Everyone who has ever stepped foot inside a theatre knows that it is made of magic. There’s something about seeing a story unfold right in front of your eyes that makes it so much more special than anything else. The theatre is a place where stories are brought to life by people brave enough to stand on a stage, construct new worlds and remind the audience of dreams they’d forgotten they had. The lives of such people are plastered across magazines and websites so that others may step into their shoes and find out what it’s like to have such a career. But there is an entire second group of people whose lives are kept a little more secret and a little more undiscovered: those hiding behind the scenes.
If they’ve done their job properly, a lot of the time you wouldn’t notice that these people had been there at all. If the costumes fit well and the set stays up, you may be so spellbound by the cast that you don’t give much thought to the rest of it. After all, you don’t see the production team building and painting the set into the small hours of the morning during bump in. You don’t see the calendars full of rehearsal schedules, the charts of blocking, the lighting tracks, the sound effects list or the carefully arranged props table. You don’t see the director’s breakdown because the tech run went so badly or the marketer’s six poster drafts before they even get to the final version. From the audience, the stage is supposed to look effortlessly constructed, as if that’s exactly how the world has always been. In this way the theatre is wearing its own mask, hiding all these people and processes.
In my own time in the theatre, I’ve been both on the stage and behind it. I started out as an actor, because I thought that was the only way to put yourself out there. I wanted to be brave and I thought standing directly beneath a spotlight was the only way to do it. And I definitely did get on that stage – I played a whole series of roles unlike myself, including a pregnant woman, a cancer survivor and a dancing napkin in an elaborate Be Our Guest number. But I soon realised that acting wasn’t the only way to do that. Putting your ideas out on a stage is much more terrifying. I may have felt nervous wearing that fake pregnant belly, but that was nothing compared to how I felt standing side-stage of a production that I was responsible for blocking, from start to finish.
I realised that I was still up there on that stage. Instead of putting my body and voice on the line, it was my ideas. Everything that made the play tick had come from me. I had breathed life into the characters through nights spent pouring over the script, finding their intentions and figuring out how to bring them out in other people. That’s what I find so magical about directing – instead of getting to become or see part of another world just for a little while, I get to create it. I get to be that invisible voice behind the stage, pulling all the little strings. I get to craft another universe entirely out of my thoughts and see what this world thinks of it.