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Backstage Shenanigans — Behind the Scenes with Director Hillary Lewis

The role of a Director is not as simple as it may seem. They have the final say in just about everything; from the interpretation of a character, to how the lighting will be set, to what props will be used or cut. As one definition says: “Directors are the big dogs of the theatre industry. They call the shots, they make the final creative decisions and they use their own innovative ideas to bring a script to life on the big stage.”*

I was given the privilege of an interview with Pacific Okinawa Players Director for Father of the Bride, Hillary Lewis. She allowed me to ask questions and gave us a glimpse, not only into her story and experiences, but also the theatre as a whole.

Pacific Okinawa Players brings quality entertainment to the service members and families located in Okinawa, Japan. Hillary is no stranger to Military audiences, having been bitten by the bug in the fourth grade while her family was stationed in Germany. Carrying that enthusiasm into her adulthood, Hillary achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech and Theatre, as well as her Master’s in Fine Art’s and Theatre Performance.

When asked why she picked Father of the Bride, Hillary revealed she normally likes to pick shows that hold up a mirror to society’s problems. “But, I felt in my spirit, that there was something… we needed to laugh. And we needed to laugh together.”

And laugh we have! Hillary has brought together a stellar cast, and opened up the spaces we use for rehearsals as a safe spot for us to experiment with the characters. There are loads of comedic gems throughout the script, and each actor brings a unique take to the dialogue. Although, as theatre-lovers know, some of the best moments come not from words, but from reactions. Some of the hardest laughs so far have come from the perfect facial expression, or those in the background reacting spectacularly to what is happening during someone else’s line.

In fact, this is one of Hillary’s favorite parts of directing: the rehearsal process, which can last for several months, depending on the company. “It’s just a really funny process. The script is very funny, so there are moments where we kind of break away and have these laughing fits. Or someone will do something and I’m like, ‘Woah, that’s an interesting way of reading it.’ or they’ll play an action that I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s spot on!’ So it’s really fun to be in the rehearsal room with the actors.”

Now before you head over to your nearest theatre and volunteer to be their next Steven Spielberg, you should know directing is not all fun and games. They do have lots of responsibilities outside the rehearsal room, including some that most, including Hillary, can find taxing. You do need to be a decent organizer (or get an assistant director who is). There are a lot phone calls and emails between the theatre board, your production team, location liaisons, advertising, marketing, etc. There is a lot of work that happens before the auditions are even scheduled, much less held.

And sometimes, even the actors themselves can cause headaches. If there is a difference of opinion, it’s not always an easy thing to smooth out.

Our loyal reader, Adam, asked: If an actor’s interpretation of a role differs from the director’s, how would you resolve it?

The answer differs for each director, but Hillary’s response was:

“Oh, I love when actors have a different interpretation of a character! Because sometimes it’s exciting and surprising. Because I’ve spent so much time with the script…got deep into it about the last year or so… I have an idea of a character.” When an actor offers a new perspective, bringing the character alive, “it’s exciting to me!…as long as it’s a real, living, breathing character that is just different, I am all for it. I love, actually, when that happens.”

With a decent sized ensemble of 13, it can sometimes be difficult to pick a favorite. Sometimes you just fall in love with all the characters, and other times you really connect with one specific role or pair. For Hillary, she’s “having a fun time with all the character’s, honestly.”…..but I’m pretty sure Massoula is her real favorite….

As we wrapped up our interview, Hillary had one last thought for those who are new to the theatre.

“Do not be afraid to react to what’s happening on stage. It’s live theatre, it’s different every night, and that’s the fun, that’s the excitement of going to a live production. So feel free to release whatever. Wether it’s laughter or tears, or whatever reaction you have to what’s going on onstage, feel free to enjoy yourself and get caught up in the story of the play. Because that’s why we do what we do. We want you to kind of come along for this journey. So, feel free to express yourself!”

Thank you so much, Hillary, for giving us a glimpse into the role of Theatre Director!

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