Written by DDG Committee
Directing is a worthwhile and rewarding experience, but don’t believe anyone who tells you that it is easy! Your ‘first-night-nerves’ will start before the cast’s do and they will last much longer, but in the end you can take pride in the production that you have put on. It is a lot of work but if you can make your cast and crew into a team who will work for you you will undoubtedly come back and do it again!
Choose your play wisely, enjoy every minute of it and… break a leg.
Chairperson – Dubai Drama Group – November 2002
The First Time
People who are directing for the first time, be it first time ever or first time with DDG will have a ‘Buddy-Director’ appointed by the committee. The Buddy will be an experienced DDG director who is there to help at all stages of the play after the play has been submitted to the committee for approval. If a Buddy feels that the director has ‘lost the plot’, is going over budget, is not taking advice etc they can and will take over the direction of the play – be it for a couple of rehearsals to get it back on track or for the rest of the rehearsals of the play if necessary.
Directing a play is a difficult undertaking. It is sometimes frustrating and the director can often feel isolated from both the cast and crew and from the rest of the group. Help is available but, all too often, only when asked for specifically. It seems to be somewhat unfair, but DDG is a voluntary organization and people have constraints upon their time which often prevent them from offering help. This sometimes leads to directors feeling that they have to do everything to get their play up and running. It isn’t quite true, but it can seem that way and generally if the director takes on this much work then people are happy to allow this to happen – human nature being what it is and Dubai being a very busy place! The director can call on people to help and this document should be a starting place to find the help which is available. It should be noted, however, that this document is not a list of names of people who will provide specific help – if it were it would be out of date before it was printed.
There are many responsibilities which a director must meet in the process of putting a play on before the public pay their fee and take their seats in the auditorium. I shall attempt to put these into some sort of chronological order throughout the life of the play from conception to the set break and Cast & Crew party.
Choose the Play
Any prospective director, be it a first time director (see above) or an experienced director must first choose the play which they wish to direct. This is a very personal choice and it is not really the best plan to pass the choice of play onto other people. How one goes about choosing a play is also a very personal process. Perhaps one could:
a. choose a play that you have seen elsewhere – this could be another amateur production, a professional production, a play that you have acted in, a play that you have directed before or worked on in some other category.
b. choose a play with which you are very familiar – perhaps you may have read and enjoyed a play, perhaps you have seen a film of a play or read a book which is also a play, perhaps a play you have studied for some reason.
c. choose a play with which you are totally unfamiliar – this is not a course of action which is recommended to any but the most experienced of directors.
d. choose a play for any of the above reasons which is of a genre with which you are very familiar.
There are probably other ways to choose a play and many more reasons for your choice. The important thing is that the play really should be your choice and you really must either know or be prepared to get to know the play very well before you attempt to stage it. You should have an idea of the movement of the characters before you even submit it to the committee for approval, and you should have a good idea of what you want the set to look like, what the inherent difficulties may be (for example what special effects may be needed – do you need guns, blood, special lighting and sound effects, snow, sets that fall over, doors that work, running water etc, etc. It is also important that you choose a play which will not offend the sensitivities of the local population! Clearly a play which is anti-Islam or pro-Israel, or depicts sexual scenes or nudity or drug-taking is not going to be acceptable in Dubai, even though such plays may be acceptable elsewhere.
Submit your Play
Once the prospective director has chosen a play it must be submitted to the committee for approval. The earlier this can be done the better for all concerned. Often plays are not submitted until a few days before auditions, this just makes life difficult for everybody, not least of all you, the director of the play! A play which is submitted six months in advance gives the committee time to read the play and discuss it and also gives you the opportunity to think in detail about what you want from your play, and how best to get it. It also gives you a lot of time to get together a team of people who will help you.
When you decide on your play you should make 8 photocopies of the original and pass them all onto one of the committee members – the cost of photocopying is reimbursable and you should include a receipt for such costs with your copies of the script. The committee will read the play and invite you to a committee meeting to discuss it. Having read and discussed the play the committee will vote on it with a simple majority being enough for a decision as to whether or not it can be staged at the time you want to stage it. You should note that other prospective directors may well be going through the same process and perhaps your play will not be chosen. This does occasionally happen and should not stop you from submitting the same play for another time.
The committee will inform you of their decision, successful or otherwise and, if necessary, appoint a ‘Buddy-Director’ to work with you.
Before you embark on auditions and rehearsals you should try to appoint your senior crew members. These are:
Gaffer (often the Set Designer)
Wardrobe/Props (may be two people depending on the play)
Make-up (not always strictly necessary depending on the play/actors)
You should have a production meeting with them to discuss your needs for the play and ask them to appoint the rest of the crew. At this meeting you should ask them to think of budgetary requirements for their particular of expertise. Note that many of the crew will take on multiple roles during set building/painting, the run of the play and set break.
