Here’s this week’s installment of the 2amt director-to-director interview series. Join our Twitter conversation on directing by following the hashtag #2amdir.
Meet Kevin Houle
Hometown: Sioux Falls, SD
Current town: Saint Paul, MN
Freelance director. Frequently works with Lakeshore Players Theatre (http://www.lakeshoreplayers.com/).
1. What attracted you to directing?
I started as an actor in high school and college, but when I took my ﬁrst directing class in college I was attracted to the organizational/managerial aspects. The act of drawing blocking maps in a script using colored pencils for character movement really appealed to my left brain strengths. But working with actors really stimulated my right brain creativity and I really liked ﬁne-tuning emotional beats and ﬁnding other ways to illuminate the text three-dimensionally. I couldnʼt ﬁnd any other activity that challenged and utilized both sides of my brain so completely.
2. Did you receive academic and/or practical training in directing? And how has (not) having this formal education/training shaped your directing career?
I received a B.A. in drama (with a minor in philosophy) from Augustana College and an M.F.A. in Directing from the University of Utah. I was fortunate enough to be able to direct a full stage production of The Glass Menagerie when I was a junior in college and that was the launching pad. I donʼt think sitting in classrooms in order to get the degrees necessarily shaped my career, although I do think Iʼm a better director because of my liberal arts education. More than anything it was the act of directing itself – doing it as much as possible – that enhanced my understanding and enjoyment of the process and that prompted me to seek out more opportunities.
3. Which director (or other theatre artist) (dead or alive) has had the greatest impact on you as a director?
More than anyone, it was the late Professor Gary Reed at Augustana. He was the ﬁrst one to recognize my potential as a director. He provided opportunities, encouraged me, and gave me the conﬁdence to consider a future as a director. When I graduated from college, he gave me a copy of Theatrical Direction: The Basic Techniques by David Welker and wrote this in the front cover: “If you remember the things I did right and forget the things I did wrong – then learn about ten times what I know, youʼll live up to my expectations of you.” At the time I wanted nothing more than to live up to his challenge and expectations.
4. In your personal library, what is the most indispensable text on the craft of directing? Or, alternately, have books/practical guides proven unhelpful?
Iʼve occasionally looked at Tips: Ideas for Directors by Jon Jory for inspiration or commiseration, but I donʼt believe directing is something that can be learned from a book.
5. How would you characterize/describe your own directing style?
Iʼm a very process-oriented director. I tell my casts that Iʼm trying to be the audienceʼs eyes and ears during rehearsals. Iʼm there to help them shape and reﬁne what sounds good, what looks good, and ultimately what best tells the story. I donʼt direct from a detailed, pre-conceived vision of a ﬁnished production and Iʼm not a diva or a dictator. I work together with the actors (and designers and technicians) to ﬁnd the best way to tell the story. I believe that an interesting and entertaining process naturally leads to an interesting and entertaining product.
6. To block or not to block, that is the question. Do you block before rehearsals begin, in the midst of rehearsals, or not at all, and why?
I used to do meticulous pre-blocking. Not so much anymore, since it became evident to me that the bulk of what I came up with in my head by myself didnʼt always translate that well to an actual room full of people and furniture.
7. What quirks, habits, rituals, etc. (if any) inform your directing process?
I stick to a routine – table work, blocking, review, work, run – regardless of the type of show (drama, comedy, musical, one act, kidʼs show), it works. If it ainʼt broke, donʼt ﬁx it! I’ve also been known to beat a bit to death in order to find the exact timing that is the most effective for the biggest audience reaction.
8. What style/type of work do you find most compelling to direct? If you have an area of specialization, what are the unique challenges/needs of directing this kind of work?
I often say that Iʼm partial to contemporary American drama, but one of the beneﬁts of working in community theatre is that Iʼve been able to direct Shakespeare, Shaw, Noel Coward, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Ayckborn, Gurney, and many others,including musicals, original plays, one acts, and childrenʼs theatre.
9. What is your fondest directing experience/memory?
Which is your favorite son or daughter? I donʼt play favorites!
10. What is the most challenging work you have directed to date? Why?
Staging ʻNoises Offʼ. Why? Have you ever tried to direct ʻNoises Offʼ?!? Itʼs a brilliant script, but it takes time, energy, and lots and lots of patience with the actors. But when it works well, itʼs a gold mine. And there was the problem of the actor playing Selsden having a heart attack the morning of the ﬁnal performance … but thatʼs another story. (He recovered; there was no understudy, but we put in a replacement with only an hour-and-a-half of rehearsal!)
11. What advice would you give to a young or aspiring director?
Find every opportunity you can to actually direct. School, church, community center ….whenever and wherever. Thereʼs no substitute for doing, and the more you do it, the more youʼll learn and the better youʼll get. Be patient with your actors and theyʼll be patient with you. Donʼt forget that as a director, youʼre not just managing ideas – youʼre also managing people. If you donʼt have good people skills to go along with good management skills, your artistic visions will be a lot harder to realize.
12. What is your current directing project?
A brilliant and hilarious 10-Minute play called ʻCurse the Darknessʼ by Patrick Gabridge. Itʼs an onstage scene-shift gone bad – somewhat reminiscent of ʻNoises Offʼ. And then Iʼm directing Larry Shueʼs ʻThe Nerdʼ, which opens next March.
Thanks, Kevin! I love the lines your professor inscribed in the text he gave you!
Our Directors’ Library to Date
John Ahart, The Director’s Eye
David Ball, Backwards & Forwards
William Ball, A Sense Of Direction
Michael Bloom, Thinking Like a Director
Peter Brook, The Empty Space
Harold Clurman, On Directing
Terry John Converse, Directing for the Stage
Jon Jory, Tips: Ideas for Directors
Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary
Larry Moss, The Intent to Live