Kat Hermes (Bianca/Tranio/Tailor/Curtis) on the Ensemble Directing Process.

Ensemble directing is one of my favorite parts of working with Pigeon Creek. Working on an ensemble directed production with a small cast, I’ve found that the excitement and challenges of ensemble direction are intensified. I’ve been thinking a lot about ensemble direction as a process.

I’ve worked on nine ensemble directed productions with Pigeon Creek and over that time we, as a company, have been organically developing a rehearsal method specific to working without a director that has been refined and improved with each successive production.

One of the major differences between directing as an ensemble and working with a director is the way in which the rehearsal process is “layered”. When a director is driving the bus, he or she typically gives the actors their blocking. Depending on the director, this can very general or detailed and specific, but most of the blocking work is done by the director outside of rehearsal.

By contrast, in an ensemble directed production, blocking typically takes several rehearsals of each scene. The first time we run a scene on it’s feet, we tend to decide where everyone is enter and exiting from and then just experiment, finding where interesting stage pictures occur naturally and where we need to stop and work on finding the best blocking to tell the story of a specific moment. It often takes several runs of the scene before we’re ready to “set” the blocking.

To somewhat oversimplify things, the ensemble directing process is a sort of inversion of the typical rehearsal process. Instead of the director working on the more “technical” aspects of production (stage pictures, pace, prop and costume decisions) outside of rehearsal and working on “emotional” or aspects (verse, objectives and tactics, character movement and vocal choices) with the cast in rehearsal, in an ensemble directed production, rehearsal is primarily focused on those technical problems while each actor does their individual character work on their own.

As actors in an ensemble directed production, this affords us a great deal of creative freedom but also puts a great deal of responsibility on each of us to be pro-active about our acting “homework.” Because the rehearsal process is front-load with technical work, once be being working on those acting details, there isn’t time to start small and work up to big choices. The most effective use of our rehearsal time isn’t helping each actor make choices, and there is no central directorial voice guiding actors towards specific choices. As an ensemble, we use our later rehearsals to help each other understand how the choices we’ve each made are “reading” onstage, and how to adjust what we’re doing to more clearly tell the story we want to tell.