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The Playwrights Forum > General > Question & Answer > What makes a good mentor?

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What makes a good mentor?  Rating:  Rating
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 Posted: Tue Jun 12th, 2012 09:48 pm
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Louisep at Playwrights Muse
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Mana: 
Has anybody here ever worked with a mentor? Or been a mentor?

What makes a good mentor? What should I look for?

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 Posted: Sat Jun 16th, 2012 03:59 pm
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Doug B
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I've been a mentor several times. Our ten minute play festival is an incubator for new directors to our theater. Most are brand new, some are just new to our theater. I have also been a mentor for several longer plays.

The most important thing the mentor needs to remember (and the hardest to do) is to remember it is not your play to direct. I don't care what decision the director makes as long as they make a decision (at least theoretically).

Some of our mentors can't leave their ego outside the rehearsal room and need to show how much they know. One of my attributes is that I have nothing to prove. I know who I am and what I am. My sole job as mentor is to make the new director the best they can be.

I don't often say something to the director during the rehearsal but have a scheduled time away from the actors to go over my notes. If the director asks my opinion, I try not to give a direct yes/no answer. For example, if the director asks me if something "works", I'll say: "It's fine. Look at it again tomorrow and see what you think."

Actors always try to get me to "help" them. They know who I am and my experience. I have directed most of them at one time or another. They also know the director is new. They need confirmation that things are going well. They have questions: "How am I doing?" Fine. "I don't think having my back to the audience in scene two works" Talk to your director. If I help them in any way, I am undermining the director.

The biggest challenge for the new director is understanding they are new. I've directed over 60 plays in the last 13 years. I can do things in my head that the new director needs to do on paper. They try to emulate what I do but they don't have the experience yet.

A few other new director mistakes: Extended discussions with actors that grind the rehearsal to a halt. Not being in charge of the rehearsal. Not being prepared for each rehearsal. Wasting actors time by having them come on time when you know you won't get to their entrance until two hours into the rehearsal (or heaven forbid: making all actors come to every rehearsal).

I meet with the new director a week or so before auditions. I have a lengthy checklist I have made over the years and we go over each item. I also bring a copy of one of my early plays with the directors notes so they can see what they have to do to prepare the play. No one can prepare a play for rehearsal in their head.

New directors expect their design team to work in a vacuum. When I ask about lighting, the new directors throws it off the the lighting designer but without any guidance. Besides being the mentor, I know theater in general and our theater in particular and can explain technical, logistical and "how we do it here" issues for the director.

On the other hand, some new directors think they have to make every decision, from the way actors say a line, to how the designers do their jobs.

One of my biggest jobs as mentor is keeping the train on the tracks and getting to the destination on time. We know where we are today and we where we need to be on opening night. I need to make sure the new director is focused on the result and not buried in the day to day process of directing. What needs to be done to reach the destination on time?

I don't attend every rehearsal. I attend the read thru's and the early blocking rehearsals. Once things are going okay, it is important that the director work on their own - both for their self confidence and so the cast knows who the director is. I show back up for the early run-thru's. Occasionally, I'll attend a rehearsal and slip into the back of the theater or the tech booth quietly so I can see what is going on in my absence.

Some new directors take a lot of supervision - almost like a training program while others need very little. Some are just not cut out to be a director.

After the play I have a short critique for the director. It is always positive and upbeat. I start off by asking the director for their thoughts on the best and not so best things about their plays. We talk about those items. It seems too late for me to criticize the play. If I had a problem, I should have mentioned it during rehearsals.

Hope this helps.

Doug

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 Posted: Sat Jun 16th, 2012 05:37 pm
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Edd
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Mana: 
Doug,

I loved what you had to say about being a mentor. Truly terrific.

Being born in the first half of the last century, I guess I come from a much older generation, since in my mind, you gave what seems to me as an example of a great dramaturg and a caring individual.

My mentor, the one who set me on the road to playwriting and helped me grow as a playwright and as a person, was not a playwright himself but rather a novelist. He instilled a joy for writing and for, above all, learning and a continuous thirst for knowledge. I always thought of a mentor as a personal relationship over years -- sort of what Aristotle was to Alexander.

Perhaps, over the years, "mentor" has come to mean something else. So much has, hasn't it?

