Open Forum

Working with a Co-Director

  • 1.  Working with a Co-Director

    Posted 4 days ago

    I stepped into our drama teacher/director role for my school after the long-time director retired last spring.  I have a theatre degree and directing background, and have directed shows for previous school districts.   The previous director had co-directed the fall play for many years with another teacher in another building who has an interest, but no actual training, in theatre.  We maintained the co-directing partnership this year, but it isn't going as well.

    Those of you who have co-directed in the past, how do you deal with major philosophical differences?  Our directorial styles are like water and oil.

    For example, we agreed to split the scenes for blocking.  When my co-director blocked her scenes, I could see some major points where the characters were going to be upstaged.  I mentioned it after rehearsal - not in front of the students - and my co-director brushed it off.  When I was blocking my scenes, I got three sentences out before my co-director interrupted me, said they didn't like what I was doing, told the students to ignore my directions, and start reblocking everything.  I asked my co-director after rehearsal if I misunderstood which scenes I was supposed to block, but they, again, brushed it off as a "collaboration."

    Masks and socially distant blocking are a HUGE issue.  My co-director doesn't want the actors to wear masks when rehearsing (required by district).  They also can't understand why I object to blocking that places actors in each other's faces and physically on top of each other.

    I honestly don't know what to do from here.  We seem to be at an impasse, and I don't know how to move around it.  Help!

    Wendy Arch
    Drama Teacher
    Indianola, IA

  • 2.  RE: Working with a Co-Director

    Posted 4 days ago

    I have never seen anything but issues with Co-directing. I think it just causes problems. Students and other collaborators have a difficult time brining things together and knowing who to follow, which has a negative effect on the dynamic and, ultimately, the show. A production needs a single director; a cohesive vision. Two people cannot drive the same car at the same time.

    I think you need to have a difficult conversation with your co-director. If need be, perhaps you can alternate one does one show, another does the next? It is unfortunate that the existing structure was set up before you. 


    David Simpson
    Performing Arts Center Manager
    East China Schools
    East China MI

  • 3.  RE: Working with a Co-Director

    Posted 3 days ago
    Good morning,

    Davis said it all. A while back I had two co-directors direct Steel Magnolia's. I was the production designer. Not only did they "disagree" about certain choices for the show, I too had to deal with their creative differences when it came to the design. It was the worse experience in my 30+ years.

    Crit Fisher
    Lighting/Sound Designer
    New Albany High School

  • 4.  RE: Working with a Co-Director

    Posted 3 days ago
    I must be the odd woman out, because I love when I can work with my co-director. But...she's a retired theatre professor with pretty much no ego about collaboration, and she's been my mentor through my teaching career. We have the same philosophy about directing, and we're very comfortable bouncing ideas off each other.

    So, I think it CAN work and be a really great artistic collaboration with the RIGHT partner.

    @Wendy Arch, your position is totally different. The disparity in experience, vision, and basic safety precautions is obviously defeating the spirit of collaboration. I agree with the others that you need to have a heart-to-heart with your co-director. If you two can't get on the same page, you may need to go to your administration about the mask and distancing issues.​

    Another thought -- do you ever throw your blocking over to the actors? Have them summarize the scene into a few key points, then create distanced tableaux to illustrate each point. From there, you and they can shape the blocking around and into those tableaux. That gives some creative control to the students, and they'll probably be smart enough to keep their distance and not upstage themselves. If you could convince your co-director to get on board with some student-created blocking, then the scenes would likely be more cohesive.

    Cassy Maxton-Whitacre
    Theatre Department Coordinator
    Fishersville VA

  • 5.  RE: Working with a Co-Director

    Posted 3 days ago

    Hi Casey,

    I really like your suggestion of having the students summarize the scene, establish tableaus, and then work within those tableaus.  If I have to keep co-directing with the same person, I will try to institute that plan.  That way it isn't "my" blocking or "their" blocking, but the students'.

