Play Post Mortem

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?

This post may not quite answer the prompt, but I’ll pretend I’m a politician and answer the question I want to.

I’ve often linked my theatre production process to the scientific method. I’d come up with a hypothesis, which is my directorial concept, and then experiment with that concept in rehearsal. Results of the experiment are determined (see: I used scientific passive voice there!) by observing the audience’s reaction during performances.

Of course, we must then evaluate those results, and in recent years, we did this through a production Post Mortem. (Note: I switched back to creative/arts active voice for that sentence.) My technical director John Teacher suggested it one year, and I continued the tradition after that. As I would explain to my Intro to Theatre students, a medical examiner conducts a post mortem on a dead body, and since the show was now passed, we did the same.

On the Monday evening after the close of the show, the production staff, consisting of director, designers, stage manager, assistant stage manager, and any other relevant tech crew would sit at a long table (or appear on Zoom, if needed) at the front of the theatre. I would introduce the process, which was: each area would say a few words about how that area functioned and then I, as director, would comment. At the end, we opened it up for questions from the audience which would consist of actors, my students, and other interested parties. The event usually lasted about 90 minutes, and served as fodder for the Intro to Theatre class discussions that would happen the following day, and the theatre reviews that would later follow.

I always felt that the harshest comment were mine about my own directorial work. I also found myself being less honest or less candid at times, not wanting to discourage students who had had a great experience. There’s no fun in saying, “I thought it was great!” and then having the professor whose opinion you respect explain to you why you are wrong. But that was part of the learning curve for me: finding the balance between honesty and encouragement, which is often a sharp razor’s edge.

Post Mortem of the student-directed production of Young Frankenstein., with me as producer at center.

Published by stephenschrum

Associate Professor of Theatre Arts; interested in virtual worlds, playwrighting, and filmmaking. Now creating a podcast called "Audio Chimera."

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