Earning a moment

For one of the projects in my undergraduate directing class, I require students to create a non-verbal story set to a song of their choice. I think of the project as a live music video of sorts. The story that the director chooses to tell can have direct connections to the song, or the song can simplify provide the underscoring for the story.

I always learn a lot from seeing what my students create for this assignment. To begin, I discover a lot about popular music, as I hear songs by artists I didn't know existed. I also have the chance to see how new approaches to staging might work (or not) in the Provincetown Playhouse, where I'm lucky enough to teach the class. I love working in this theatre, but like any performance space, it has its idiosyncrasies and challenges. My students have taught me tons about the space as they present their projects each fall.

The projects also usually teach me something about playwriting, as I'm always reminded of how important it is to be conscious of how characters earn the right to know a piece of information. So often we rely on coincidences or magical solutions to help move a plot forward, and as a result, a character suddenly knows something important without having discovered it in full view of the audience.  Or a discovery happens more quickly than it would be possible in logical, real life circumstances. It's in these moments that I talk to young directors about making sure that characters earn the information that they have access to in a story. This is an important lesson for playwrights as well, and actors should keep it in mind as they work to discover how the characters they play make meaning of their worlds. All of these elements need to be considered if we want an audience to buy into the authenticity of the stories we tell.

Earning a moment requires investment in all of the given circumstances leading up to that moment. A playwright needs to write that clearly, a director needs to stage it with attention to rhythm and pacing, and an actor needs to play it with logical responses in mind that allow the moment to be legible for an audience.