The Director’s Perspective
Grex Group’s Producing Artistic Director, Clayton Guiltner, recently interviewed Robert Woods, Grex’s West coast producer and director of the U.S. Premiere of the Chinese play Behind the Lie. Written by Nick Rongjun Yu, and translated by Duke University professor Claire Concesion, the play is currently running (April 2013) at the Hudson Guild Theatre in Hollywood, California. Robert Woods, director, brings a unique perspective to Chinese works, having taught and directed theatre in China.
Above: Behind the Lie, directed by Robert Woods. Actor Cecil Burroughs (L) and Dwayne Barnes (R) at the Hudson Guild Theatre in Hollywood, California.
Mr. Guiltner: As directors and producers of theatre, we have the task of choosing good plays that will be artistically challenging as well as financially sustainable. Of all the plays you could have chosen to direct, what attracts you to Behind the Lie?
Mr. Woods: Three things attracted me to Behind the Lie for my first directing project in Los Angeles: it is only two characters, so it can be done in a smaller theatre; it has an extremely simple set, basically just a table, three chairs, and a window, so it doesn’t strain my limited scene design capability; and perhaps most importantly, it is the U.S. premiere of a fascinating play by one of China’s leading playwrights, and I think his work needs to be seen by American audiences because his themes, characters, and situations are universal.
Mr. Guiltner: This play is somewhat of a suspense story for the audience, as the playwright reveals bits of information along the why. How do you, as the director, keep the ending of the play from being figured out by the audience too early?
Mr. Woods: I think the first job for any director is simply to tell the story. This play is like an onion, and as each layer is peeled away, we get closer and closer to its core, its heart. My job as director is to make sure the layers are only peeled one at a time. Most of the time, that just means keeping the actors focused on the moments they are playing at that timeand not letting them anticipate moments they will play later. By keeping the actors “in the present moment,” the audience gets to enjoy the whole ride, without knowing what the outcome will be, but realizing at the end of the play that the outcome was inevitable from the opening moments.
Above: Director, Robert Woods (R), collaborates with actor Dwayne Barnes (L) in rehearsal for Behind the Lie.
Mr. Guiltner: Talk to us about your process. How have you approached this process, and what challenges and triumphs have you and the cast experienced along the way?
Mr. Woods: My process in directing a play is pretty fixed. First, I read the play many times. I don’t take any notes for the first three or four reads, but after that I begin to take detailed notes about the characters, the discoveries they make, the journeys they go through, and the relationships among them. I apply a system of script analysis which was developed by Richard Hornby, and through that, I find the play’s theme, which also reveals for me how each character serves the theme. I do all the blocking on paper before the first rehearsal, although in actual rehearsals that blocking is often revised and modified as I collaborate with the actors. My rehearsal schedule usually follows a definite pattern: read-through the first rehearsal (and with this play, also the second rehearsal because the text is so dense with hidden meaning), then several rehearsals for blocking of the movement, then I work each scene in great detail, finding the important moments between the characters, working the rising and falling rhythms and energies, and digging out all the hidden complexities. Finally, we get to rehearsals where we simply run the play and I give notes. By the time we get to dress rehearsals, the actors are usually very ready to go. At least, that’s the plan!
Mr. Guiltner: You have directed a lot of academic theatre, college students during your career. Can you tell our readers how directing professional working actors has been different than directing acting students?
Mr. Woods: The biggest difference I have noticed in directing professional actors, versus students, is in the questions they ask. Student actors are still learning, so they tend to listen more to me as the director and go along with whatever I say, without too much argument. Professional actors ask lots of questions, and very often their interpretation differs from mine. During the rehearsals for Behind the Lie, I have had some vigorous discussions with the actors. Sometimes my viewpoint prevails, sometimes theirs does, but always we discover together things about the play that we had not realized before. I find rehearsals exciting for this reason — because it is a process of discovery and collaboration with fellow artists, and the sum truly is always greater than the parts.
Above: Director, Cast, Crew, and Friends on opening night of Behind the Lie at The Hudson Guild Theatre in Hollywood.
Mr. Guiltner: This question may reveal too much in a pre-show interview…but what are you hoping the audience will walk away from the theatre saying or feeling? Are there any specific approaches in directing you have taken that you think will encourage that reaction?
Mr. Woods: I hope the audience’s takeaway from Behind the Lie is a realization that while we all have our demons, we also all share many things in common. We are all human. Love, anger, loneliness, guilt, desperation, regret — these emotions are felt by everyone. It is how we deal with those emotions that is important, along with how we deal with each other. I hope the audience sees that we all have a choice in our increasingly busy, segmented, electronic world: we can hide behind our facades, hide behind our lies and coldly use each other, or we can break down our barriers and take the chance to make real connections with each other.
Closing Remarks: Thank you Robert for your fine work on this production, and for sharing with our readers about your process. We look forward to future Los Angeles productions! For more information on the production, or to purchase tickets, click here.