Artistic Director

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Artistic Director


Whether it is a classical interpretation of Shakespeare's "King Lear" or a musical adaptation of a Disney film, the vision and creativity of an artistic director shapes every single theatrical production performed. Artistic directors prepare plays for production. They arrange the details of the stage settings and all stage effects, and instruct the actors in the general interpretation of their parts. Also called theater directors or stage directors, they may choose scripts themselves or work with scripts chosen by producers who have hired them.

With new and original works, artistic directors may consult with playwrights about changes to the script, or workshop a script by rehearsing it with the playwright and actors to create a final rehearsal draft of the play. Artistic directors work with both the actors and the backstage crew members. They consult with set designers, props artists, costume designers, choreographers and stage managers in the weeks before the production comes to the stage in order to make sure that everyone is working towards the director's vision and interpretation of the play.

One of the first steps in their job is casting. Finding the right actors is a crucial part of putting together a play or musical. Once the actors have been assembled, the rehearsals begin. During rehearsals, artistic directors work very closely with the actors helping them emotionally "become" their characters. Through workshops, psychological studies and encouragement, they teach their actors how to act according to their role. They also block actors, meaning they tell them how, where and when to move on stage. For example, in one scene, an actor may have to enter on stage right, stop in the middle, spin around and then exit at the same place. This proves how much artistic control directors have over the entire piece. Actors are trained to do exactly what they are instructed to do.

Artistic directors also control some of the technical aspects of the play including lighting, costumes and specific props. Every small detail is a large detail in the director's eyes. A play must go off without a hitch. Like authors, they get to shape a play into their own creative vision. Artistic directors also attempt to make the audience feel emotions, such as anger, joy, fear or sadness. A successful production will have a tremendous effect on viewers.

Almost always, a play has one or more dress rehearsals with an audience before opening night. This gives directors one last chance to make changes and prepares actors for the big night. When a play debuts, the artistic director's job is complete in most cases. However, in small theater companies, directors may introduce the play and meet with the audience after the show to discuss their interpretation of the play. Artistic directors work in all genres of the theatrical industry such as satire, pathos, classical pieces and even comedy.
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  Interests and Skills  
Artistic directors need to have a creative vision of where they want the company to be in order to lead it. They must also be passionate about theater and the arts, and they need to be creative and imaginative in order to visualize how scripts will appear as plays. They should be patient, persistent, persuasive, focused and able to work well under pressure.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Study and research the script
  • Audition and hire actors for the different roles and appoint designers, directors and technical staff for new productions
  • Discuss work with set designers to determine a stylistic approach for the production on stage
  • Work with stage managers to arrange schedules for rehearsals, costume fittings and sound and light development
  • Work with producers to establish and administer budgets
  • Conduct daily rehearsals
  • Make all final decisions regarding the production, from props and furnishings to makeup
  • Consult with publicity agents regarding the notes on the play that will appear in the program
  • Keep up-to-date with what is happening in the arts
  • Artistic directors work long and very irregular hours. Since rehearsals take place during the day and performances are usually at night or on weekends, directors sometimes work right around the clock. Especially during the last week before a production, artistic directors may work 10- to 12-hour days which may even extend to seven days a week. They may often rehearse a production in a separate studio or warehouse before moving into the theater where the production is taking place.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Artistic directors work for theater companies and theatrt troupes or are independent freelance directors. They work anywhere from Broadway theaters to small community centers that put on theatrical productions. Some are also hired by the government to direct sponsored and funded works for cultural celebrations.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Breaking into theater and stage directing is quite tough. Therefore, becoming an artistic director is in itself an accomplishment. Artistic directors can become acting teachers and trainers and possibly move into the production and management side of theater. Some may decide to focus their careers solely on acting. The possibilities are varied and usually depend on the individual. In this industry, you must work hard, make a heap of connections and sometimes just cross your fingers. Another path is getting finance and funding through government arts grants.

  Educational Paths  
Artistic directors usually come from some type of formal training. Most have undergraduate degrees in English and theater studies. The university environment will introduce future directors to a creative outlet of similar minded people and give students the opportunity to take part in the production of plays. Once students get a degree, they should get as much experience as possible, including volunteer work, which is the likely possibility. Many theater companies will take on apprentices or interns.

Many directors have experience as writers and actors, but that is not at all imperative. The most important advice is to make as many contacts as possible. In this industry, networking is your biggest asset. People must be willing to face rejection, but that is all part of the artistic process. A good option is entering plays into theater festivals. Also, getting a master's degree will introduce you to various playwrights and producers who may help your career later in life. Additional education also allows artistic directors to teach at the postsecondary level.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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