Collaborative Art in Theatre: A Sketch of the Process of “Seascape”

Collaborative art is a funny thing. In theatre, we rely intensely on collaboration, not only in designing the artistic vision for the final product, but also in the realization of the product; communication and trust is key.

This fall, I’ve been directing Edward Albee’s Pulitzer-prize winning Seascape as my Senior Directorial, my capstone project, if you will. The process began long before any actors were cast. The structure of production teams is a pyramid. The director, the one with the overall vision for the show, sits at the top. Then, the responsibilities are split by department: stage management, costumes, scenery, lights, sound, and publicity. In order for me to have a cohesive product, I rely on my designers to help define my vision in concrete, attainable terms. Once we have a working understanding of what we’re trying to do with the show, designers move forward and create their designs. At the same time, I cast the show. The rehearsal process for a Senior directorial is extremely rigorous. We typically rehearse 6 days a week, 3 hours each session. This is amplified once we get to the two weeks before the show. Everyone works overtime in preparation for opening night. This is a rough sketch of the mechanical process behind what goes into a production, but as is often the case with artistic matters, the lines are somewhat blurred between departments at points. Above all else, maintaining professionalism is key.

For Seascape, I asked my designers to focus on a magical, other-worldliness sense to their designs. The play is centered on a middle aged couple with empty-nest syndrome who are stuck in their lives. Once we’ve settled into understanding who these characters are, a pair of anthropomorphized lizards appear. They engage the humans in a fascinating dialogue. We soon learn that the lizards are making the transition from the sea to the land. Through helping them accomplish this, the humans are able to move their own lives forward. Ultimately, the central theme of Seascape is change: “It’s called flux, it’s always happening, right now, to all of us […] Is it for the better? I don’t know. Progress is a set of assumptions” (Charlie, Seascape p. 53).

There are always hiccups in any large-scale production. It’s inevitable. A few weeks into rehearsals, one actor dropped out of the show. I had to find a replacement, and fast. I was able to find a very talented performer that is very committed to the intricacies that are a part of a rehearsal process, which makes a director’s job so much easier. We lost some time bringing the new actor up to speed, but he was able to catch on very quickly.

Another hiccup in production is the feasibility of realizing a design. It’s up to the designers and I to decide on the course of action when faced with a stumbling block so as to be as close to the ideal design as possible. For example, we were faced with the problem of not being allowed to screw our scenery into the stage floor due to the nature of the space we are working in. Our solution was to use a series of stage-weights as well as gaffers tape (a tool often used to problem-solve in the theatre industry).

Opening night is imminent. The actors are ready. The finishing touches are being put on designs. I can gladly say that my vision was realized. Seascape is ready for an audience.