When Brad Powell was considering plays for this season, he asked me to read three different scripts and let him know which one I preferred. Superior Donuts was by far the best of the three. Plus, I have never directed a comedy and I was attracted to the challenge of trying it.
What do you think is the main theme of this show and why?
To me, the theme of the show is courage. The protagonist, Arthur, has lived his whole life by evading confrontation but realizes through the events of the story that there comes a time when you have to draw a line; when you have to stand firm and not back down if you are to live the life you envision for yourself.
What do you look for when you audition for a new project?
I look for actors who can feel real emotions in the pretend situation of the audition scene. Every story is an emotional one. Audiences understand that they are not sitting in Chicago observing a real donut shop. But if the actors can feel genuine emotion during the scenes, I think the audience becomes invested in the characters and is willing to go along with the story even though the setting is not real.
What advice would you give to actors about auditioning?
Prepare. Don’t “wing it”. Read the script well in advance of audition day. Understand the story. Make courageous decisions about the character you want to portray. Practice before you come to the audition. It’s easy to see the difference between an actor who has prepared for an audition and one that has not. I am much more likely to cast an actor who has prepared than one who has not, because those that prepare tend to be much better than those who do not.
What is your general approach to directing?
Theater is really about writing and acting (unlike film which is more about directing and editing). So, for me, theater directing is about establishing a process whereby the actors feel free and empowered to explore their characters. Then my role as a director becomes one of letting the actors know which of their choices are working and which are not working. I tell them it’s like going to a symphony — when all 50 or 60 musicians are playing well together, it’s beautiful. But if one musician plays the wrong notes, it sticks out like a sore thumb and really detracts from the rest of the performance. My job is to help the actors discover the right notes to play and when to play them.
How do different actors impact your approach to directing?
My general approach does not really change from actor-to-actor, but how I communicate with an actor can vary quite a bit. Some actors need to be handled very gently. Actors (and I say this as an actor myself) are generally very sensitive people and so, as a director, I have to be mindful of that. However, there are some actors that really require me to be more firm if I am to help them achieve their best performance. Some actors can have very strong egos, and so sometimes I have to battle with that ego and help the actor see that the decision they have made — the decision that they are absolutely convinced is the right one — doesn’t work well within the context of the overall story.
In this show you are a character as well as the director. Explain how you separate the two roles and what you seek from your fellow actors when you cannot stand in the space of director?
The strength of an actor is that they see their characters subjectively — they try to get inside the characters head and see the world through their eyes, which allows the actor to play the role convincingly. The strength of a director is that they see the characters objectively. They stand outside the characters and observe the story unfold like an audience member does, and so they can get a good sense of what is working well and what is not working. I find doing both to be very difficult. My experience on Superior Donuts has given me a new appreciation for actors like Ben Affleck or Clint Eastwood who direct themselves in staring roles. Luckily, I have a smaller role, so I can be just a director for those scenes that my character is not in. For the scenes that my character is in, I put a lot of trust in my assistant director, Andy, to give me good feedback.
All and any final thoughts about the play and this process.
Superior Donuts has been a great project and the cast has been a true pleasure to work with. Assembling a group of really good people makes directing a heck of a lot easier.
Superior Donuts will be running May 8-31, 2015. Go to http://www.taghawaii.net or call 808-722-6941 for tickets. Seats are going fast already! This should be another great show.