Writer interviewing potential candidates to direct their play

Early on in my career, I never thought of finding a director for my plays this as a choice I had the power to make. If a director was happy enough to take on my little play then I was forever in their debt and would happily draft contracts and hand over my first born child… sorry Sammy. I think the first few times a director takes an interest in your work, the flattery is somewhat overwhelming and it’s easy to make the wrong connection and end up being disappointed with the result.

There are also many times when a director and writer are paired up by a third party, and the two must work to make their ‘arranged marriage’ work.

A few years down the line and I’ve worked with some excellent professionals. I’ll be honest, I find Directors a bit intimidating. I always get the impression that when I’m talking to them, they’re simultaneously thinking about twenty other different things. I truly believe that Directors are a breed of human who sees the world a bit more thoroughly than the rest of us, and I’m always slightly in awe when watching them work.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to have my pick of four Directors following a five-minute meeting with each. One of the things I learnt from this, was how totally unprepared I was to talk about/sell my work. One of the directors just talked about how much they loved my play – this was a very enjoyable meeting. Another talked about a similar project they had done – this was a very useful conversation. A third talked about what they would do with the piece – this was quite an insight into how the play was translating. The fourth did nothing but ask me difficult questions.

What’s it really about?
What do you want to say?
Is any of this negotiable?
Are you aware that this part doesn’t make sense?

She left very little time to talk about herself and she was (albeit unknowingly) a tad intimidating. So obviously… I chose her. She challenged me, stretched me and ultimately made my piece into something wonderful that was I was extremely proud of. There was no point in the process when I didn’t trust her.

There are so many variables when it comes to finding a good director match for your play, but I believe the four questions in the list above are a good place to start your conversation.

What’s it really about?

The answer to this is simple. I’m not saying the answer is easy to find, but when you find it, it will be uncomplicated and generally, in my experience, it will be one word. When you find one word to sum up your play (i.e. Friendship, Abuse, Tenacity, Endurance), then you’ve cracked this. It’s worth asking the Director what they think the play is about first and see if they come up with your word independently.

What do you want to say?

Another way to word this question is what do you want to leave the audience with? Probably the hardest question to answer, but being able to will help you to discover if you and your director are on the same page. This should be condensed down to two sentences at the most.

Is any of this negotiable?

Think ahead about things you’re not willing to change. For one of my current development projects, I realised that I was quite willing to change pretty much anything about the plot, as long as I didn’t feel like my characters were compromised. It’s worth noting that I’m not usually quite so generous, but with this specific piece, the situation was less important to me than the dynamic between the characters. Just remember to:

  1. Be flexible.
  2. Identify what you’re unwilling to change/lose.
  3. Appreciate that this is now a collaborative process.

Are you aware that this part doesn’t make sense?

When I think back to my first director/writer experience back in 2002, I always suppress an almighty cringe. I took all her notes as out-and-out criticism of my work. I squandered a very good opportunity because I was unwilling to develop the piece; not realising at the time the director was only trying to help me. Always remember that it’s also in their interest to make the play the best it can be.

Finally, and possibly the most obvious piece of advice I have for finding a director is to… RESEARCH THE HELL OUT OF THEM! The best possible thing you can do is see their work. Anyone can talk a good game, but until you’ve seen what they can do, everything else is guesswork. If you can’t see one of their shows then look up reviews of previous shows online; become part of your local theatre network and speak to people who have worked with them in some capacity. I’ve found that people don’t generally hold back in our industry; if they’ve had a bad experience or seen a bad production, they’ll quite happily tell you!

Laura Harper

Laura has had work performed at Southwark Playhouse, Bread & Roses Theatre, The Royal Exchange Studio, 53Two, Tristan Bates and The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster. She has won multiple awards for new writing and was nominated for a Manchester Theatre Award in 2015. Her short screenplay ‘Sit’ has just been selected by Elicit Pictures, following an international talent search.