When you hire a captain, should you get his shipmates as well?

An interesting question recently came up when I was shopping for a director for a new piece:  is it better to hire a director that comes with a team of designers, actors, etc. that he or she always works with, or do you want a director that puts together a new team based on the project itself, and based on input from the authors, producer, etc?

Most directors do have their favorite peeps, and for good reason.  By working together often, they develop a shorthand that helps speed up the process.  Since their relationship has been already established, there is no awkward getting-to-know-you period.  The piece can benefit artistically and financially from such a rapport-y relationship.

But what if the team speaks the same language . . . but they’re going to a different country?  If the team isn’t the perfectly suited team for a project, do you lose more than you gain by trying to force them to paint with colors that aren’t in their palette?

In other words (and without the metaphors) if you want to hire a classic play director to direct a contemporary musical, is it good to bring all of his people to the party, even if they’ve never been involved with a musical before?

Unfortunately, there is no clear cut right or wrong answer.  As with most things in our biz, it depends on the project.

But the question has to be asked while you’re searching for the captain of your ship, because most captains want to pick who’s sleeping on their deck.

And it all comes down to how much you trust that your captain is going to get you where you’re going.

If you don’t trust them, well, you shouldn’t even push off from the dock.

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  • Steve Wargo says:

    Very interesting question, Ken. As both a director and a producer, I’ve been on both sides of this issue. I think this is a largely a question of having an “easy” production vs. a “different” production.
    As a director, I do have a stable of designers, stage managers, choreographers and actors that I regularly work with for both the quality of their work and the absence of hassle during the production process. We share a common language and often get where we need to go without my asking, making life easier for all involved and a more unified production.
    That being said, doing something simply because it’s easy is not always smart. When you have the resources (both of time and money) to open up your options, then it’s completely fair to want to explore those options. Conversely, doing something differently for the sake of variety is also not always smart.
    If you trust your captain, you should also trust him/her to be open to new ideas. I’ve found flexibility and an open mind to be key to creativity, collaboration and my own sanity, i.e., all ideas are good ideas until they prove themselves to be otherwise. If a producer has misgivings about a certain regular team member, then the director should be able to evaluate that concern and either debate it or embrace it. If the producer’s trust isn’t enough to even broach the subject, buckle up or pull the car off the road.
    Luckily, given the nature of our biz, every show is never easy and always different. It starts and ends with trust. Managing trust is perhaps the chief job of both the producer and the director, and the trust shared between the two is the flashpoint where the show will either fly or flop.

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