    Wendy Arch
    Language Arts/Drama Teacher
    Indianola IA

  • 6.  RE: Working with a Co-Director

    Posted 3 days ago
    Good Morning,

    I have been lucky and have had the oppositive experience with co-directing.  I think that every person who views a performance has a different experience and view. I appreciate what my co-director brings to the stage.  Sometimes they see things I miss or have a different idea how to stage a scene and I encourage their input.  There are times we disagree but I have a good relationship with my co-director so we talk it out and always when students are not around.  My one co-director and I disagreed on how we direct students. I like to talk the students through the scene give some ideas for blocking, talk about character motivation, and let them figure it out naturally.  He likes to walk them through step by step and will get on stage and do it for them. This annoys me but I think it is great for the students to experience different directing techniques.  This will prepare them if they choose to major in theater in college or professionally.

    I agree with Dave that you need to have a conversation with your co-director.  They may be threatened by your experience and background in theater.  Ask why they feel the need to upstage characters.  Maybe meet with them prior to rehearsal to go over your vision with your scene.  This way you can have that conversation without the students present.  Tell them straight out that these conversations should be done without students and point out that it is a respect issue.  Some people just don't see the whole picture and it sounds like this co-director is one of them. Since your co-director is not following the social distancing guidelines maybe this conversation should happen with an admin in the room.

    Good Luck!!

    Kristen Bishoff
    Dircecter & ITS Troupe Advisor
    Chesapeake High School & Chesapeake Bay Middle School
    Pasadena, MD

  • 7.  RE: Working with a Co-Director

    Posted 3 days ago

    You need one director on the project.  If you don't want to ruffle feathers now stay with the situation till the end and then don't invite the same situation to occur again.  The bigger issue and the more important issue is face masks and going against district policy.  See your principal and tell them about it.  Have the principal tell the co-director to step down for not following the school's policy.  And you kill two birds with one stone. 


    Don't let them be without masks for rehearsal.  It is too dangerous. PERIOD. 


    Kelly M. Thomas

    Department of Theatre

    Dr. Ralph H. Poteet High School

    3300 Poteet Drive

    Mesquite, Texas 75150




  • 8.  RE: Working with a Co-Director

    Posted 3 days ago
    Hi Kelly,

    I have insisted on masks since that could get our production canceled and my co-director grudgingly agreed.  Our sticking point now is performances.  My co-director is adamant that actors should not wear masks during performances, but our district just toughened our masks policy from 6-12 to K-12 mandatory masks in class.  I've gotten admin involved, but our sports teams do not wear them while in games, so my co-director is trying to use that as their sticking point.

    I know there are several threads here that discuss performance quality vs mask wearing, so I'll read through those for some strategies.

    I've tried having conversations with my co-director about the lack of safety in the non-socially distant, but they have shut down the conversation because they "don't believe in the 'hype'" and that "the China virus (their words) isn't any worse than the flu..."  *sigh. I think admin intervention is in our future.

    Wendy Arch
    Language Arts/Drama Teacher
    Indianola IA

  • 9.  RE: Working with a Co-Director

    Posted yesterday
    I am so sorry. Especially someone in the arts thinking this is "China virus" is hype and no worse than the flu is such bad thinking. You need admin intervention starting tomorrow. Do not wait. Do not hesitate. These are people's lives at stake and the future of your program. We all don't like it, but masks work. And your district has rules in place. If your co-worker wants to be part of the "herd" then let them. Keep yourself and your students safe.

    That's it, bottom line.

    Best Wishes through this difficult time.

  • 10.  RE: Working with a Co-Director

    Posted 9 hours ago
    Hi Wendy,

    You've gotten some great comments here, but there is one other thing to consider. This person is actively undermining you as Director. That's not being a co-Director, That's being a usurper. This needs to go to Admin immediately and this person needs to go. This is active damage to your relationship with the students and the future of your program.

    Having said this, don't be surprised at some blowback from the students, or even Admin. A lot will depend on whether this person goes quietly, or continues to undermine you with the students outside the production. It's not a pleasant situation. It should all wash over in a couple of years, but I would anticipate that there will probably be some roll over in which students are participating in your program.

    Best of luck!

    Robert Smith
    VA Co-Chapter Director
    Centreville VA