process for them, as they put themselves and their ideas out in front of us all (some of which will fail), and whether we mean to or not, we judge them. It's the nature of the beast.

Hopefully I can convince them that when I reject an idea, it's not because the idea is bad, but only because the idea isn't part of the fabric of the universe we're creating. The play is the thing, after all.

So now I get to enjoy the easiest and most fun part of the process for me. And the work we've already done is so cool, so much beyond our last production of High Fidelity, that I know the end product is going to be truly a thing of wonder. This cast and this show are just that good. It's so wonderful to work with artists this talented and this hard-working. I'm truly a lucky fucker...

Long Live the Musical!