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DRAMA 461 A: Elementary Directing

Bryn Mawr College performance photo
Meeting Time: 
MWF 11:30am - 1:20pm
HUT 218
Adrienne Mackey
Adrienne Mackey

Syllabus Description:

It might be tempting to think of the work of directors as an art form reliant on translating the vision of a playwright from the page and into space.  However, directors work on a continuum from interpreter of a writer’s creative impulse to auteur artist leading a process. This class seeks to explore what it is that directors make in their rehearsals using a range of exercises that focus on the generative tools of their craft. Key areas of inquiry will be exploring interpretation of existing plays, adaptation of non-theatrical material into stage format and generation of original works from scratch.


DRAMA 461A Elementary Directing

Winter Quarter 2022

Monday, Wednesday, & Friday 11:30am – 1:20pm

4 Credits


“The Generative Director”


Instructor:             Assistant Professor Adrienne Mackey, School of Drama

Office:                 Hutchinson 213

Email:                     amackey1@uw.edu  This is by far the best way to contact me. Email and I will generally respond within 48 hours.

Office Hours:        Wednesdays 3 – 4:30pm or by appointment. As I will hold these both virtually and in-person, please email to confirm a time in advance.


“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”  - Peter Brook, from The Empty Space


Class Description:

The traditional role of the director is often framed as one that serves a writer’s vision. As the quote above from the legendary stage director Peter Brook illustrates, too often as directors we think of our work as something that needs tons of stuff to get started, rather than something we can immediately start creating. My hope is that YOU feel yourself the author of this quarter’s journey and take an active role in deciding what material we explore. In this vein, I’m hoping this learning space will be less of a “master class” where I as the teacher sit above students handing down my wisdom, and more a space of co-creation, dialogue and discussion as a creative ensemble.

Generally, both acting and directing in theater are framed as “interpretive” artistic acts – ones in which the artist’s main job is to represent the ideas of a pre-written script as faithfully as possible on the stage. In this mindset, we tend to imagine those two roles like those in a classical orchestra – a playwright is the composer who writes the score, a director is like a conductor of that score and actors are like the specialized instrumentalists who perform it. Contrast this with examples of contemporary music where we see a much more diverse range of ways that artists interact with the songs they play. Rappers rarely perform lyrics they don’t write over beats that others create for them, lots of rock musicians write key aspects of their melodies while collaborating with other artists who fill in specific instrumentation they aren’t experts in, producers often mix and master music together in the studio with songwriters, collaborations between musical artists may feature unique skills that are highlighted in the song’s writing, the variations go on and on.

Similarly, contemporary theater makers are starting to challenge past ideas of how rehearsals work and engage in creative processes where actors and directors have more “generative” artistic roles than before. This class is aimed at giving you hands-on experience in researching, developing and directing theatrical stories with actors who are engaged with you in that experience. As an ensemble of theater makers, we will explore the spectrum from original interpretation of existing plays to generation of plays from scratch. We will build on the tools of “traditional” directing techniques and apply them to this generative context. The projects we’ll undertake will still include standard techniques in which directors and actors work together to develop stage pictures and stories, but will also explore theatrical improvisation and think about the generating of dramaturgy for theatrical worlds that emerge in a collective creative process. I’m hoping also we develop brave and rigorous creative intuitions, your capacity to commit to and trust your instincts and a hunger for experimentation even if you’re not sure if something will work, maybe especially if you’re not sure if it will work.

The last thing I’ll say is that this is a class based in the ideas of praxis – a process that is equal parts dreaming/imagining in your mind and on-your-feet testing/trying out of those proposals through real-world implementation. In this kind of creative work, good ideas are only half the process – we can only know if an artistic choice “works” after we test it out. Iteration is key to praxis – we form a creative idea, come up with a proposal about how to execute it, try that idea and collect data about how the experiment went, then go back and reflect on whether to keep pursuing it or make changes it given the new information gained.


Questions I’m excited to explore:

  • What exactly is it that you make as an artist? What is your role as a generator of creative expression?
  • How do you take the tools of the “traditional” director into these new realms? How do you develop the craft of directing a play while simultaneously creating it?
  • How do you collaborate in a process? What do you need personally to make your best work and how do you support others in doing so simultaneously?
  • What is performance that means something to YOU this contemporary moment?


Class Objectives:

  • To increase comfort and confidence in directing performance that is developed in rehearsal process
  • To think critically about different styles of performance and presentation
  • To practice compromise and collaboration with other artists
  • To build concrete skills in staging, running a rehearsal room and textual analysis both in scripted work and in originally created theater


Required Materials:

  • Most important: An open mind!
  • No books required for purchase! All readings will be handed out in class or online.


