The Play is the Stage and the World: Theater Director and Playwright Deloss Brown

The only time I interfere at early stages is if the actor is doing something which I don’t think can possibly be explained in terms of the play, the text, or the production in general. Eventually the actor will settle down and start repeating things from one rehearsal to the next. Sometimes the actor asks the director for help.

As soon as possible, I try to move to running larger and larger sections of the play and ultimately the entire play. I try to stop interfering in rehearsals, except in the rare cases when somebody is in danger, and I take and give notes. In all this I’m following Shaw’s advice in Directors on Directing. Shaw says that at the beginning of the rehearsals the director will know more about the play than the actors, and that by the end the actors will know more than the director.

Production shot of Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le noir
Louise (Krista Adams Santilli) tries to comfort Elisa (Katie Burton)
© Hunter Canning

About surprise: I try to encourage actors to try out any ideas they have all the way through the rehearsal period. What is the point of having a bunch of good brains in the room with you and not listening to their ideas? They may very well come up with the surprises you mention. I try to be open-minded when somebody comes up with an idea which is better than mine. Mostly the trying-out of new things stops when you get close to performance — but not always, and at least one actor tried new business until halfway through the run of Much Ado — but he wasn’t interfering with anybody else, so I didn’t interfere with him, and after about five performances he did something that got a laugh, which he kept.

For the rest, I don’t worry about “surprises.” I try to remind the actors that while they may be doing what seems like the same old thing, it’s a new audience every night, and they have never seen it before, and frequently the more tame it seems to the actor, the more powerful it is to the audience, because every time the actor repeats the part, it sinks deeper into his or her soul, or bones, or liver, or something, and the character gets stronger, although to the actor it feels like nothing is different.

As a New Yorker, what do you think of the city’s theater scene after September 11? Has the American theater created different platforms for citizens to converse, listen and discuss issues of urgency?

As far as I can tell, the concerns of New York theater weren’t changed by September 11. There may have been theatrical presentations related to it right after the event, but I don’t remember them. Besides, that was eleven and a half years ago, and after it happened, most New Yorkers were in a state of shock. So it’s probable that a lot of the memories from that time got erased, or were never created, including mine. And it’s difficult to make art out of a horrendous, evil, pointless massacre, perpetrated by the criminally insane. There are occasional exceptions. Solomon Volkov, in Testimony, has Shostakovich say that the second movement of his Tenth Symphony, the violent allegro, is a portrait of Stalin, and it sounds like it might be, but the authenticity of Volkov’s book is strongly disputed.

Has the American theater created different platforms for citizens to converse, listen and discuss issues of urgency?

Not that I can see, at least not in New York. The trend appears to be in the other direction. We are about to lose one small venue, The Red Room, and another, Theatre Under St. Marks, is in danger. Both were inexpensive enough that very-low budget, experimental theater could be staged there. The other Off-off-Broadway theaters have all raised their prices.

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