This Wonderful Life opened on Friday. One review so far, it was very good. Audiences are also responding very positively. We’re grateful and thankful for both.
And now comes the part of being a director that’s always odd. Being done with a project.
To do your job properly you have to start backing away as you approach Opening Night and letting things take their course, letting the actors and stage managers develop a rhythm that they’ll need to run the show. So, because you have to start backing away, you find yourself making harder and harder decisions on the ever present “priorities list”. You know, “Let’s see, we have 60 minutes of rehearsal time before a preview, and there’s easily two hours worth of stuff on my to-do list for the show…”
So, you whittle away what you can in an hour. And this doesn’t always mean only the moments you dislike the most, or the toughest moments. It means blending all sorts of concerns – the biggest moments of concern for the cast, for the stage manager, for the designers. So you prioritize, and things that might be fun to clean up, or worthy of a complete dissection, are sometimes left alone. It is, after all, “art with a deadline”. And when that deadline’s reached, it’s time to move on.
It’s funny, reading that last paragraph after I’d written it I realized that it sounds like every show is an unhappy race to the finish line – that’s not the case at all. Most of the time you’re loving those discoveries that make moments better, that tell the story better, that better move people. But you do make your lists of moments that are Great, Good, and Weak. If you’ve done your job right, by the time you’re done (or nearly done) you’ve gotten rid of the Weak, and you’re working consistently on polishing the Good until they get moved up to Great status.
So, part of what makes “being done” tough is that you’re really in the heat of the moment and, hopefully, doing some of your best work as a group just when the calendar says “Okay, you’re done. Now the director goes away. You were on a roll, there, really polishing stuff from Good to Great – I bet that felt good!! Well, you’re done now. Go away, and start from scratch on whatever project is next! Thanks, bye!”
Of course, this is a good thing. Never leaving a project would result in never-ending, insanity-inducing nitpicking that would kill everyone involved.
For me, (I can’t speak for all directors), I have very mixed feelings when it comes to being done – on one hand, I will miss it for all the reasons I listed above and more. On the other hand, though, I’m glad to be done when the time comes. I think this is because you really do build up a rhythm with things, and you know when your usefulness is coming to a close on a project – when anything you want to try will have to go untried because of the calendar and ticking clock, and so you spend the last few hours trying to ignore the “What-if-we-had-tried” thoughts knocking on the back of your forehead. Ignoring the what-if’s is never easy, and so to avoid getting frustrated you embrace being done… and you embrace the final product, and the process, and the family that you built with the people who went through the process with you… and then… with a “have fun” and a wave, you move on, knowing that you’ll miss the project.
But, also, eagerly anticipating whatever’s next.