The 10 Commandments of Writer-Director Relationships

By Edwina Strobl and Mark Daniels

Making ‘fear-tah’ is a marvellous and joyous thing. Working on new scripts – plays, cabarets, musicals, pieces of art – is one of the most exciting and invigorating experiences as a maker. The relationship between a writer and a director CAN be a beautiful romance.  

Mark Daniels (writer) and I (director) have begun, what we like to think, is a beautiful romance (strictly theatrical, darling). Our comedy play, N89, a semi-immersive play set on a night bus went down very well at Matchstick Theatre earlier in the year and we're now looking to take that to other theatres whilst developing another piece together.

So, like good smug proselytisers, we’re going to tell you the general rules to keep in mind when you begin your own. (No need to burn your bushes and take it all as gospel, but we feel it will ultimately get you to heaven.)  

Lo, behold the...10 Commandments of Writer-Director Relationships

  1. Thou shalt know the script inside out when you discuss it together.  

So, you’re on your first date as a writer-director. You meet somewhere creative and lovely like Theatre Deli Bar (just sayin’) and you begin to talk about the script...

Directors: Come prepared to convince your writer that the show is in safe and brilliant hands. Show them you have a thorough knowledge of the script – prove you’ve read it in detail and have engaged with it carefully. Offer them your impressions, your ideas, your vision for the show. Be specific about details in the script, so you avoid any miscommunication.  

Writers: Be open to the ideas you’re hearing. Know the strengths and weaknesses of the script and don’t be afraid to discuss them.  

  1. Thou shalt get to know each other’s sense of humour.

Like any new relationship, it’s important to find a common language and world view. Often, a great place to start is what amuses you. Discuss what you’ve seen, what tickled you, what excited you. A sense of humour is a must in any creative process. Try to find each other’s. Maybe over a beer.

  1. Thou shalt discuss and agree on the project's goals.  

Know what you’re both aiming for so that you can proceed with clear and common goals in mind. Agree about what is at the heart of the show. And don’t pretend to agree with something if you don’t. It’s crucial you get this right so you trust each other to carry out the project’s bigger aims. G-O-A-L-S. Go team!

  1. Thou shalt discuss potential changes to the script right at the beginning.  

Start off on the right, and most professional, foot. Discuss how each other plans or hopes to proceed with changes.  

Directors: Is the writer comfortable with changes? What are they particularly keen not to change? Trust your writer’s expertise on how one change might affect other parts of the script. How would they like changes to be communicated? Be sensitive but also stick to your guns as much as possible about what you feel needs to happen.

Writers: Be upfront with your director about your feelings. Be firm about what shouldn’t change, and more importantly, tell them why. But be flexible: changes will always happen, don’t take it personally.  

  1.  Thou shalt invite the writer to (some) rehearsals.  

Directors:  It’s helpful and courteous to invite your writer into the room. Especially for the first read through – their knowledge will be invaluable. Make use of their presence, and discuss the session with them afterwards. Maybe over a beer or four.

Writers: You don’t have to go to every rehearsal. You don’t have to go to any. Respect the director’s schedule but be willing to pop your head in. When you’re there, let the director lead the room – that’s their job – but express opinions as well. Discuss with them afterwards how you think things are going. Maybe over a beer or four.

  1. Thou shalt discuss the rules of the rehearsal room before going into R&D or rehearsal.

Directors: Your room, your rules. Don’t be afraid to state the house rules about things like giving notes. Be clear about the way you work and expect respect for that.  

Writers: Huge one - always feedback your notes to the director first, not straight to the actors, unless they advise you otherwise. Step back enough that your director feels that you trust them. Don’t be afraid to ask the director for clarity on how they run the room (and deal with these specific actors) before the session. Trust their expertise here.

  1. Thou shalt communicate (in person as much as possible) throughout rehearsals.  

Talk to each to each other about progress, changes, developments so you avoid any late in the day surprises. Maybe over beer. Did we mention beer yet?

  1.  Thou shalt use thy Google Docs or Dropbox.  

Keep everyone on the same PAGE (cough).  

  1. Thou shalt not "agree to disagree".  

When it comes to problem solving at any stage, be upfront with each other. It’s not much use pretending to agree with each other and then being surprised when someone isn't happy.  

A little healthy debate where multiple points of view are put forward and different versions of things get tested is more likely to lead to the best possible compromise. It’s not always easy or comfortable, but it’s worth it in the long run.  

10. Thou shalt celebrate together after the show.
Bask in the glory of your beautiful romance. Beer anyone?