Saturday, April 24, 2010

Books: Theatre Craft

Theatre Craft: A Director's Companion from A to Z
by John Caird
Faber & Faber paperback, 797 pages

Born in Canada and with his first theatrical experience there, John Caird has directed extensively in the UK as well as in Japan and Sweden: classics with the Royal Shakespeare Company, musicals, television, pretty much the gamut. He's done adaptations, fringe theatre, opera, World Wildlife Fund fundraisers. So he knows the territory.

And indeed, this book is organized as an A to Z guide (though it gives out at W; "there must be dozens of really good Zoroastrian theatre companies but I've never seen their work.") Caird is witty and he may be wise, but I'm not sure how useful this book really can be, organized in this way. I can see a young director looking up "Design and Designers," but when stumped, who is likely to look up the six pages on "Denouement?"

Even the "Design and Designers" pages may have limited value, in that they seem to describe a particular kind of theatrical organization, probably not applicable to every kind everywhere. I suspect a lot of this will be lost on American directors, and certainly on theatres that don't count the proper use of animals on stage as one of their typical problems.

But there are categories of more universal usefulness, from "Rehearsing a Play " and "scrims" to "Verse and Verse Speaking." The usefulness of these depend on what you already know, and what his writing suggests to you. They are in no way definitive. Some entries, like "Pace and Rhythm," are pathetically short and not necessarily to the point. Were I directing, I would not depend on this book, though I might consult it.

The cover begins with a blurb by the great Judi Dench: "This book is written with such humour and common sense that I may have to carry it around with me all the time." Well, Dame Judi may be bossing James Bond around these days, but she probably still would require an assistant to carry this huge volume, even in paperback. It's a badly made book to boot--hard to hold, hard to keep open, but it feels flimsy enough that to really crack it open might break the binding. That makes it physically difficult to simply read this book, for pleasure as well as practical advice. Of course, there is the humour.

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