Anatomy of a Work of Art in Progress Part II: The Questions Directors Ask

When we last were with you, Steven and Ted had found the Really Cool Theater. 

So, a change in plans–don’t shoot the video in the barn, amongst the detritus and memories of my childhood, but rather travel to Goshen, Indiana, and rent the gorgeous, recently renovated Goshen Theater where they have been unable to host events because… all together now:

 “The pandemic hit and all performances were canceled.”

In light of this change in plans–a real theater instead of a barn–maybe I need to be better; a better writer, a better actor. The stakes have been raised. 

So we need to hire an exceptional director. Enter Michelle Milne…

Photo by Ted

MICHELLE: How long are you thinking the shoot will take?

TED: I was thinking one day of shooting.

MICHELLE: Really? One day?

TED: I mean after a day of rehearsal.

MICHELLE: A day?

TED: Well, we could do a 2 hour Skype rehearsal before that.

MICHELLE: Uh huh.

TED: Okay, maybe longer rehearsal. We can add another hour to the skype rehearsal. 

(Long pause, Michelle looking at Ted, he smiles, tries to be charming) 

MICHELLE: Can I see a script?

TED: (Taps his head) It’s all right here.

MICHELLE: In your head?

TED: Yes, in that place where the magic happens.

MICHELLE: The magic? Is that why there appears to be smoke coming out of your ears?

TED: No, I think that’s just rust…in the gears, lack of stage time.

MICHELLE: Seriously can I see a script?

I quickly cobbled together my bullet points from the show I had performed in January, you remember last January, when we were all so innocent—wasn’t it three years ago, last January? Sent the script to Michelle. 

MICHELLE: So I read the script.

TED: Yeah?

MICHELLE: It’s good, it has potential.

TED: Potential? It’s a script, not a minor league ballplayer.

MICHELLE: How high in the system is the player? And whose system?

TED: What? 

MICHELLE: If it’s Tampa Bay you’re close, if you’re thinking of San Francisco…no.

TED: I didn’t think you knew much about baseball…

MICHELLE: I do now! I had to read up, prepare, be able to meet the actor where he’s at, using language he understands…

TED: The actor? I thought we were working on the script.

MICHELLE: And the writer. Lucky for me, they’re the same guy. You remember you’ll be doing both, right?

TED: Yes, yes, acting (waves hands dismissively) … so the script?

MICHELLE:  What’s the story you want to tell?

TED: Ahhhh.

MICHELLE: Is this a documentary to sell books?

TED: Selling books wouldn’t be a bad thing.

MICHELLE: Sure, but do you want to do more? Do you want to draw the viewer in…make us feel…make us laugh…change us?

It’s borderline unfair to ask this question to an actor and writer. Of course that is what I wanted, so…back to the script, more rewrites, restructured the budget, more consultations with Steven and Michelle…contracted the Goshen Theater—thanks, Amber Burgess!…more rewrites, Steven gathered the equipment, I gassed up the van and headed to Indiana while waiting results of the COVID test…wait, what??!!  

Yeah, on Election Day, the first election day, I received my positive results, certifying that my feeling like I’d been run over by Mike Trout in a home-late collision had its roots in that nasty virus. And my memory…it’s…you know that’s one of the side effects…loss of memory…and well, where was I?

Ah, a positive test. So I quarantined in Goshen, and rescheduled the theater for mid December—thanks, Amber Burgess at Goshen Theater! 

So another month to plan, more rewrites, more questions from Michelle…

MICHELLE: You mean really good questions.

TED: Right.

MICHELLE: Like–why is this scene here?

TED: You mean placement?

MICHELLE: No, how does this scene help tell the story you want to tell?

TED: It’s a good scene.

MICHELLE: Yes! It is! Made me laugh…a lot.

TED: One of my favorite scenes.

MICHELLE: I love it!

TED: Great!

MICHELLE:  But…why is it here? What does it do for the story we’re telling?

TED: (Pause) Damn.

That is what directors do. Ask questions to see if you know the truth of the moment and are you clear?  

Once we were ready to take it on stage and then screen, Michelle was relentless…

MICHELLE: Relentless? Passionate.

TED: Relentless.

MICHELLE: Relentlessly… 

TED: …passionate, in a good way mind you, in her questions. And she didn’t let me off the hook as an actor, an actor with a pretty big bag of tricks. 

MICHELLE: So this show, we have the story…it’s very moving, it’s funny…

TED: Thanks.

MICHELLE: Now, on to the acting…

TED:  Right, working on getting it all up here (taps head).

MICHELLE: And here (taps heart).

TED: Oh. Sounds scary. 

MICHELLE:  The writer’s done a good job. 

TED: Great. Can we just stay there?

MICHELLE: It’s time to give him a break, take some time off, maybe catch a minor league baseball game.

TED: It’s December.  

MICHELLE: It’s time to step up to the plate.

TED: Enough with the baseball.

MICHELLE: Remember that story we’re working to tell… now it’s the actor’s turn.

TED: It is?

MICHELLE: How will the actor–you–tell the story? How vulnerable do you want to be?

TED: (pause) 

MICHELLE: Are you getting pale? Can I get you some water?

Acting is vulnerable, and it’s scary to open yourself up and let anyone in, let alone hundreds of people. A director is a cheerleader, critic, therapist, dramaturge, compassionate truth teller all rolled into one package. 

I was sometimes chagrined, and sometimes delightfully surprised to discover there was always something more to be explored in my performance. If I had the courage to find it. 

The show began to take on a different light, it was becoming a heartfelt, painful, joyful remembrance and celebration of resilience, theater, friendship and collaboration. 

We had come a long way from the barn… Just what had I gotten myself into?  

To Be Continued…

~ Ted

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