Theatre Workshops Review: Directing

It is a rare opportunity to even encounter Kevin Heelan around campus, never mind attend a directing workshop led by this elusive Instructor in Theatre. However, a lucky group of eight or nine aspiring directors dragged themselves out of bed last Saturday morning for Mr. Heelan’s informative workshop. The workshop ended up running more like a master class or lecture, since there wasn’t much time for any students to speak; however, no one seemed to mind. After all, to be taught by such a knowledgeable artist in an intimate setting was a gift in itself. Outside of Andover, students would have to pay hundreds of dollars for similar directing classes, and they still may not have found an instructor nearly as learned and downright entertaining as Heelan here in our own backyard. “He’s a genius,” said Andrew Schlager ’12, after the workshop let out. “It was completely worth it.” Heelan offered a fascinating mixture of lecture and anecdote on the art of directing and captivated each and every student present. He advised us to, upon casting a student in a play, ask ourselves, “What can this student do well, and what can’t they do at all?” He told us a story about an actor in New York City who was performing the lead in one of his plays. They had cast a large, muscular African American male as the lead, a Jamaican fighter. However, during a rehearsal when the director instructed the actor to start “punching” another actor, Heelan and the director quickly realized that the actor could not, for the life of him, throw realistic punches—in fact, the way in which he fought was comedic. So instead, the director of Heelan’s play had him actor sit in a large throne-like chair for the majority of the production, telling him, “You’re the King.” In this example, we saw that the troubles high school directors often face with their student actors exist in professional theatre. Heelan also discussed how to enter and exit the theatre classroom. He hilariously demonstrated how we often see student actors make an entrance: they first enter through the door as the “actor,” and only when they hit the stage lights do they turn into their “character.” An easy way to resolve this common problem, Heelan proposed, is to instruct the actors to get into character two or three feet behind the door, so that they already embody the character the instant the audience sees them. After speaking about the layout of the set and where to strategically place props or furniture, Heelan concluded his workshop with methods of talking to an actor. One of the most overlooked elements of directing is merely speaking to your actor, and getting him or her to do what you want. He mocked the easiest—but least successful—item that inexperienced directors say to an actor: “be happy” or “be sad.” Heelan told us to use active verbs instead: “I want you to lionize him,” was one of his examples. Ultimately, Mr. Heelan threw a lot of information at up-and-coming directors in his workshop, but the bits that the directors did remember are likely to stick with them for a long time. “Mr. Heelan was really funny and helpful with all that he said,” Ryan Morris ’09 said. At the very least, if the students in attendance learned nothing at all, they were certainly left in hysterics by the infamously witty Mr. Heelan.