History Enriched

Direction, the fascinating and well researched book by Simon Shepherd of London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, provides an extensive, rich, complex supplement to the quick history of directing I offered near the beginning of Chapter Two of The Director’s Vision (Second Edition).  On pages 16-18 I relied almost exclusively on the theory offered more than sixty years ago by Helen Krich Chinoy in Directors on Directing.  Shepherd acknowledges this as “the ‘standard treatment’ of the emergence of directors,” but offers some very interesting alternatives that I would love to incorporate, however briefly, in a third edition of The Director’s Vision.

Shepherd credits Norman Marshall, author of The Producer and the Play (1957), with pointing out that, although it would be a long time before the work would be labeled as directing, by the 1830s Madame Lucia Elizabeth Vestris (manager of London’s Olympic Theatre) already “insisted on detailed rehearsals which…she led herself and, alongside this, she made innovations in the scenic arrangements of the stage, in the interests of greater realism….suggesting that, in the emergence of modern directing, the originary point was a woman.” (p. 79)  Although I took care to credit the contributions of Ellen Franz to the achievements of of Saxe-Meiningen, I’m now kicking myself for failing at the very least to list Vestris among the managers I catalogued as forerunners of the modern director.

Direction gives us a lot of additional interesting perspectives on the relationship of the profession of directing to the development of European and American society over the course of the past 150 years or so.  Shepherd goes on to speculate about the possibility of “The Irrelevance of Directing” in the new century and, pointing to the much longer history and perhaps greater persistence of the actor-manager, asks whether “directing as a role might seem to have had a relatively short life, a temporary blip in the long history of theatre.”

All of this is in Shepherd’s Chapter 4.  His book, published in 2012 by Palgrave MacMillan, is available from both Amazon and bn.com.  By the way, he mentions Louis E. Catron’s The Director’s Vision three times in Direction, and the mention in Chapter 4 is the most dismissive: “a how-to-do-it book which said bluntly that the ‘vision’ was more important than craftsmanship.” (p. 95)  Does The Director’s Vision (Second Edition) say that “bluntly?”  I don’t really think so, but that’s a topic perhaps for a future post.

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