Finding the 'Why' with David McCall
Posted Monday, February 28th 2022 by Meredith Davis
This article series will explore the essentials question surrounding the arts. Why do we do what we do? What is it about the profession that compels us to devote our lives to all the ups and downs that accompany this ever-changing rollercoaster ride?
When did you start realizing you had a love for directing? That’s very different “direction,” pardon the pun, from acting or singing.
It is quite different!
I remember growing up in a rural community where you essentially had to be a one-man show. I remember directing my friends on how to play; “we’re going to be in school today!” And I remember having a serious hand in the staging of it all. It wasn’t just limited to popular shows and movie. We’d do The Price is Right in my living room.
My first real touch of directing came early. My elementary school music teacher, Margie Seale, gave me leniency to write our spring musicals. Mainly, it was more arranging and editing. I was assigned a version of The Wizard of Oz but condensed to a twenty-minute performance.
That is one of the tools as a directing; knowing what bridges are needed to get from moment to moment or song to song.
Lets get to the main question. Why do you do it? What is about this craft that brings you fulfillment?
It’s really a study of self. It’s one of those moments when you learn about your impulses and about other people through these characters.
What makes you excited about a particular project or play? What’s the hook?
I just love doing plays! I love the medium. It’s in my bones!
The “hook” I think changes per project. It’s a frustrating answer, but it’s true. I just wrapped a production of It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a classic with so many expectations. I wanted to deliver and still tell the story in a way that was true to me. I’m always harder on myself when judging my own work.
It’s so specific! Sometimes it’s down to working with certain people; those you love, respect, and cherish. There’s always something to love about the script you’re presented. If the script has made it to you as a creative, a director or performer, it has merit. There’s a problem that this play could solve in our world and it’s your job to search it out and bring it to light.
Whenever we read a book, the imagery comes to our mind. Is it the same with a director’s vision? Or is it different?
It’s a script-by-script basis. Let the words speak for themselves.
For example, if I work on The Wizard of Oz, there are images that immediately come to mind of the audience and designer’s expectations.
Now, if it’s a new piece, let the words speak for themselves. I will try to read that script at least 5 to 10 times first before I let my imagination run freely or make any strong decisions.
You have to see what the real meaning of the play is to you. To get past the conscious level and get to subconscious level. Make sure your really understand what the piece is saying instead of what you are super imposing on it.
What is more important? Honoring the writer’s word or the director’s vision?
The writer’s word! Hands down - the writer’s word.
There are absolutely directors I’d love to see what they can do with a play. But even then, it’s not the same play if you change the words.
There was a Broadway revival of Oklahoma a couple seasons ago. They did an excellent job of this. All reinterpretation but they didn’t change the text to suit a vision. Even when you strictly obey the given rules of the play (the script as written), you can still find new things to say.
There are other mediums where the director has a strong voice, namely television and film, but in theatre I’m not a fan of a concept. Films are going to have a stronger hand of the director and the editor.
I believe that when a theatre director is successful, the audience does not want to walk away with questions of ‘what did that mean?’ My job as a director is clarity, cleanliness and honoring the words of the page. It’s not changing the story; it’s how you tell the story.
What has been the best piece of advice you’ve received on your directorial journey?
You’re transporting me back to a workshop I took, and one of the first things said was ‘direct like you!’ That is some of the most freeing advice. It takes audacity and humility to say ‘yeah, I have something to say as a director, actor, singer.’
...But you also realize there are infinite people that can do it just as good as you or better. So why do I even need to be a part of this? Does what I have to say have value? It does! As long as art is bringing value, the rest is gravy. The rest is detail. Direct like you!
And any time you spin into doubt, go ahead, second guess decision but you have to make the decision. It’s your job to make the decision in the way that you would make it. The audience wants to see that! And they will be able to tell if you’ve made a decision or not. There will be a loss of clarity if you don’t.
Do all the things that ring true to you!
Meredith is the Studio Manager at New York Vocal Coaching, as well as an experienced actor, director, and choreographer. She served as the director of Musical Theatre for the North Carolina Young Artists Program. During the summer of 2011, 2012 and 2013, NCYAP traveled internationally to Bulgaria and Italy to perform her works. She has also worked as the Assistant to the Producer of North Carolina Theatre where she maintained the daily workings of every production throughout the spring season of 2013.
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