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The Directorial Process: The Beginnings of Speech and Debate

Zach Kaufer describes how he gets his creative juices flowing on a play that he wants to direct.

By Los Angeles

A preliminary poster design for Speech and Debate. One of the many projects that happen in the time before rehearsals start when I should be doing other things... like studying.

"Hey, do you have a copy of Speech and Debate I can borrow? I thought you had a copy and I want to read it." It begins with something as simple as a thought. I'm remembering a play I saw done in a staged reading that seemed to somehow stick in my head. I only vaguely remember the plot but if it's as good as I remember, I think we might have something here. "Yeah, it's over on my bookshelf. You can borrow it if you get up and get it. I'm not getting it for you." I tell myself that tonight's the night that I'm finally going to sit down and read Stephen Karam's Speech and Debate. After all, I went out of my way to get a copy of it because I naturally had some inclination towards the piece and a desire to seek it out. Why wouldn't I have read it yet? I begin to justify the fact that I haven't read the play yet and try to convince myself that it doesn't mean the idea and the intention wasn't good, I just haven't had a chance. I sit with the play and begin to read. My creative juices are flowing as I put down the play. My mind is buzzing with thoughts about set design and costumes. What kind of musical theatre shirt should I get for Diwata in Scene 4? How can I place the actors for their isolations? Where should the projector be? After the first read, I jot down a few notes and let the play sink in. I haven't gotten to the actual realization of Speech and Debate yet. I haven't made a decision if I'm going to produce it or not. I begin to muse on the final echoes of Karam's words and characters. The play is slowly becoming part of me. With that in mind, I cautiously begin my second read of the piece. The characters have sunk in and I'm in the middle of my second read when the fear begins to set in. I try to ignore it but the voices in my head are getting louder and louder. They whisper things in my ears as I try to ignore them. Slowly the vampires begin to creep around in my thoughts and more are coming at a vicious rate. They begin to chant in rhythm. "You can't do this. You suck." They're chanting in my ears and all I want to do is read the damn play. I begin to swat at the vampires and they slowly, one by one, back off my groove. I'm settling into the play and my confidence begins to grow. I can direct this. I can totally pull this off. I've made the decision and set the wheels in motion for a Spring 2012 ISP. Suddenly, I feel a shift. Something's not the same. I've made the decision to direct this play and, in my mind, there's no going back. Here's the thing: when I make a decision to set forth on a project, my brain starts working immediately. I'm not talking about the faint thought of the project gleaming in the distance; I'm talking about the concrete decision of producing and directing this damn thing. It starts my brain in motion and once that ball starts moving, there's no stopping it.


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