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Directing a Musical from an Actor’s Perspective

Interaction is a two-way expression. An actor must understand their own interactions and own expressions. A director must understand everyone's interactions and everyone’s expressions.

This spring our school put on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar: a wonderful musical that tells the story of Jesus’s death through the intricate relationships of his followers. But, instead of acting in this show, I had the amazing opportunity to assist in the directing side of things, more specifically, music directing. Of course, running a show is not a one-person endeavor. With the director, we had a creative team consisting of 4 people: an assistant director, a choreographer a costume designer, and myself. Now, first of all, let me say that this show turned out wonderfully! Every single actor did an amazing job, and of course, the lighting, costuming, blocking, and singing were impeccable as well. But beyond just the wonderful production that resulted in the end, I greatly enjoyed the new perspective of being a director for a show that I never really understood until contributing to this one.

Jesus Christ Superstar is made up of only music which means all the dialogue is sung in rock-n’-roll fashion. It also means that my job as music director was a lot more than a normal show. Since I had no experience in directing (or music education at all for that matter) there certainly was a knowledge gap. And to make matters worse, all of this music had to be learned extremely quickly because of our time constraints, about 3-4 songs per rehearsal.

At first, I honestly was pretty nervous. All of the kids in the show had been in choirs for years and knew what good music directing looked like. Plus I could barely even play the piano! I comforted myself by practicing each song on the piano before the day would come when I would teach it, which would at least allow me to play some of it on the piano for the actors to learn. After marking up the music with the different parts, writing in lyric and note changes, and practicing playing each song, the fateful day would come when I would have to teach. But the funny thing is, once I started to teach music, I understood why people enjoyed doing it so much. Beyond just the notes and lyrics, there's a story. And, when a whole story is based on its music, all the storytelling through character expression comes from the music.

As I began to get more comfortable just teaching the basic music, I started to teach the expression. I talked about the meaning of the song and how it fits in with the musical as a whole. And most importantly, I described the importance of interaction. In a choir, you are told to be in unison with one another- to sound like one voice. But in a musical, each character has a different voice, and a different sound to match their character's expression. That doesn’t mean you can just ignore the other voices though. Learning to interact between voices is what I love about a full-sung show. It’s what I most loved to teach. So maybe I’m just an actor trying to direct, but either way, it was a gratifying experience, and we produced an extremely amazing performance.

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