It’s time for this week’s installment of the director-to-director interview series. If you haven’t already done so, you can join our Twitter conversation on directing by following the hashtag #2amdir. Also, The Director’s Library I’ve been compiling from these interviews will be getting its own page, which I will update and link to in future interviews…so stay tuned.
Meet Rebecca Zellar
Hometown: Hillsdale, Michigan Current Town: Chicago, IL
1. What attracted you to directing?
I started out as an actor but always liked to stage musicals, short plays, favorite stories when I was a little kid. I took my first directing class in college and realized that I enjoyed putting pictures and stories on stage with actors who inspired me. I also love being hit with inspiration that I can really get my hands into.
2. Did you receive academic and/or practical training in directing? And how has (not) having this formal education/training shaped your directing career?
Yes, I received a BA at Michigan State University so I had the chance to explore directing and several opportunities to put shows on at the college level. I think being allowed to have the artistic freedom in college allowed for a sense of bravery and risk-taking on the storefront theatre level. I was able to work in several types of theatres, from large proscenium to intimate black box arena spaces.
3. Which director (or other theatre artist) (dead or alive) has had the greatest impact on you as a director?
My directing teacher, Frank Rutledge, was a huge influence on me. He was primarily an intuitive watcher and would take his lead/inspiration based on the actors he worked with. He also said, “You’re your own CEO. No one is going to make your career happen, so you need to learn to make your own choices.”
4. In your personal library, what is the most indispensable text on the craft of directing? Or, alternately, have books/practical guides proven unhelpful?
William Ball’s A Sense of Direction. I always take a look at it before I begin a directing project. As the years go by, there are some pieces of advice that I’ve started to disagree with, but it’s a great touching stone.
5. Defend/Describe the importance of ‘the director’ in contemporary theatre. (Has the director’s place/status changed in the time you have been directing?)
I think most performance pieces could use an objective eye. I think the idea of the Director Is GOD ideal has changed as we move into experimenting on devised/collaborative work. There seems to be more support/respect for all the facets of a production. A director certainly puts his or her spin on a piece, but certainly can’t do it alone.
6. How would you characterize/describe your own directing style?
Intuitive. Borderline experimental. I like to paint pictures on stage, but I take my inspiration from my collaborators.
7. 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 make broad sweeping images in my brain before working with actors but don’t begin to confirm blocking until the actors are set. Most of my inspiration comes from something the actors do and I run with their instincts.
8. What quirks, habits, rituals, etc. (if any) inform your directing process?
I love to ask questions to explore the text, instead of informing the actor what they should think about something. I love the actors to make the discovery on their own. Actors seem to know that I already know the answer, but I like them to explore all the possibilities of what they could do before I just haul off and tell them. So, questions, questions, and more questions.
9. 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 really love experimental/adventurous takes on well-known pieces of literature. For example, I directed Kafka’s Metamorphosis and it was filled with lots of insectile movement, wall-climbing, change of perspective, and was highly interpretive. If I can really explore a piece of literature and add an original spin to it, I am a very happy girl.
10. What is your fondest directing experience/memory?
I loved directing Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker in 2008. Had a wonderful cast, the entire process was very Zen-like, and all the collaborators did a beautiful, inspiring job. I’m fond of most of my projects for different reasons but it oftentimes comes down to the cast and their willingness to have fun, explore, research, etc. If they’re willing to geek out on a project as much as I do, than I’m in hog heaven.
11. What is the most challenging work you have directed to date? Why?
I directed an adaptation I did of The Scarlet Letter and it was very tricky bringing the stage life to the text … which was ample. So, trying to put the show into it instead of the tell was a challenge. Can’t say I succeeded and it’s something that I probably won’t return to. We’ll see.
12. What advice would you give to a young or aspiring director?
Haul off and make your own opportunities happen. Volunteer with groups that excite and interest you. Get to know people in your community. Do what turns you on.
13. What is your current directing project?
I’m working on adapting a little sumthin’ sumthin’ (not ready for an announcement yet). Currently not directing anything.