31 January 2020
Ball, William. A Sense of Direction: Some Observations on the Art of Directing. New York: Drama Publishers, an imprint of Quite Specific Media Group Ltd, 1984.
This book is a manual for stage directors or anyone intending to direct a play. For readers who are not directors (and particularly for those who work directly with directors such as designers, stage managers, producers, etc.), this book offers valuable insight into the directing process and what a director might be thinking but not saying. Additionally, it offers advice, tips and strategies for working in the theater that would be useful to any theater artist. The suggestions are both practical and artistic.
The book is written by William Ball, a famous American director who founded and ran the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. He was both a product of and a creator of the American regional system. His advice comes from that point-of-view, and is most relevant to those working within the American professional theatrical system. Ball presents the director as the center of the creative team. A director is a master puppeteer who, with little outward expression or physical effort, guides and coaxes actors, designers and audiences into one complete artistic expression and experience. A play, as revealed in this book, strives to be commercially sustainable while also artistically and culturally relevant.
The first section of the book is dedicated to Ball’s general views on universal beauty and art, particularly within a theatrical context. He gives reasons for making work, and also criteria for evaluating its success. It is notable that Ball does not specifically refer to Western philosophy or any precedents for his theories - they appear to be self-generated through his own experience.
The second section of the book is dedicated to the practical elements of directing: reading a script, the rehearsal process, working with actors, technical rehearsals, and so forth.
How does this relate to scenography?
This book addresses scenography directly. It includes design exercises that would be useful when beginning a project. It also contains a clear description of theatrical production and could serve as a useful guide for a designer’s responsibilities and behavior, particularly as part of a collaborative team. A quasi-job description. Ball had a background in design and acting in addition to direction, and this book is sensitive to those job categories.
In the chapter called “The Cornerstones for Success,” Ball presents design exercises that are useful for establishing the visual world of a play. He addresses important topics such as visual metaphor and predominant elements.
In the “Rehearsal Process,” he discusses pre-production homework, design conferences, costume parades, “dry tech,” dressing room assignments, technical rehearsals, first-tech blues, dress rehearsal and previews. These are all relevant to designers.
In “Connotations,” he discusses visual language and symbols (particularly related to costume design), connotative color, incidental music and budget. Again, all relevant to designers.