Blog: Directing Your Own Play; or “Don’t Do It”

Blog by
Playwright and Director Frank E. Reilly

Glibly stated, because, as the writer, each cut of precious dialogue is painful, but as the director you absolutely know this surgery is necessary if your play is to have a successful life.

I’m impossibly in love with writing and directing, the way I was with stage acting for many decades, but never had I experienced tackling the job of playwriting and directing together until this fine assignment at the Hedgerow with the world premiere of my play Post Haste.

At the beginning of my work at the Hedgerow I thought it would be a rather simple matter, after all the play was already written and accepted, after many iterations, and hell, I’ve directed a truck load of plays, so what could be so difficult I thought.

About two days into rehearsal my delusion was shattered into tiny pieces, all over the work table, pieces that were once my finished play.  Like some immense jigsaw puzzle it lay there disassembled as we began to cut, tape, eliminate, reattach one scene to another,  all accompanied by the author’s gritting teeth.  However, surgery was necessary if the patient, was to survive and have a successful stage life!

The idea is tackle the dialogue first and be merciless because, as the director, you know what is going to work on stage and what is probably not going to work, no matter how heartfelt is was when you were in the composing stages.

As I went through this process with the cast and dramaturge I began to relax (let go), gain trust, go with the flow, as the director’s vision became clearer with each adjustment.

With Post Haste we had several problem areas that required accuracy; recording the mileage along the journey, the basis of the play, and the geographic tracking of said journey.  Consequently, whenever a change in the script was made we had to be certain that these two areas still made logical sense.  Not easy!

I say this because you can be sure someone in the audience will be tracking you to find the error, just waiting to “trip” you up!

Being the author you value every agonizing word, phrase, sentence you wrote at 3:00 AM and certainly don’t want to see it casually altered, or simply removed, simply because it hurts. However, you know, as the director, if you are responsible to put this play on the stage you have to be pretty sure it has good legs, and that those legs can walk.

“Author as Director”

Live theater is all about bringing reality to the stage, creating magic for the audience, an escape form their daily routines, and perhaps even elevating their consciousness.

Therefore, this “stuff that dreams are made of” must begin on the page, where the creative process is birthed, the mind free to say what it wishes, not to be hampered by social dogma, perfect grammar (that comes later) or personal inhibitions.  

No one can assist you in improving this initial stage unless they have something in writing.  It all begins with you the writer before the process of preparing it for the stage can happen.  

In summary, as the writer, I had to step away from this initial stage if I were to also direct my work, and not be afraid of criticism, but, rather, to accept alterations to the script as positive break throughs in preparation for clearing the script for the stage.

Now, having written this blog I feel so much better about my job as playwright cum director!  Thank you Hedgerow!