You should have further production meetings throughout the run-in to opening night to ensure that everything is going to schedule and no problems are cropping up and that your play is not going over budget.
You should be aware that some of your chosen senior crew members may wish to audition. You can try to persuade them otherwise or you can try to find someone else to do the job (preferably without letting them know that they were second choice) or you can ask if the person could both take a part and act as senior crew member – a situation not unheard of in DDG.
You have a limited amount of money to spend on the play, currently AED6000 (increased to AED15000 for the pantomime). This budget covers:
Special set effects (over and above our flats and paint)
Transportation (bringing large props from sponsors etc)
Workmen (if you need labourers to assist with set build/break)
Cast & Crew party
Cast & Crew gifts
Make up (specials)
Meals/drinks for set painting days/set build/set break
Cast & Crew snacks/drinks during the run
You must submit a proposed budget for each department – your senior crew, especially your producer should help you with this.
The Treasurer will allocate money to you, starting with a float of AED2000 which will be topped up whenever you present receipts for your purchases. The committee understand that receipts are not available for labourers and transportation and the Treasurer will ask you to sign that you have spent whatever amount this costs you – usually in the region of AED200 to 300. All other expenditure must have a receipt and the Treasurer will not pay you for unreceipted items.
Please note that once you have spent all your budget the Treasurer will not release any further money to you! Please also note that it is often possible to bring plays in under-budget. Your budget is yours to spend but it not compulsory to spend it all!
Auditions and Rehearsal Preparations
Prior to auditions the audition nights (normally two of them) and rehearsal nights (3 per week for six weeks) should have been booked with Dubai Country Club. You should meet with the DCC liaison officer on the committee who will book these nights for you. DCC is not always available on any given night and you may find that you have to be flexible in you choice of nights, even to the point of not having any rehearsals on nights that you would like them! You may use other venues to rehearse, but if you have to pay for them they come out of your budget. Directors have been known to be quite creative in their choice of rehearsal venues with both hotels and apartments have been obtained free of charge for rehearsal in the past.
The Secretary will publicize your audition nights to the membership ahead of time through the medium of the monthly newsletter followed up by emails to the membership. You will be expected to draft the text of any such publicity material for the Secretary to follow.
Prior to the first audition night you should have prepared:
a. several audition pieces for your prospective cast to read, and lots of copies
b. a rehearsal schedule detailing the dates of the rehearsals, the expected content of each rehearsal evening, the ‘off-books’ date, the ‘off-prompt’ date, the set build/paint days, the technical rehearsal date, the dress rehearsal date, the dates of the play, the Cast & Crew party and the set break day. You should have enough copies of this document for all your prospective cast and your crew and you should make sure that the people auditioning are aware of the commitment they are undertaking. You should also note that it is currently a rule of DDG that cast are expected to attend set break and that their attendance at set painting/set build is desirable.
Your Producer, Buddy-Director (if you have one) and Stage Manager should be present at auditions and introduced. Your Stage Manager should be the person to give the announcement regarding the commitment the prospective cast are about to make.
Choosing the Cast
How you run auditions is up to you, but you should note that:
a. pre-casting is absolutely not allowed.
b. most directors have ‘open auditions’ where all people auditioning are in the room at the same time.
c. some directors (usually very experienced ones) may decide to hold closed auditions where the only people in the room are the director and the actor(s) relevant to the current audition.
d. some directors like to choose their cast entirely by themselves.
e. some directors like to involve their Producer/Stage Manager in the decision making process.
Once you have chosen your cast you should notify the actors who have been chosen, you should also notify those who have not been chosen. Your producer should make a list of email addresses/phone numbers of all the people who audition to assist you with such notification.
During auditions you may consider someone to be ideal for a part for which they have not read, you are completely at liberty to ask them to read for or consider such a part.
To put on any play, DDG must obtain permission from the Ministry of Culture. DCC will apply for this permission for you. However, to obtain such permission the ministry must have:
a. A photocopy of the details page of the passport of every person in the cast (note the visa page is not required at present).
b. 3 passport sized identical photographs to go with the photocopy of the details page.
Note that DDG cannot explicitly advertise your play in any media until permissions have been acquired and if they have not been acquired by opening night the play cannot go on!
It is in your interests to obtain the photocopies and photographs from the cast in the shortest possible time – many cast are very remiss at this and it simply makes advertising impossible. Please ask your chosen cast to bring these items along to the first rehearsal. Your producer should help you with this and should pass the documents on to the DCC without delay.
