Many careers in the arts don’t necessarily require one to obtain an advanced degree, however in the theater arts play direction is one area of focus in which a formal education would be most helpful. The following are a few of some notable schools for theatre and, particularly, for aspiring stage directors:
- The Conservatory of Theatre Arts in the School of the Arts at Purchase College of New York gives its students an intensive and comprehensive training program in theatre for a limited number of students seeking to pursue a career. This school is known for drawing in top-flight faculty from the ranks of professional theatre.
- The Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama is the oldest theatre conservatory and the first to offer degrees in drama in America. Founded in 1914, the school combines established practice with innovation, technological advancement and hands-on-training across all disciplines including a highly respected program for directors.
- Yale School of Drama is a graduate professional conservatory for theatre training in every discipline of the art form, including a focus on direction and dramaturgy. Considered one of the top theatre arts schools in the country, Yale gives its students a great boost toward achieving the goal of working professionally.
- Emerson College’s Department of Performing Arts is home to a vibrant community of working artists who will help students in developing their creative talents toward a fulfilling career in the theatre. Emerson’s Department of Performing Arts surrounds and supports its students with the very best in professors, visiting artists and staff, with objective of molding them into professional artists
- Bennington College in Vermont offers students a broad range of courses within the larger drama discipline, including directing, with classes often coming together to create and put on staged collaborative work. This collaboration is said to be essential to the study of drama at Bennington.
GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR
Getting into this business in any capacity can be a painful and arduous endeavor. The catch 22 is that you can’t work the craft of being director without actually doing it. Of course nobody will hire you unless you already have some kind of proven track record. This is why being a self-starter is essential to any person aspiring to become a director. Also, an education at a top-flight university can be very helpful (more on that later.)
The other challenge is the inherent group effort of any theatrical production. It’s not just you, the director, being responsible for the effort. The director needs to attract, inspire and make productive a myriad of support personnel, including actors, lighting and scene designers, costume designers, sound and music providers, etc.
This endeavor is not limited to your creative prowess with actors in the rehearsal room for it extends to being an able and crafty entrepreneur. A director needs to effectively lead a disparate group of professionals around him or her but he or she also must be a master at gathering financial support from often very skeptical and reluctant sources.
Like any of the careers in the arts, it can take some years for a director to become a viable professional in the business. Without great stamina, persistence and a continued sense of optimism, you are likely better off looking elsewhere for your career path.
In addition to a formal education, an aspiring theater director needs to have the drive and desire to be a voracious reader of plays, novels and even screenplays. He or she should devour historical non-fiction, biographies and diaries of interesting characters so as to be fully prepared for the inevitable searching questions the actors will ask during the rehearsal period.
Obviously a theater director should also be an avid attendee of the theatre. All kinds of theatre should be seen- professional and amateur, good and bad. One often learns more by attending a down and dirty production in some black box location than at a fully professional and polished production on a proscenium stage. Seeing the world and experiencing different cultures is also very valuable. It is greatly beneficial to experience theatre as it is practiced in its many traditions and styles around the globe.
Playwrights are considered the main force and source of theatrical creativity. Meet them if you can and certainly read their work. Offer to assist them in developing their scripts by setting up staged readings with actors. In the end, the more you network with playwrights the more likely you might be invited to direct a play they wrote. Of course, (this goes almost without saying), meet actors! Without actors, playwrights and directors are adrift and have no way to bring a vision or story to life. Take acting classes too. A director must genuinely appreciate the process that actors go through in order to be more effective. As already hinted, if you are not working as much as you would like, start your own theater company. Work on raising some money, putting together a group of like-minded artists and then stage shows!
It is also always helpful to work in other areas of the theatre. A good director understands how all the other departments work. Work temporarily on a stage crew or in the lighting department for example. The more general knowledge you acquire the better you will be as a director.