Attendance/Lateness Policy:

This course is practical in nature – in other words the techniques are only learned by doing them. In other words, if aren’t there, you can’t learn. Similarly, the work of this class is interdependent. We rely on each other to show up both literally and metaphorically to make our art.

At the same time, there are plenty of ways that traditional attendance and tardiness policies are grounded in cultures of white supremacy and racism. For that reason, I’ll start every class with a grace period of five minutes and offer two excused absences per quarter. Please do your best to come on time, both for yourself and for the focus and energy of those you share the digital space with. If you are having a tough time making it to class on time, please contact me. If you miss more than a single class in a row, I’ll likely reach out to check in.


Class Work:

  • RESEARCH RESPONSES (3 at 10 pts each):

As you prep a given project, I’ll ask you to turn in a write up of your dramaturgical and/or background preparatory research. Your opinions are never on trial, but honest and critical thinking is expected.

  • PERFORMANCE REFLECTIONS (3 at 10 pts each):

Throughout the course you will be asked to share examples of your prep work for a scene: writing/research on your directorial choices, analysis of staging, etc. These may be turned in via writing or as an equivalent word length audio recording.


Prep as needed outside of class. Find time to rehearse with your group. Show up. Try. I expect that you will often attempt things that don’t work (initially or ever!). This is key to creating new things. I want you to test your capacities and am more interested in consistent brave efforts that “success” at every stage. As mentioned above, you’ll have two excused absences per quarter. For every absence beyond this, you’ll be marked with a 0 for a missed day. Please try to let your artistic partners know if you’ll be missing ahead of time.

At the end of most Friday classes, I’ll leave 10 minutes for you to do a “flash” response to how the week has gone for you. This can be either a written response or audio log of your experiences and discoveries in the session. If you want to do this digitally (I’ll always offer a paper option) bring your laptop. This is a chance for you to offer feedback to me and to reflect on your work for yourself.

Note: we WILL meet during finals period to perform our last project showing. It will not count as a final exam, per se, but is very much required participation. Do not schedule yourself to go home before this exam session.


Grading Scale:

4.0-3.9: A        3.8-3.5: A-      3.4-3.2: B+     3.1-2.9: B        2.8-2.5: B-       2.4-2.2: C+

2.1-1.9: C        1.8-1.5: C-      1.4-1.2: D+     1.1-0.9: D        0.8-0.7: D-     

Any student under 0.7 points will receive a failing (E) grade. You may always email me if you are unsure about your progress in class or want feedback about your work.


Conduct In Class:

The following notes are required for this class. If you agree to stay in this course you are expected to follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid distractions. Cell phone interruptions are distracting to the entire class. Do your best to minimize outside distractions while in class. (Emergency exceptions should be discussed prior to class).
  • Be respectful of other classmates. Making stuff is hard and often uneven in its progress. To be creative requires support and mutual trust, so let’s offer each other dignity and kindness to each other as best as we are able in our work together.
  • No discrimination of others on the basis of gender, sexuality, race, class, ability, nationality, age, etc. This includes “teasing” or “joking,” even if your intention is to be friendly. It will not be tolerated.
  • Please call ME in if you feel like I’m not creating a class in which you can be your whole self. As a person who walks through the world with a wealth of privileges, I know that I have blind spots. To invoke activist and educator Jay Smooth, I subscribe to the “dental hygiene” model of anti-discrimination: I don’t brush my teeth once and assume they are forever good to go and the same goes for the approach to creating an inclusive educational space. It’s ongoing the practice of learning, listening and making changes accordingly that is the measure of success. Therefore, if something I do harms you or makes you feel excluded, I very much hope you feel comfortable enough with me to let me know. I will do my best to listen with open ears and THANK YOU for being generous enough to offer that perspective.
  • Approach the work with bravery and curiosity. Exploring new creative territory requires you to dare to go places that are unknown and, hopefully, exciting. I make the promise not to push to places you are not ready to go to, especially if you voice those concerns. In return I ask that students are willing to try to the best of their ability, even if an exercise seems strange. If you are confused about why we’re doing something, ASK! Chances are your questions are those of others in the room and offer an opportunity to learn together.


Tentative Schedule:

  • Week 1: Introductions & Initial Creative Process Explorations

The first week we’ll begin talking about rehearsal structures and explore what roles and creative topics are interesting to you. We’ll also start prep work for the projects in the weeks to come.

  • Weeks 2 – 4: Interpretation

How does interpretation jumpstart something new from the launch pad of the original? For our first project we’ll tackle a scene from a script but add a new interpretative element to it that fundamentally changes the play. The added choice must be one that is not indicated in the original script and requires both the actors and director to deeply consider the changes said choice makes to the theatrical world. A few examples might include setting a Shakespeare play in contemporary times; re-working a play that’s generally performed by white actors with an all BIPOC cast; re-setting a play in a new geographic location than the one indicated; or casting a traditionally “male” role with a female or non-binary actor.  This project is aimed at exploring how a strong personal creative choice can translate an original idea into a new context.

