Les Mis officially opened at The Rep on Friday night, but we bought tickets to the Thursday night preview performance because, for a half-hour to forty-five minutes before the show on preview night, the director talks to the audience and answers questions; in this case, both the overall director and the music director. English nerd that I am, I always buy tickets to this performance if possible. I find it fascinating to hear a director talk about what it takes to translate a work from the theater of the mind into an actual physical presentation.
Just think about it. When you read a play, you see it in your head. You have an unlimited amount of actors to draw from, all of whom represent their characters perfectly—age, height, weight, hair color, right down to the timbre of their voice. Each costume is a perfect fit for each character, a faultless representation of the time period or the socio-economic class. For the scenery and stage props, you’re not limited by money, or space, or availability. You can stage an outdoor scene as easily as one set indoors, a shack as well as a palace, the past as well as the future. And special effects? You’re limited only by your imagination.
But think of the real stage. A director begins with literary analysis. He reads and studies the play, analyzing the plot for thematic elements, searching the dialogue for characters’ motivations, paying attention to diction and nuance that a casual reader never bothers to notice. He has to decide what story he wants to tell and how he hopes to accomplish it. Of course, he works with actors, and music directors, and musicians, and set designers, and costume designers, lighting specialists and sound people, and maybe even choreographers, each of whom has a vision of the play or the role they play in it. The director has to integrate all that talent with his own vision, sometimes overruling, other times acquiescing to the expertise of others.
He’s limited by time, space, money, and individual talent. He’s challenged by scenes that play out easily in the mind or with the magic of a camera but are difficult to reproduce on stage. Yet, somehow, after millions of decisions and months of practice, he produces a work of art that, for two or three hours, enthralls the audience and, as Hamlet said, holds the mirror up to nature.
I find people who can do that pretty interesting.