Directing in Musical Theatre : An Essential Guide book cover
1st Edition

Directing in Musical Theatre
An Essential Guide

ISBN 9780203103852
Published January 10, 2014 by Routledge
288 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This comprehensive guide, from the author of Acting in Musical Theatre, will equip aspiring directors with all of the skills that they will need in order to guide a production from beginning to end. From the very first conception and collaborations with crew and cast, through rehearsals and technical production all the way to the final performance, Joe Deer covers the full range.

Deer’s accessible and compellingly practical approach uses proven, repeatable methods for addressing all aspects of a production. The focus at every stage is on working with others, using insights from experienced, successful directors to tackle common problems and devise solutions. Each section uses the same structure, to stimulate creative thinking:

  • Timetables: detailed instructions on what to do and when, to provide a flexible organization template
  • Prompts and Investigations: addressing conceptual questions about style, characterization and design
  • Skills Workshops: Exercises and ‘how-to’ guides to essential skills
  • Essential Forms and Formats: Including staging notation, script annotation and rehearsal checklists
  • Case Studies: Well-known productions show how to apply each chapter’s ideas

Directing in Musical Theatre not only provides all of the essential skills, but explains when and how to put them to use; how to think like a director.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Foreword by Eric Schaeffer


How To Use This Book

Phase One: Conception

Timetable One: Preparation

Chapter One: Preparing for Collaboration

Unit 1.1 Reading and listening to the Musical

Unit 1.1.1 Gathering Impressions

Questionnaire: First Impressions

Unit 1.2 Creating a Research Portfolio

Unit 1.3 History and Society Viewed Selectively

Unit 1.4 Tradition

Unit 1.5 Dissecting the Script and Score

Unit 1.5.1 Units of Action

Questionnaire: Unit Analysis

Unit 1.6 Character Analysis

Unit 1.6.1 Facts

Questionnaire: Character Given Circumstances

Unit 1.6.2 Character Journey

Unit 1.6.3 Charting Change

Unit 1.6.4 Attitudes

Questionnaire: Character Attitudes

Unit 1.6.5 Ambitions

Questionnaire: Character Ambitions

Unit 1.7 Directing and Style

Unit 1.7.1 What Is Style?

Unit 1.7.2 Establishing Style in Your Production

Unit 1.7.3 Unity of Style

Unit 1.7.4 History and Genre

Unit 1.7.5 Worldview

Questionnaire: Defining Worldview

Unit 1.7.5 Articulating Style

Questionnaire: Elements of Style

Unit 1.8 Visiting the Performance Space

Unit 1.9 Getting It Down On Paper - Creating a Concept Statement

Unit 1.9.1 This Is The Story Of …

Unit 1.9.2 Themes and Ideas

Unit 1.9.3 Images and Visual Style

Unit 1.9.4 State Your Passion

Chapter Two: Imagining The Chorus

Unit 2.1 What is a chorus?

Unit 2.2 Populating the world of your musical

Unit 2.3 The power of the group

Unit 2.4 Applying Pressure

Unit 2.5 Chorus as Storyteller

Unit 2.6 Chorus as Spectacle

Unit 2.7 Chorus as Characters

Unit 2.8 Engaging Chorus Actors

Phase Two: Collaboration

Timetable: Phase Two

Chapter Three: Creative Collaboration

Unit 3.1 The Passionate Center

Unit 3.2 What is a Choreographer?