  • Weeks 5 – 7: Adaptation

How do you recreate a world from one artistic medium in a new one? For this project we’ll create a short play (up to 15 minutes) that takes inspiration from a story first created outside the theater. Your narrative will begin in a form that isn’t built for the stage – a novel, movie, video game, newspaper article or poem, for example – and translate it into a performance setting. The goal with this project will be to use the theater-maker’s toolkit to evoke a similar experience for the audience as the original. This may be a condensed interpretation of the original work or be an excerpt of a small section.

  • Weeks 8 - 10: Generation

How do you create a character from scratch? What does it mean to represent abstract ideas through human bodies? In this last project you will start with inspiration from a visual, sonic or other sensory realm – a work of art, a favorite example of architecture, a piece of music, a beloved food, even a descriptive passage of a scientific principle – anything that begins in the realm outside of human people. From this starting point you will create a short scene (again up to 15 minutes, max) that explores this idea.

Note: This schedule is subject to change and is only an approximation.


Respect for Diversity Statement:

The diversity students bring to this class (including gender identity, sexuality, dis/ability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, nationality, religion, and culture) should be honored as a resource, strength and benefit. I will do my best to create an online environment in which each class member is able to hear and respect others. If something is said or done in the virtual classroom, in a discussion, or in the group project process, by myself as instructor or by other students, that is troubling or causes discomfort or offense, the impact of that experience is something important, deserving of attention and I would like to know about its occurrence. The School of Drama has developed the following resource that can help you navigate how to proceed if you would like to voice a concern beyond one of us as your instructor:



Academic Accommodations:

Your experience in this class is important to me. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please activate your accommodations via myDRS so we can discuss how they will be implemented in this course.


If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), contact DRS directly to set up an Access Plan. DRS facilitates the interactive process that establishes reasonable accommodations. Contact DRS at disability.uw.edu.


Pandemic Accommodations:

These are particularly difficult times, and I aim to accommodate students as best as I can. The university has resources or health and wellness, please take advantage of them if you want or need to. https://wellbeing.uw.edu/


If you are experiencing technical difficulties with remote classes, please alert me to discuss accommodations.


Most importantly, please take your self-care seriously.


The UW Food Pantry:

A student should never have to make the choice between buying food or textbooks. The UW Food Pantry helps mitigate the social and academic effects of campus food insecurity. We aim to lessen the financial burden of purchasing food by providing students with access to food and hygiene products at no-cost. Students can expect to receive 4 to 5 days’ worth of supplemental food support when they visit the Pantry. For information including operating hours, location, and additional food support resources visit https://www.washington.edu/anyhungryhusky/the-uw-food-pantry/


Academic Honesty:

Students at the University of Washington are expected to maintain the highest standards of academic conduct. Cheating, plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct are considered serious offenses and could result in a variety of disciplinary actions, including suspension or permanent dismissal from the University.


For more information on Academic Honesty (Cheating and Plagiarism) see:



For information on Student Standards of Conduct see:





Religious Accommodations:

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodations-policy/). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/).


Disability Resource Services:

The process of artistic creation should be equally available to every student regardless of disability! If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.


If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or uwdrs@uw.edu or disability.uw.edu. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.


Guidance for Students Taking Courses at UW from Outside the U.S.:

Faculty members at U.S. universities – including the University of Washington – have the right to academic freedom which includes presenting and exploring topics and content that other governments may consider to be illegal and, therefore, choose to censor. Examples may include topics and content involving religion, gender and sexuality, human rights, democracy and representative government, and historic events.


If, as a UW student, you are living outside of the United States while taking courses remotely, you are subject to the laws of your local jurisdiction. Local authorities may limit your access to course material and take punitive action towards you. Unfortunately, the University of Washington has no authority over the laws in your jurisdictions or how local authorities enforce those laws.


If you are taking UW courses outside of the United States, you have reason to exercise caution when enrolling in courses that cover topics and issues censored in your jurisdiction. If you have concerns regarding a course or courses that you have registered for, please contact your academic advisor who will assist you in exploring options.



Safe Campus:  https://www.washington.edu/safecampus/

Call SafeCampus at 206-685-7233 anytime – no matter where you work or study – to anonymously discuss safety and well-being concerns for yourself or others. SafeCampus’s team of caring professionals will provide individualized support, while discussing short- and long-term solutions and connecting you with additional resources when requested.


Catalog Description: 
Elementary study of the art of the stage director.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
November 5, 2021 - 9:34am