Here’s this week’s installment of the director-to-director interview seres.
Meet Sabrina Evertt
Hometown: Grew up in New Westminster, British Columbia
Current town: 17 km (11 miles) west in Vancouver, British Columbia
Company: I currently do most of my directing for Twenty Something Theatre, a company I founded in 2006.
1. What does a director eat for breakfast?
Coffee. That’s a drink, I know.
2. What attracted you to directing?
Being responsible for an entire vision of a play or production rather than just one part of it.
3. Did you receive academic and/or practical training in directing? And how has (not) having this formal education/training shaped your directing career?
I did my BFA in theatre at the University of Victoria where you can specialize in specific areas: acting, directing, design, stage management, etc. My specialization was directing which meant that in the 3rd and 4th year of my degree I took a variety of directing courses. In third year you mostly concentrate on directing contemporary realistic/naturalistic theatre. Then in fourth year you focus on directing Shakespeare, Ibsen & Chekov as well as directing new work. Every year in the spring there was an annual festival of new work where the fourth year directors each worked on one new play written by the students in the writing department.
I definitely feel like my education gave me a solid basis for directing and I had also some great professors who definitely inspired me to do what I’m doing today. Without that I probably wouldn’t have started Twenty Something Theatre.
4. Which director (or other theatre artist) (dead or alive) has had the greatest impact on you as a director?
Hmmm…maybe David Mamet. His book True and False which I read in my fourth year of University really informed a lot of how I operate as a director. Whether I agree or disagree with what he says it gave (and still gives) me a lot to think about.
5. In your personal library, what is the most indispensable text on the craft of directing? Or, alternately, have books/practical guides proven unhelpful?
Well, I sort of just answered that in the question above. But, True and False definitely. A Sense of Direction by William Ball. The Empty Space by Peter Brook.
But I’m also going to honest and say that most of the directing I do is based on instinct. I rely on my gut to tell me what to do. If I’m having a particularly hard time solving a problem – or with a certain aspect of the play or production – I will go back and re-read certain sections or passages to come up with some new inspiration or a new idea to help me. Most of the time though I just come to rehearsals prepared and see what happens.
6. Defend/Describe the importance of ‘the director’ in contemporary theatre. (Has the director’s place/status changed in the time you have been directing?)
Directors are important to contemporary theatre because I believe they provide the cohesive vision to the production of the play. They bring the designers together to create a unified visual representation of the play, its themes and dramatic action. They then take that idea and follow it through into rehearsal with the actors.
Further to that, I believe that Directors are extremely important to the rehearsal process because they provide a space where actors are free to explore and play. I don’t believe that actors should be directing other actors because I feel that this can create animosity amongst a cast. The actors should feel that they are all on stage to support one another as opposed to criticize and judge each other’s work. The director, in my humble opinion, is responsible for creating this environment and I believe it is of the utmost importance when trying to create any emotionally authentic work.
7. How would you characterize/describe your own directing style?
Hmmm…again, I sort of answered that one in the previous question. But as I mentioned, I try to create an environment where the actors feel safe to explore, play and discover. I consider myself almost a “guide”. I am there to help the actors find their characters and answer questions. My style of directing is about collaboration and inclusion of ideas.
8. 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?
As you might have gathered from my earlier statements I not a “blocking” director. I would say it is usually the last thing we do in a rehearsal process. The first thing we do in a rehearsal process is explore and play with the text. Often what happens is that based on what the actors are motivated to do in a given scene or moment the actual blocking will evolve naturally from this exploration. Then as we get further into the process this early blocking will get more and more solidified until it becomes the final blocking for the play. If that makes sense.
9. What quirks, habits, rituals, etc. (if any) inform your directing process?
To be honest, I don’t know. Nothing particular comes to mind but you might want to ask the actors I work with. They might tell you something I’m not aware of.
10. 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?
Most of the work that I direct or have directed has been contemporary drama that is emotionally challenging. I like working on plays that challenge an actor and an audience to go to an emotionally uncomfortable place. I like work that asks hard questions and challenges our ideas of what we believe to be true. I like to tell stories that are relevant to how we live our lives.
11. What is your fondest directing experience/memory?
Oh, gosh. Probably I would say the inaugural production of Twenty Something Theatre. We did This Is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan. At this point I had directed or assistant directed a few short pieces for a variety of festivals but this was the first full-length play I directed after my degree. The cast and I all got along so well and they were so easy to work with. It was such a great environment to rehearse in and, as a result, many of the creative relationships that were formed on that production still exist today 6 years later. A VERY close runner-up would be our second production of The Shape of Things by Neil Labute for many of the same reasons but I guess your first will always be the most special.
12. What is the most challenging work you have directed to date? Why?
That’s easier. The most challenging work I have directed to date would have to be Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love by Canadian playwright Brad Fraser. If you’ve ever read it you know that it is one complicated piece of theatre. All actors are on stage at once but not all of them are part of the actual scene being played out. Some of them are on stage commenting on the action or interjecting lines as if in their own world. So, in that way it’s not straight ahead realism but it’s also not really conceptual either. It was a challenging balance to pull off. Plus the subject matter is emotionally challenging and was a tough place for a lot of the actors in the production to be in on a consistent basis. I think it’s interesting that the most challenging play that I have directed to date also turned out to be the most successful (in terms of having a sold-out run) to date
13. What advice would you give to a young or aspiring director?
Trust your instincts.
And, you’re job is not to be everyone’s friend, you’re job is to direct a play. Your role is to get a play off the page, on its feet and in front of an audience. Sometimes in order to do that you can’t be everyone’s friend as well.
14. What is your current directing project?
Currently I am taking a break. Usually at this time of year I would be in the middle of rehearsals for our annual summer production but for the first time in 6 years I’m actually not directing. In May, Twenty-Something Theatre had the world premiere of Prodigals, a new work that I had been producing and developing for the past 2 & 1/2 years so it was time for a break. And, actually, I’m also a costume designer so up next I actually have two design contracts slated for the fall: a production of Romeo and Juliet and a play about WWI called Vimy by Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen.