The Directors Lab

Edited by Evan Tsitsias

The Directors Lab
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After spending ten years in international Directors Lab programs—first in New York and Chicago, then co-founding Directors Lab North in Toronto—Evan Tsitsias has amassed an extensive amount of advice, examples, and notes that prove essential reading for theatre creators ... Read more


After spending ten years in international Directors Lab programs—first in New York and Chicago, then co-founding Directors Lab North in Toronto—Evan Tsitsias has amassed an extensive amount of advice, examples, and notes that prove essential reading for theatre creators and artists across disciplines. Combined with master classes and interviews with established, emerging, and mid-career directors, this manual is an artistic, logistic, and pedagogical exploration into the mechanics of theatre creation through the lens of a director. With so much useful material, readers become honorary “labbies,” ready to leave their own mark on the theatrical landscape. The book includes a foreword by Anne Cattaneo and writing and interviews from Peter Hinton, Akram Khan, Daniel MacIvor, Morris Panych, Andrea Romaldi, Kat Sandler, Judith Thompson, Vincent de Tourdonnet, and many more.

Evan Tsitsias

Evan has been Co-Artistic Director of Directors Lab North in Toronto for the last ten years. His plays include Aftershock, The Murmuration of Starlings, Unstuck, Strange Mary Strange, the musical Inge(new), and the short film Bagged, which aired on CBC. As a founding member of the World Wide Lab, he has spent the last decade travelling across the globe co-directing, co-writing, and co-creating site-specific, immersive pieces in Greece, New York, Taipei, Thunder Bay, Rome, and Germany. In Germany he’s also co-created, directed, and written I am Invisible, Berlin Bound, My Berlin, and We Are The Play. Evan has worked across Canada and the US with companies such as the Houston Grand Opera, the Musical Stage Company, the New York City Centre Encores Series, and more. He trained at York University, Sheridan College, and has his Professional Training Certificate in Theatre of the Oppressed from London, England, where he trained with Augusto Boal. He is a member of the Lincoln Theater Center Directors Lab, Chicago Directors Lab, the Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Tarragon Playwright’s Unit, and an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, as well a resident artist at Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center. He’s been nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award, the John Hirsch Directing Prize, the Tom Hendry Award (Stage West Comedy Award), the Herman Voaden National Play


Opening RemarksBy Evan Tsitsias

Every summer, for over twenty years, deep in the trenches of Lincoln Center Theater, through the maze of hallways that lead to the rehearsal studios, lies a secret. A secret society of directors—strangers—brought together as the year’s “chosen ones. ” They convene in this theatrical crucible to spend three weeks filled with conversation, dialogue, discourse, workshops, master classes, exchanges, technique sharing, frustration, agitation, and passion. They nurture, support, incite, inspire, recalibrate, and renegotiate all they think they know about their art and craft, all with one common goal: to explore the art of directing. This is the Directors Lab.

I was fortunate to participate for two consecutive summers in this exhilarating and all-consuming program at Lincoln Center and one year in the Chicago Directors Lab before co-founding the Directors Lab North in Toronto, Canada, in 2011 with my colleagues Esther Jun and Elif Isiközlü. I had no idea what was in store for me that first year. Not a clue that it would drastically alter the trajectory of my career and artistic life. That the people and ideas I encountered there would radically alter the landscape of my theatrical terrain, adding extensively not only to my directing toolkit, but providing me with an opportunity to widen my theatrical lens beyond recognition, exposing me to a broad spectrum of techniques and methodologies that would normally take a lifetime of international travel to experience.

After years of amassing an epic pile of notes, memories, and experiences through these labs, I was left with a tremendous amount of knowledge .  .  . and computer files. I felt the need to share this incredibly rich experience with those directors who might not have the means or time to travel and experience it themselves. And so the idea of this book was born.

Directing is a lonely, insular profession. The director’s process is even more elusive. Some directors are intensely methodical while others have a completely instinctual and organic way of entering the work. Whatever the approach, each director has their own unique process, utilizing various techniques to achieve their goals. One thing they all share is thorough preparation in order to leave all that at home and focus on the moment in rehearsals. This book examines and dissects their techniques and processes, allowing both emerging and established directors to be inspired by other directors’ techniques or reminded of their own or perhaps, even, create a new hybrid. It is an artistic and logistic exploration into the mechanics of theatre creation through the lens of a director.

I don’t want this book to be a “how-to” manual. I want it to serve as inspiration, to ignite a creative spark and add to the communal theatrical flame that we as theatre artists perpetually attempt to keep lit. It’s a call to action, a decree of passion, of connections both personal and artistic. It’s an encapsulation of what theatre is, in this space and time. And yes, fine, perhaps even a manual. Allow it to create connections within your own work and remind you of your own methodologies while inspiring new ones. This is the only way in which theatre can and will survive.

Throughout the last decade of these Labs, I’ve been privy to the musings and ideas of hundreds of directors from dozens of countries and continents who openly share their passions, methodologies, and practices with one another. It’s been fascinating yet overwhelming to realize how many variations and techniques are out there. How do you decide on your own? How do you trust that your method is the right one? What I’ve learned after my many years of the Labs is that there is no one magic “how to direct” manual. Each director’s method is as singular as their fingerprints. But what I’ve also discovered is that most methods are variations of the others. You borrow here, you steal there, you combine or massage or manipulate one exercise into the next until you can’t remember where you first heard of it or if you even came up with it on your own in the first place. But this is what is so incredible about exchanging ideas with other directors. Each idea influences the next until it becomes part of our own directing DNA.

Having multiple directors in a room together is daunting. But it’s also utter magic. The collective respect and yearning to learn from others is palpable each year. The biggest surprise has been the discovery that directors truly want to share their techniques with other directors. The atmosphere is one of complete camaraderie, touched not by competition but instead, a willingness to engage with one another. I’ve been making my own connections through these artistic collisions of techniques, pedagogy, and methodologies over the years. It’s been thrilling to also watch all these other directors share their own discoveries with other directors.

For me, spending this many years at the Labs allows the privilege and luxury of retrospection and the exploring of connections. I’ve noticed similar questions emerge and reoccur year after year, along with new ones that correlate with the social-political climate of each successive year. Questions like: How can theatre evolve with the times? Does theatre have to evolve with the times? Is it our job as theatre creators and artists to maintain theatrical traditions or create theatre for the Netflix generation? As theatre seems to live in a state of constant peril from becoming irrelevant in this technologically obsessed world, how do we keep its resonance and relevance in the modern age? How can we as theatre artists, respond to the world we live in at that particular time to use theatre as a vehicle for change? 

I’ve also noticed through these connections how narrow our idea of what “theatre” is and how heavily we rely on these crutches, as audiences, that play on our expectations. Can we call it simply “expression”? How can we widen the lens? We’ve trained audiences in Western theatre to rely so heavily on linear narrative, and we expect them to “understand” every moment and constantly negotiate and make connections. How can we release those expectations and just experience the moment like we experience music or visual art? Is this possible?

What has also struck me throughout the process of listening to artists talk about their work after seeing their pieces is how, often times, it’s much more interesting and thrilling to listen to them discuss their ideas of inception and rehearsal of the piece than it is to watch the piece itself. It leads to a very pertinent question: If the intention does not match the execution, have we “succeeded”? What constitutes a “successful” production? Should the words “success” or “failure” even be part of the theatrical equation? How do we quantify art and the process of creation?

Another series of questions I noticed over the past ten years has gained tremendous traction and relevance to the art of theatre is “Whose story can we tell?” Appropriation has become a very hot topic since I started these Labs as we continue to reflect on what stories we’ve been telling and the lens through which it’s told. This has been a heated topic of debate within the lab and among the participants (Labbies) over the years. Do we have the right to tell stories of cultures outside our own? Why do we choose to tell these stories? Specifically in Canada, do we as Canadians, understand that we are telling a “Canadian” story on Indigenous land? Do we acknowledge this? How do we acknowledge this? How does that history affect and reflect the stories we are telling? I’m sweating even typing this. These are huge but important questions with no definitive answers. But they’re definitely worth the asking.

It also dawned on me while watching the Labbies over time, what a massive juxtaposition lives between the highly intellectual, academic, and cerebral talk and the ridiculous child’s play in many theatrical exercises. We discuss psychological intentions while at the same time executing guttural animal sounds as we flop all over one another as lions. So where does theatre practice live inside that vast spectrum? How do we find that balance?

These are some of the questions that are explored and covered in different forms through the various chapters and the transcribed interviews in this book. I urge you to ask yourself the same questions as you read through this, and I hope you come up with some answers.

A word that seems to re-emerge and repeat every year is “rigour”—the rigour it takes to create and persevere through creation and, also, career. This book has taken a rigour of my own. It’s been a labour of love, just like the Lab itself. The endless hours of transcribing interviews we’ve conducted has gifted me with a truly intimate experience of words and reading. What a gift it has been to revisit the last decade of all these phenomenal ideas and conversations.

This book is assembled from Lab experiences I’ve amassed around the globe. Although it’s divided into stand-alone sections, I’ve done my best to curate and structure a cohesive reading experience that covers all the relevant questions, ideas, and concerns that percolate each year during the Lab. The chapters are divided into the various components that are incorporated into the annual Lab—from our invited guest artists, workshops, master classes, and panel discussion to chats between Labbies addressing questions they want answered. All of the contributors in this book have been involved in the Lab in some capacity. I’ve chosen some of our most successful sessions and asked those guest artists who led them to write their own sections of the book. From heightened language to new play development to the art of collaboration, I wanted to stay as true to the nature of the Labs as possible, doing my best to recreate the experience as precisely as I could. If this book captures even an ounce of the magic and alchemy that occurs in these Labs, these years of work will be worth it. This is a compilation of ten years of research, conversation, and exchange. It’s a book I myself would have killed for when I started directing. I also think it’s a great tool for actors, playwrights, designers, and dramaturges. The more we know, the better the creation.

Theatre is my religion and I wanted to create my own Theatre Bible. I’m hoping this book will have many disciples.

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