Spread Those Wings

Cody Nickell HeadshotCody Nickell is Gulfshore Playhouse’s Artistic Associate. He will be blogging every Tuesday throughout the 2014-2015 Season.

I am relatively new to directing. I mean, I have been dabbling in directing since I first started acting in high school, but acting was the professional path that I followed.  So while I have been in scads of auditions and rehearsals, slews of tech rehearsals, thousands and thousands of performances, most of that experience is as an actor. And one big difference between the acting and directing rackets is that bit about the thousands of performances. When I am directing, those performances are not mine to participate in. They are the cast’s and crew’s.

Today’s installment of inspirational babblings and theatrical life lessons will focus on what I am sure will be no revelation to parents and teachers and more seasoned directors all over the world, but that is revealing itself to me to be a very important part in the play making process. The moment of letting go. The moment of pushing the little birdies out of the nest and trusting that they will fly.

I have experienced this process in the reverse, both as a son and as an actor. Without getting too deeply into the details of what was a pretty great childhood, looking back there is clearly the sense that all the parenting from all the amazing parents I have was all geared towards that moment of releasing me into the world. And as an actor I have certainly noticed this phenomenon as well.

There is a subtle (most times) shift throughout the rehearsal process of a play becoming more and more the actors’ as we get closer to performances. I have been lucky enough to be in rehearsals for World Premieres, and so there is an even more tangible release of the play to the actors when the playwright is involved. Clearly the person with the most right to say, “This is my play,” is the playwright.

But no matter if there is a writer in the room or not, eventually those actors and crew have to own that show, it has to be theirs to share. If they don’t own it, if they aren’t ready to jump out of the nest and spread their wings, then no amount of work that the playwright or director or designers have done will ultimately matter.

Kate Eastwood Norris and Julia Brothers in rehearsal of Body Awareness

Kate Eastwood Norris and Julia Brothers in rehearsal of Body Awareness

So again, yeah, I have experienced this quite a bit as an actor. Feeling that shift from the people on one side of the rehearsal room, behind those tables, to the people on the other side of the rehearsal room, standing on “the stage” is something that happens every time. Sometimes the director and actors struggle with this transition, the actors wanting to wrest it away sooner than they should. Sometimes the director holds on a little too tight a little too long. It is a fine line, when this shift of ownership happens, and one that I have become increasingly aware of over the last two shows that I directed.

Specifically with Body Awareness, I have been feeling the actors’ ownership grow over the last week, which as we are heading into tech is the exact right time for that ownership to be happening. Right before we leave our rehearsal room behind, right as we get ready to add all the technical elements of the show, this is the perfect time for them to start grabbing the reins and taking control. Then I will take those reins back for a few days; as all the pieces come together, I need to be the one who is controlling all the moving parts. But since they have experienced that ownership already, it will be easier for them to take it back.

Heading into this process, I was really  trying to make sure that this balance shift took place in a way that everyone was aware of; I didn’t want it to be implicit, I wanted it open and on the table. And I’ll tell you what. I think I timed it right this time. These four actors are spectacular, and the characters that we have brought to the stage are so vibrant and beautiful and real, and I could really feel the day that it stopped being the characters we created, and it became the characters that they were living in. I was thrilled in that moment, like a proud parent ready to send them into the world. I was then able to focus on all the big picture stuff, while they just blossomed.

So…theatrical life lesson inspirational babbling summed up: Know when it is time to let go. Know when it is time to share. Know when it is time to guide and teach, and know when to sit back and learn. I am so thankful for the guiding lights in my life, from the very beginning through now. I am grateful to the writers and directors that have shared their characters, their visions with me, and really grateful to those who let me truly take ownership and fly. And now as I learn more and more about my process as a director, a process that I am growing more comfortable with, becoming more confident in, I am so grateful to this group of actors, for trusting me, and for grabbing those reins, for spreading their wings and for showing me the beautiful lives of these four characters. Have fun you guys. The show is yours now.

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