Unit 3.3 Theatre Dance vs. Concert Dance

Unit 3.4 Musical Collaboration

Chapter Four: Directing the Design

Unit 4.1 Design Process: Scenery

Unit 4.1.1 Scenic Design Preparation

Questionnaire: Scenic Design

Unit 4.1.2 What to Expect in the Scenic Design Process

Scenic Design Process for Big River

Unit 4.2 Design Process: Costumes

Unit 4.2.1 Character Analysis for Costume Design

Unit 4.2.2 Practical Requirements

Unit 4.2.3 Cast by Scene Breakdown

Unit 4.2.4 What to Expect in the Costume Design Process

Gregg Barnes’ Costume Design Process for The Drowsy Chaperone

Unit 4.3 Design Process: Lighting

Unit 4.3.1 What to Expect in the Lighting Design Process

Natasha Katz’ Lighting Design Process for Follies

Unit 4.4 Budgets and Creative Limits

Checklist: Effective Design

Phase Three: Rehearsal

Timetable Three: Auditions to Final Studio Run-Through

Chapter Five: Auditions

Unit 5.1 Casting Breakdowns

Unit 5.2 Principal Role Auditions

Unit 5.3 Chorus Calls

Unit 5.4 Addressing Multiple Casting Needs

Unit 5.5 Non-Traditional Casting

Unit 5.6 Negotiations and Waiting

Chapter Six: Staging and Coaching

Unit 6.1 Staging Stories

Unit 6.1.1 Levels of Staging

Unit 6.1.2 Staging Questions

Questionnaire: Staging Action

Unit 6.1.3 Believable Spontaneity and Inevitability

Unit 6.1.4 Types of Musical Numbers

Unit 6.1.5 Prompts to Staging Opportunities

Unit 6.1.6 Staging Structure

Unit 6.1.7 Storytelling Through Staging

Unit 6.1.8 All Staging is Action

Unit 6.1.9 Storytelling – Beat-by-beat

Unit 6.1.10 Group Staging Notation

‘I Wanna Be A Producer’ from The Producers

Unit 6.1.11 Choreographic Staging

Unit 6.2 Staging Tools

Unit 6.2.1 Movement and Images

Unit 6.2.2 Principles of Effective Blocking

Unit 6.2.3 Compositional Qualities

Unit 6.3 Blocking Scenes and Songs

Unit 6.3.1 Blocking Script Set Up

Next to Normal scene/song blocking script

Unit 6.3.2 Ideas Into Action

Unit 6.3.3 Blocking Notation

Unit 6.3.4 Giving Blocking to Actors

Unit 6.4 Coaching Your Cast

Unit 6.4.1 Actor/Singers

Unit 6.4.2 10 Keys to Coaching the Singing Actor

Unit 6.4.3 Dancers are actors, too

Unit 6.5 Entertainment Values and ‘Selling It’ To The Audience

Phase Four: Production

Timetable: Phase Four

Chapter Seven: Moving Into The Theatre

Unit 7.1 Getting acquainted with the space

Unit 7.2 Spacing Rehearsals and Adjustments

Unit 7.3 Safety First

Unit 7.4 Adding Scenery and Props

Unit 7.5 Adding Lighting

Unit 7.6 Adding Orchestra

Unit 7.7 Sound Design and Reinforcement

Unit 7.8 The Stage Manager Takes Charge – Technical Rehearsal

Unit 7.9 Adding Costumes

Unit 7.10 Crew

Unit 7.11 Special Rehearsals

Unit 7.12 Putting It All Back Together

Unit 7.13 Finding The Heart of the show again

Unit 7.14 Prioritizing and Problem Solving

Unit 7.15 "Please" and "Thank You"

Phase Five: Performance

Timetable: Previews to Closing

Chapter Eight: Shaping the Production

Unit 8.1 Curtain Calls

Unit 8.2 Previews

Unit 8.3 Advice and Opinions

Unit 8.4 Opening Night

Unit 8.5 Notes and Rehearsal After Opening

Unit 8.6 Post Mortem

Chapter Nine: Etcetera – And All The Rest

Unit 9.1 Directing New Works

Unit 9.2 Directing Revues

Unit 9.3 Habits of Successful Directors


Appendix A: Sample Documents

  1. Weekly Rehearsal Schedule – Seussical
  2. Daily Rehearsal Schedule – Carousel
  3. Blocking/Staging Checklist – Seussical
  4. Cast-by-scene Breakdowns – Nine
  5. Scene and Song Rehearsal Unit Breakdown – Kiss Me, Kate
  6. Concept Statement – Into The Woods
  7. Scene/Song Unit Analysis – Fiddler On The Roof
  8. Character Analysis (short) – The Light In The Piazza
  9. Staging Roadmap (Beat Breakdown) – ‘The Night Waltz’ from A Little Night Music

Appendix B: Complete Production Timetable

Appendix C: Blank Questionnaires

  1. First Impressions
  2. Unit Analysis
  3. Character Given Circumstances
  4. Character Attitudes
  5. Character Ambitions
  6. Defining Worldview
  7. Elements of Style
  8. Scenic Design
  9. Staging Action
  10. Checklist: Effective Design

Appendix D: A Brief Glossary of Useful Stage Terms

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Joe Deer is Distinguished Professor of Musical Theatre and Director of The Musical Theatre Initiative at Wright State University. He has directed off-Broadway, in top regional theatres across the US and at many of the finest educational institutions in the world. His first book, Acting in Musical Theatre: a comprehensive course (co-author, Rocco Dal Vera) is also available from Routledge.


'This will be an essential handbook for anyone faced with the challenge of directing a musical. Deer writes from a wealth of experience in directing, and a thorough knowledge of the musical theatre repertoire.' – Dominic Symonds, University of Portsmouth, UK

'Directing is a somewhat ‘ethereal’ job – those who do not do it have a hard time articulating what it is we exactly do as Directors. I think this book is both practical, but asks the right questions so that directors do not merely ‘replicate’ another show.' – David Gram, Director, Dramaturg, Actor & Teacher, USA

'Finally! A step-by-step handbook on how to direct musicals. Joe Deer’s Directing In Musical Theatre is the perfect book for aspiring and experienced directors alike. The craft of directing can be quite mysterious, but as Joe masterfully tells it, with thoughtful insight, extraordinary detail and great passion, the director’s role becomes vividly clear. This book is sure to become a valuable resource for anyone working in the theatre.' – Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Tony Award Nominated Director & Choreographer, RAGTIME

'A terrific analysis of how to mount a musical. From reading the script, right up to opening night, Joe Deer's insights are practical and inspiring.'Walter Bobbie, Tony Award winning Director, CHICAGO 

'Joe Deer's book is an eloquent and accurate analysis of what a director in the musical theatre actually does. He understands the many components of a musical and how to coordinate and integrate them. I highly recommend it to anyone contemplating directing a musical.' – Jerry Zaks, Tony Award winning Director, GUYS AND DOLLS and SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ

'Directing In Musical Theatre is a splendid text for anyone wishing to explore directing for the musical stage. It deals with every essential aspect of this daunting task, and explains each with singular clarity and intelligence. The work is well organized, thorough, and completely accessible. Finally, here is a book that gets to the heart of this art.'Gregory Lehane, Professor - Former Head of Directing, Drama and Music, Carnegie Mellon University

'Joe Deer's Directing in the Musical Theatre is a well-informed exploration of the musical theatre directing process that is filled with heart, intellect and spirit. If every director was required to read the chapter on staging alone, we would be blessed with productions more truthful, entertaining, and ultimately satisfying. This book, which equally balances craft with artistry, will be helpful to beginner and seasoned veteran alike.' – Cary Libkin, Professor, Head Of Musical Theatre Degree Programs, Penn State University