"I'm an (actor-writer-producer-waiter), but what I really want to do is direct!" Or so the saying goes. If you're one of the individuals who proves the clich , then what better time than the laid-back summer months to chase your dreams of commandeering a cast, right?
The problem with chasing this dream is essentially a mathematical one: For every 30 actors in a show, there is only one director. Hence, there is a scarcity of work‹even more dismal prospects than a career in acting, if you can imagine. And while the math creates this imbalance in directing job opportunities, it applies equally to summer training programs in directing. Fifty students may be needed to fill a class, but how many directors are needed to direct them? Even in the laidback summer vacation months, math is math.
Compounding the scarcity of programs‹and the limited enrollment, if you actually find one you're interested in‹is that most programs are targeted for a specific gradation of experience. Have you just graduated from high school, from college, from grad school? Are you currently in college, in grad school, working professionally, not working professionally but not in school, either? For directors, where you're at in your experience makes a big difference in the opportunities available to you.
Let's start with perhaps the main chunk of our presumed directing readership: Directors who have completed their college training and have either completed or thought about graduate work in directing. Out of this group, a number of you will actually be directing a show or shows this summer, perhaps summer stock somewhere. Hey, it may not be the most challenging work of your career, but you're getting a paycheck‹more than most of your colleagues can say. Remember the math?
But for those of you in this category who aren't directing professionally this summer‹whether it's because you haven't lined anything up yet or because you can't face another 12 weeks of two musicals and a light comedy‹then your opportunities are limited but by no means abysmal.
First and foremost is the Drama League Summer Directing Program, in New York City and at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, N.Y. The quality and reputation of this program are two of the reasons it's been profiled in this paper time and again. Since 1984, the Drama League Director's Project has been creating professional theatre pathways for young directors just out of college or in the midst of their graduate training. In May, directors chosen for the Summer Program gather in Manhattan to meet members of the professional community, participate in seminars and workshops, and attend theatre. They then go on to Ithaca for an orientation and to begin their directing projects.
Sounds great? It is. But here's the catch: Only four directors are chosen every year. For those of you willing to brave the odds, info on this program can be found at http://www.echonyc.com/--dlny.
Another great and highly competitive program is the Saratoga International Theatre Institute's Summer Intensive‹another featured group from years past. Fifty students‹actors and directors‹gather from some nine nations worldwide at Skidmore College in Upstate New York to train, create work, and live together in an atmosphere of collaboration and intense concentration, working primarily with Suzuki Technique under the watchful eye of avant-garde theatre matriarch Anne Bogart. Again, this is an elite group of trainees, but you can find out more about the program at .
Back to School
Beyond these two, there are still some interesting options for a post-college director, of course. One possibility is taking summer classes at a university with a world-class faculty. For example, the Harvard Summer School Drama Program has a number of options for directors with a variety of experience under their belts. The program itself typically offers one course in directing each summer taught by Marcus Stern, associate director of the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training and resident director at the American Repertory Theatre. Other courses in acting and design complement this class.
By happy coincidence, eight teachers from the Moscow Art Theatre School are on the Harvard campus during the summer, teaching classes for the M.F.A. program, which happens to start in the summer. Efforts are made to connect summer-school students with these talented professors from across the ocean, for a different perspective on things.
Also allied with the Harvard Summer School, though run separately, is the Stanislavsky Summer School, which is predominately for actors but has programs for directors those years when there is enough interest. Basically, says Rob Orchard, managing director of the American Repertory Theatre, which oversees the drama portion of the Harvard Summer School, "A critical mass of drama activity is reached here in the summer, for different levels, appealing to different people with different interests. But together, they create a nice community."
In all honesty, of course, while grad students and even former professors return to Harvard to take classes in the summer, the majority of the students are young. In fact, many are between their junior and senior year in high school. But if you don't mind being the wise old member of the class, the program runs from June 28-Aug. 20. It's pretty much open enrollment, but class sizes are limited. Housing on campus and college credit is available. You can reach the school at http://summer.dce.harvard.edu.
Another Ivy League summer class not to overlook is at Yale. The Yale Summer Program offers two intensive courses designed particularly for professional educators: A Practical Approach to Directing, parts I and II. The first was created to assist the school play or community theatre director in a practical approach to directing, and is intended as a basic course for those who have not had formal training in directing, as a refresher for those with limited experience, or for young directors investigating the possibility of a career in directing.
The second part is a weeklong course designed to allow students to review and develop their skills under the supervision and critique from the Summer Drama faculty. Each student focuses on the rehearsal of a one-act play, culminating in the presentation of a final rehearsal in front of the class.
As at Harvard, these classes have an open but limited number enrollment, and participants can obtain housing and meals on campus. Look up http://www.yale.edu/summer for more information.
Another interesting option for post-college directors is the new Immersion Lab at the University of Northern Iowa. Jay Edelnant, head of the UNI theatre department, created this two-month program in 1997 after realizing that faculty and undergraduate students at his school were losing interest in doing the typical three summer stock shows every year. "Because of the growing lack of interest here, we eventually ended up with other schools' students being taught by other schools' faculty," says Edelnant.
The answer to this dilemma was the Immersion Lab, in which the exploration of one script takes place, including work on the text, print and electronic research, individual and group rehearsal, exercises, and experimentation. At the conclusion, a public performance of the work-in-progress is presented. The Lab changes from year to year, and Edelnant doesn't yet know whether directors will be needed for this summer's offering.
In 1997, the Lab worked on Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard," with a different director taking on each act. The results? "It wasn't the greatest "Cherry Orchard,' " admits Edelnant, "but the audience got to see the differences that directors bring to a piece, from movement patterns to character choices to whether it's a comedy or not."
Last year directors weren't as involved with the Lab. Undergraduate students explored the expansion of their Meisner-based technique into comedy, such as the works of David Ives. This year, Edelnant is considering working on Pinter's plays, but has made no definite decisions as yet. If this sounds like the kind of intense, focused work you're looking for, you can reach the UNI department of theatre at http://www.uni.edu/theatre.
Are there more summer training programs out there for directors? A few. However, at some point, a director needs to direct‹even if that means more summer stock. And if the prospect of Neil Simon and Rodgers and Hammerstein leaves you cold this summer, you could always take the money you would have spent on classes and try to put up your own production. Summer would then be less of a vacation‹but the learning experience would still definitely be there.