Of all the nuggets of wisdom I gleaned from working with the incredible Kelly Straughan last year, perhaps the meatiest was this: learn to kill your babies.
I’m obviously not talking about real babies (the fanatic pro-lifers can calm down now). I’m talking about intellectual babies. Brain-children, if you will. All directors have them, and we all need to kill them. That super-awesome genius-level idea you hatched at 3am and brought into rehearsal and spent hours perfecting might not read once it’s on stage. Or it might not work with the costumes. Or it might be impossible to light. Or it might not fit the actor you imagined it on. Or it might not be in the budget. Or there might not be time to rehearse it. When faced with these or countless other scenarios in which an idea doesn’t work, it’s time to kill that baby.
I realise that framing this in terms of dead babies makes it all seem unfairly insensitive, but the baby analogy works for a reason. Directors love their brain-children. We grow attached to the vision we’ve created of how a particular project “should” look or sound or both. The vision, the idea for how the play is going be, has been cultivated over a long(ish) period of time and is ideally grounded in painstaking research. We’ve considered the semiotics of our approach; we’ve considered our audience demographic; we’ve thrown out other ideas in favour of the One–and yet, sometimes, all that theory still falls flat in practice.
What we all so often forget is that that’s ok. Sometimes, despite all the hard work done to make it fit, we have to kill that baby for the good of the rest of the piece. Killing a baby doesn’t make you a failure or a bad director; in fact, judiciously killing a baby will make your show better than it could ever have been with that dead weight hanging around its neck. It’s actually quite a liberating feeling for the director: all the stress of trying to actualize the vision is suddenly gone, and more focus can be given to the rest of the play.
Kelly’s advice has served me well so far, and I hope that it will continue to be with me as we head into the final week of rehearsals for Set Me Free.
…Just to clarify once again: I do not in any way advocate killing any actual, human babies. I do, however, enjoy eating lamb.