This is all my take: Louise would do extremely well with someone such as yourself in her professional life.

Please understand that I am only saying what the word means to me in my life. And, probably, an old fashioned idea. I helped -- thought of it as mentoring -- a couple playwrights right here on this forum over a period of years - one of whom I worked with, was a friend to, and did everything I knew to help, from his freshman year of college through to his Masters degree and to his first job as an intern with a very prestigious NY Theatre. Never met him and have no idea what he looks like except for, perhaps, a wee bit of his mind. The bottom line for me was getting to understand the needs of the initiate, apprentice or student -- never had or used a word for that.

I love what you said and the time you took to say it. I would have considered myself a very fortunate student under your guidance. When I was active in this forum -- before my work left me no time -- I took many under my wing, as many had done for me. We must always give back, mustn't we?

Anyway, that's my 2 cents, doubtlessly nothing to do with Louise's original question. Sorry. People who know me know I am a hyperbolic rambler who ends up saying very little.

My best to you Doug. Maybe one day I will have the good fortune to work with you.

Edd

P.S. I will say one thing of which I am absolutely certain: A good mentor must care and commit to the needs of the student.

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 Posted: Sat Jun 16th, 2012 09:07 pm
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Doug B
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Mana: 
Good point Edd. I immediately jumped to mentoring new directors because that is one of the roles I have filled for the past several years here at our theater. I know that Louise is a playwright and somehow I seem to remember that she was looking at directing a play but I may be totally wrong. She might also be looking for someone to provide advice and guidance in her life.

Talking about changing definitions of words, I always considered a Dramaturg as the person who immerses themselves in the historical period of the play to advise the director (and actors if asked) on the cultures, traditions and mores of the period.

Thanks for the kind words.

Doug
(Who was also born in the first half of the last century)

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 Posted: Sun Jun 17th, 2012 03:15 pm
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Edd
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Hey Doug,

I am not sure what I was thinking other than I had a couple negative experiences with folks who called themselves dramaturgs. This was decades ago and at amateur theaters. Their main concern seemed to be to rewrite my scripts to fit their audiences. An absurd idea, I know. So that burned itself into my memory. It wasn't till a few years ago in Chicago when I actually met a person who was a dramaturg and who did just as you said. So I am ashamed of my ignorance.

I very rarely see anything of mine and I do not "develop" my work. When it is done it is done. I feel dumb, especially in this forum, not knowing what the real job description of a dramaturg is. I avoid interaction with any theatre who produces my work; change requests go through my agent. So let's call that my excuse for ignorance. ;o)

I've lost all credibility, haven't I?

Anyway, Doug, thank you for the clarification. I positively appreciate it.

I guess I will need to find another forum to play in where no one knows I know very little about what goes into putting a production together. I avoid it like the plague and remain reclusive.

Best,
Edd

P.S. There is something fun about my saying I was born in the first half of the last century, BUT there is that other grave matter, not so fun, I'll leave unsaid. Aside from a few aches and pains in the morning, it hasn't begun to really show yet. I sometimes think I am going to wake up one morning, look in the mirror, and see an old man who wasn't there the day before. I can wait a good many years for that! ;o)

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 Posted: Mon Jun 18th, 2012 02:52 pm
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Doug B
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Mana: 
Good morning Edd:

Inside this fairly old body is the spirit of a 20 year old. I am able to maintain this fraud because I keep from looking in mirrors. I credit my involvement in the theater with keeping me young and firing on most cylinders.

Louise:  Sorry for hijacking your thread.

Doug

Last edited on Mon Jun 18th, 2012 02:54 pm by Doug B

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 Posted: Mon Jun 18th, 2012 04:42 pm
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Edd
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Mana: 
Good morning, Doug.

I have learned how to shave without looking in the mirror!

A great day to you.

Edd

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 Posted: Sat Jun 23rd, 2012 09:35 pm
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Louisep at Playwrights Muse
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Mana: 
Wah wah, my thread has been hijacked!!!

Seriously, thank you Doug and Edd for your posts and all of your insight about what makes a good mentor.

I'm looking for a mentor for my playwriting right now. I have a good playwrights' group, and I want one mentor to give me a different kind of feedback and help.

I am directing a play in the fall, as it happens.

P.S. I was not born in the first half of the last century.

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