Directing a One Act – Hints & Tips

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Have you ever been watching a play and instead of feeling an intense envy for the people walking about and talking (in some circles called ‘acting’), you felt that you wanted to be the artistic maestro behind the whole thing?

Then directing might well be for you.

Every year, the Little Theatre holds a one act showcase in which people who are interested in directing get to have a go and showcase what they can do. If that’s you, great!

These hints and tips that might give you a nudge in the right direction. If that’s not you, great! You’re happy with where you are and that’s a good thing. Still, if you want to know what sort of things go into a one act play, then read on, Macduff.

1. Choosing the play

Choosing a play is always difficult. There are some absolute musts. It must be a one act play. It must have a run time under forty five minutes. It must have a small cast.

Of these, the only flexible one is the cast. You can have a larger cast size, but bear in mind that this makes your job harder. A small cast will give you plenty to keep track of and a lot to work with, whilst keeping your task this side of herculean.

But where would you find a one act play? Ask people for recommendations of playwrights or plays. Look for one act anthologies in the library or online. More than anything, read, read and read again.

2. Casting the play

You’ve got a play. Now you’ll need some people to say the words and move about (still called ‘acting’). The best way to find these is by holding an audition, of course. You could try using a divining rod, but it’s such a chore getting hold of one that works.

Give people as much notice as possible about the auditions. Put posters up in the theatre, post on the social media groups, speak to friends and e-mail people. In short, get the word out and ask others to help you get the word out.

Not everyone will be able to make your audition dates. Be flexible and arrange to see them at another time, even if it’s just you and them. You don’t want to miss out on a potential star.

Treat every auditionee well. Firstly, because that’s the best way to be. Secondly, because even though they might not be good for this project, they may be for others. Thirdly, if for any reason the person you do cast can’t do it, you may need to recast. Don’t burn bridges you might want to walk over. It tends to get you wet. Or burnt. Or both.

Be clear about what you want. Tell people the age range of the characters and a little about what they’re like. Explain the concept of the play. And don’t forget that testing people’s ability to take direction in an audition is very useful.

Don’t be afraid to get help. There are always lots of things to keep track of – getting everyone’s contact information, what scenes have been read, who’s arriving when, what parts people would like to read for. It can be useful to have someone there with you to take care of the admin and provide a second eye to auditions.

3. Rehearsing the play

Once you’ve got a cast, it’ll be time to get the thing on its feet. Get this bit right and everything else is a breeze. Well, maybe not a breeze, but certainly decidedly less windy.

Get your schedule in place early and stick to it as far as possible. Make sure everyone knows when and where they need to be. Give as much notice as you can and make sure you rehearse regularly. How many times a week is up to you, but make sure you’re got too much rehearsal time rather than too little. Better to let people go early than keep them back late.

Spend time on all the characters. It can be easy to focus on the biggest parts as they have the most to do. But those in smaller parts are just as important to the play. Give them and the actors playing them the time they need to get it right.

Give direction to everyone and tell people when they do things right. Make sure everyone gets direction in a rehearsal. It keeps people happy and makes for a more polished performance.

Get people learning lines as early as possible. It helps develop performance if people aren’t holding scripts and the earlier they know them the less likely they are to forget on the night.

4. Teching the play

Unless the cast are very good (and exhibitionists), you’ll need props, costume, set, lights and sound.

Lay out what you want to your tech team as early as possible and keep checking in with them throughout the process. Be flexible and available to help them help you. Be prepared to source props and costume yourself.

Respect the techies. They don’t always get the recognition that the actors do. It’s unfair but you don’t have to contribute to it. Be grateful that they’re there, because they make the play happen as much as the actors.

Keep it simple. More tech doesn’t necessarily mean better tech. Keep set and prop requirements to a minimum. Do as much as possible with as little as possible.

5. Enjoy the play

Putting a play together is hard work and it requires commitment, dedication, organisation and other words ending in -tion. But it is an immensely rewarding experience and will give you great memories. The days of wine and roses are short. Enjoy it while you can.

Nick Palmer

If you are interested in directing in the one act showcase during the week 1-7 November 2015, contact John Ghent, Trustee for Productions on