One Thousand Words about Last Night’s Director’s Nightmare

I had a director’s nightmare last night.

If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a play on the actor’s nightmare phenomenon described in a play of the same name by Christopher Durang.

The traditional actor’s nightmare is that you find yourself backstage or onstage, expected to perform a role for which you have had no rehearsal and do not know any of the lines.

Over the years, any theater related bad dream has been labeled an actor’s nightmare, director’s nightmare, stage manager’s nightmare and so on.

Last night I dreamed that I was directing a show and when I got to the venue for the last performance, the actors were making all these changed. They had different costumes and had added lines and scenes to the show.

They told me they thought the production needed something a little extra and, in order to convince me, they wanted to show me their changes even though the house had opened and the audience was coming in.

I vividly remember women walking across the stage wearing florescent colored, Gone with the Wind style dresses, complete with parasols, made out of rubber.

I had a huge fit in my dream and screamed that I wouldn’t have anything to do with the show if they went ahead with the changes.

I stormed out of the theater, past all the audience members, and went into the lobby where I proceeded to angrily cross my name off the cover of all the programs with a big, black sharpie.

That’s when I woke up.

What’s strange about this dream is that I haven’t directed a show in close to ten years. I have no idea why I would be having a nightmare like that now.

The dream isn’t entirely fictional.

Once, years ago, I stepped in to direct a high school production of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, replacing a long time, beloved director who was taking a year off.

From the very beginning I knew I was in trouble.

The kids didn’t like the way I cast the show and they didn’t want to come to rehearsals. In retrospect, I realize that anyone taking the place of their old director was going to have a hard time.

But they also could probably sense my dislike of working with a large group of teenagers. Sort of like how wild animals can smell the fear when you stumble across them in the woods so they go in for the kill.

Eventually I called a cast meeting and told them that the show would be cancelled if people continued to skip rehearsals. A week later we pulled the plug.

Shortly after the decision was made, I received a call from the vacationing director telling me that he was going to go back and direct the show after all. But “not to worry” because they were going to use “all my blocking” so it wouldn’t go to waste. (Blocking is the stage movement, the choreography for the non-musical scenes so to speak.)

I’m not usually a stickler for artistic ownership. I figure that it’s community (or in this case, educational) theater and it’s one for all in order to have a great show.

But the comment stuck in my craw. I vacillated between feeling like I had been duped into calling the show off so the director could return and deciding I was being paranoid. Either way, it didn’t seem right that they could use my work now that I wasn’t involved.

I ended up calling the director back and telling him that the blocking was my intellectual property and they didn’t have the right to use it.

In reality, it probably didn’t belong to me. The school had hired me for their production, so it would have been all theirs.

It would have been tough to prove even it had been my property. All it would have taken is an actor moving upstage instead of down or exiting stage right instead of left and it could have been called new blocking.

The school ended up deciding that they didn’t have time to pull the show together and they did a musical cabaret instead. I’m sure my threat didn’t have anything to do with their choice, but I felt better anyway.

Maybe my nightmare about people changing up my show was some figment left over from the experience, brought to the forefront of my subconscious for some unknown reason.

I did tell someone about my only other high school directing experience the other day so maybe that triggered it.

This show actually went to production, but there were a couple of seniors who decided they didn’t like their parts and so they were going to be pissers.

They came to rehearsals and ended up being quite good in their parts, but were belligerent and unpleasant the whole time.

Casts of community and school productions traditionally present the crew and staff with a gift or flowers after the last show of the run. I abhor the tradition. I think it’s unprofessional and unnecessary, but I learned to put up with it.

After the final performance of this show, the students thanked everyone and presented them with flowers. But the trouble-making seniors decided it would be funny to give me a dead rose.

I actually agreed with them. It was funny. And it was especially fitting because I had decided that my high school directing career was dead. I don’t possess the skills and talents it takes to work with teenagers.

I smiled, and thanked them and told them what a great job they did.

I think they were a little disappointed that I took it so well. I guess they didn’t realize that my psyche wasn’t going to be damaged by getting a dead rose from a few high school students with a bad attitude.

Well, no matter why I had the dream, at least my director’s nightmare was successful in reminding why I don’t direct any more.

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