DON’T BE AFRAID OF NOT KNOWING WHAT TO DO
Updated: Mar 30
There is a moment between a director and cast and crew that can get excruciatingly stressful because the show has to go on, whether you are ready or not, and the director doesn’t know what to do to make the show good.
The actors might feel like they are about to be completely humiliated in a few hours because this lame director can’t direct; technicians are furious because they just want concrete answers to concrete questions (like: do you want a light for this scene, yes or no?); the producer just needs the contracts signed now; and the director is not responding.
You can cut the energy/stress in the room with a knife in those moments, it’s so thick.
I recall being at the Burg Theater in Vienna as Manfred Karge was directing Brecht’s The Good Person of Setzuan. There were about 18 people onstage. Everyone was stuck. Nobody knew what to do next. They were all looking at Mr. Karge for a direction.
In the thick of the tension, with everybody just standing there looking at him, he leaned over to me and said: “don’t be afraid of not knowing what to do”.
It made such a huge impact on me because I was afraid of everything and always felt like I had no clue what to do.
I asked the artist Allie Gator to do a drawing based on that interaction, because I wanted to share it as part of this STOre page. The first drawing she sent was this:
Mr Karge is sitting crossed legged and leans over the me and says ‘don’t be afraid of not knowing what to do.”
In that moment I saw what a huge generational shift we have undergone. Back then, we never sat in a circle in the theatre. It was ‘us and them”, fourth wall, and the male director was the big boss who directed the ship from the audience. Seeing her drawing made me so filled with joy for her generation. Those divisions are there, but not the same. Power isn’t the same.
I described to Allie what theatres were like in Vienna, 1989. I described to her some of the plays that were done back then, and that everyone was white at that time. She then sent me this version:
I asked her to merge them and take out the male director, and she did this:
This is the look of terror. The terror of the director that does not know what to do:
Don’t be afraid. Relax. Reeeellllaaaaxxxxx…… It’s ok. Not knowing what to do is part of it. A big part of it. If you knew what to do, why would you do it? Get comfortable with discovery and stay in your body. Ask questions, research, try dumb ideas out until you find something you think works. Admit where you are at, in the moment, not knowing what to do.
Start with just admitting it.