an article by Leeman Kessler – company member, and one of our directors for The Simian Showcase
Some men are born to be King. Others are born to be Walmart greeters. No-one knows what kind of Royal Jelly it takes to turn one from the other but suffice it to say, such delicious confections are seldom required for one to make the transition from actor to director. Indeed, coming up through theatre school, folks are often required to be actors, writers, directors, props masters, and all around wranglers of other wayward souls in the chaotic soup of students trying to get assignments done.
Once one escapes such a creative melee, they usually begin to find their niches, whether it’s staring bleary-eyed into a monitor, manning a board with gnawed on fingers, treading some boards and not knowing what to with one’s hands, or sitting in the front row, tugging one’s hair and shouting, “No no no! Again!” It did not take long for me to discover I most prefer to be told what to do than to make all the necessary decisions that come with directing. Indeed, I’ve often found myself responding much better to dictators than to marshmallows. At least with a dictator, you at least know that they know what they want, even if it’s madness. Marshmallowy, “Let’s discover this together” types always leave me feeling a little like I’m back in Sunday school.
So with that in mind, I have to look at myself in the director’s chair and ask just how I got here? Now, prior to taking on Shark Week for Simian Showcase, I had directed a show that was not written by myself a grand total of once and a half. The half was in a directing class and it mostly consisted of me trying desperately to get one of my actors to talk louder and slower to little effect. The full show I directed was David Ives’ Sure Thing, which is an absolute delight and if one has a dopey male, a sassy female, and a working bell, then one’s job is essentially over. Not a ton of experience but at least it’s not my first rodeo.
Now the reason I’m directing this show is very simple: I couldn’t audition this time around. Due to scheduling conflicts in the form of my wife being a made a priest during our matinee, I was going to be unavailable so I thought to myself, just how can I contribute to this endeavour? Like most things, the answer came in the form of a whim I blurted out loud. Why don’t I direct? As it happened, one director was leaving for Norway so my suggestion turned out actually to be of some use. Some script perusal followed by some auditions and next thing I know, I’ve got a cast, a life-saving stage manager, and we’re now well into the rehearsal process with less than a month to go.
I’ll admit it’s all a bit much to take in. When one is used to being given direction, it’s a bit of a gear change to sit back and dish it out. I have a rough sense of what I like and I’d like to think I can recognize lameness and awesomeness and encourage one while tamping down the other but it’s still odd to be ship’s captain when one has spent most of his time as the one legged dwarf with an accordion.
Still, I’m glad to be doing it. Not just for the experience or the sense of being in charge but because I actually feel like I’m contributing in a fun, new way and lending my own odd, slightly oblique angle to the proceedings. I mean, it’s not every director who would take an actor’s off hand comment about casting a two-hander with both actors switching roles every night and yet here we are. Unnecessary madness? Probably. A cheap ploy to get well-meaning aunts to buy tickets for two different nights so they can see their nephews perform each part? Definitely. But it is undeniably fun and hopefully just novel enough without being precious.
What I’m saying is, you can leave your royal jelly in the fridge; I’ll take actors who know funny and a stage manager with more sense than I have any day of the week.