In order to draw an audience your show must be well publicized – local papers, local radio and magazines. This will be handled by the publicity representative on the committee but you will need to liaise with this person to get the best publicity for your show. You should make yourself and possibly some of your cast available for interviews on local radio. The more publicity you get the larger your audience will be. Please remember that we cannot publicize your play until after you have got permissions.
How you conduct rehearsals is very much up to you. As Director you are solely responsible for the artistic interpretation of the play you are directing. However:
a. You should aim to complete ‘blocking’ within the first 3 or 4 rehearsals. Blocking is the movement of actors on the stage, you should be looking to make sure that actors can be seen by the audience whenever they are speaking and you should be instilling in your actors the idea of ‘off-character’ acting, in effect remaining in character when not speaking.
b. You should aim to have your actors completely ‘off-books’ by the end of the third week – the sooner you can get your cast ‘off-books’ the better.
c. You should aim to have your actors ‘off-prompt’ by the end of week 5. DDG plays have no prompt during the run of the play.
d. You should be looking to do ‘full-runs-through’ during your week six rehearsals.
The technical rehearsal is the domain of your Stage Manager. It is a crew rehearsal but the cast are necessary to it. The Stage Manager will run the ‘tech’ as (s)he sees fit. Sometimes they will use it as an extra cast rehearsal – particularly in plays which are not technically difficult and if the SM considers the cast need the extra rehearsal. Other times they will go ‘cue-to-cue’, jumping from one technical cue to the next. The technical rehearsal is not really any of your concern, though you should be present. You should not interfere with your SM during this rehearsal and you should not stop the rehearsal under any circumstances. The SM may consult with you regarding particularly difficult technical problems – usually over long set changes – however (s)he may not and you should accept decisions made by the SM, remember they usually specialise in this area and will not attempt to spoil your artistic interpretation of the play. Besides, you will have already discussed these things, right?
The dress rehearsal is the final rehearsal before the play opens to the public. You should note the following:
a. Cast and crew should be present at least 1 hour before the play starts – your Stage Manager should make sure that all involved are aware of this.
b. The dress rehearsal should start at 8pm (the same time as the real thing will start), there should be an intermission of 20 minutes – or more intermissions if they will be in the real thing.
c. The dress rehearsal should run as a night of the production. It should not be stopped for any reason (short, perhaps, of a full lighting failure or the set collapsing).
d. Dress rehearsal should be completed in full dress and full make-up.
e. Interval drinks and snacks should be provided for your cast and crew – your Producer should deal with this.
f. You may wish to invite some people in to see the dress rehearsal if you wish – this is often to the advantage of the cast.
g. At the end of dress rehearsal give your cast and crew a pep talk, thank them for all they have done, tell them they are wonderful and then hand the play over to your Stage Manager.
At the end of dress rehearsal the play no longer belongs to you, you have handed it over to your Stage Manager. You do not actually have to be present during the run of the play though most directors are present on most if not all of the nights. If it is your intention to be present please do not attempt to change anything, your cast and crew have worked hard to get to this stage and do not need any extra stress now. Please limit your contact with the cast and crew to a ‘break-a-leg’ before the show, a ‘you are doing brilliant, the audience are loving it’ at the interval and a ‘great show everybody’ afterwards followed by drinks in the bar (preferably, but not exclusively, on you)! Do not stay backstage whilst the play is on. If you have chosen to act in and direct the play, please remember that the SM is now in charge – you are no longer the director you are simply a member of the cast. Do not criticise anyone in your cast or crew during the run! If anything needs to be said the Stage Manager will do it.
The Cast & Crew Party
When you decide on your gifts for the cast and crew please remember the simple fact that the crew do not receive the plaudits that the cast get from the audience. They are the forgotten people of Amateur Dramatics. Please don’t make the mistake of forgetting them or of making them feel somehow less valuable than the cast – not if you want a crew for your next play! When you are buying drinks for the cast and crew please do so with one eye on your budget. If you go over it comes out of your pocket. For a large cast and crew one drink may have to be enough, no one is there to get free drinks – you included. Please be careful on this point. The food for the party comes out of your budget but most directors charge about AED30 per head for spouses and guests of cast and crew.
Set Painting, Set Build and Set Break
Your Set Designer/Gaffer (often the same person) will lead these sessions. You are expected to be present at all of them. Your cast must be present at set break and it is advisable to have them attend all the sessions. Bear in mind that your ‘techies’ will put in at least as much time as your cast and will resent their non-attendance. It won’t spoil your show, but if your cast are not there, and in particular if you are not there you will find it difficult to get them for your next play.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 October 2006 )