Barbara Blatner, lecturer in English at Yeshiva College, directed two of her plays this past summer: Light at the Philipstown Depot Theatre’s Glass Ceiling Breaker festival and Advances in Communication at the Secret Theatre One-Act Play Festival in Long Island City.
“I had directed several readings years ago but had never mounted a full (albeit short) production with staging, costumes, lighting and sound,” she recalled. “I have no training in directing, and so I had many questions about the process: How would I figure out blocking? How would I communicate with the lighting designer? Would I lose sight of the whole?”
But she found that once the plays were cast and rehearsals started, “ideas and solutions for staging, images, text interpretation and sound came thick and fast. At every step of the way, I was helped by perceptive, skilled actors to find what worked best.”
Directing taught her a great deal about how to pay attention to everything that an audience will see and hear on both visible and symbolic levels, valuable information for a playwright. “As in every art, the details of a production are what make it live or die. A script orchestrated and played on stage is magic, life conjured by words, actions and objects (props, costumes, set design, set pieces/furniture). I also gained a deeper appreciation of what it is to ‘act.’ Acting is creating genuine emotion in imaginary circumstances; actors use their history, emotional experiences, knowledge of the character and their bodies to show us real, true feeling. Actors expose themselves in this way and must be backed by their director to feel safe and confident in rehearsal and onstage. The safer I could help my actors feel, the more risks they were able to take to deepen their portrayals.”
Like life, however, theatre must sometimes adjust its magic to what is practical. At the Depot Theatre in the old train depot at Garrision, New York, Metro North trains regularly loudly clacked by robustly blowing horns; actors had to know to speak louder at those moments or find a meaningful pause. At the end of Light, a menorah is lit. Blatner first wanted real candles on her grandmother’s beautifully tarnished bronze menorah until she learned that the theatre did not permit fire onstage. “Eventually, one of the actors found online a plastic menorah with bulbs that could be easily turned on. It wasn’t ideal, but the lights cast a lovely glow before the play ended, and it was gratifying to work together to find a solution to a logistical problem of imagined life.”
All her work and the work of her actors and crew paid off: Advances in Communication was chosen for the finals round of the Secret Theatre festival, and she was named second in the Best Director category.