Directing with Grace

Hello and thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I am Robert A. Easton (many people call me Bob) and I’m one of the producers for the upcoming Utah Rep / ATG Theatre joint production of the play “Grace” by award-winning playwright, Craig Wright. I have also volunteered to serve as dramaturg for the production.

The man, the myth, the legend... JC Carter

The man, the myth, the legend… JC Carter

This week’s blog is about the man responsible for taking what is written in the script and not only bring it to life on stage, but who must also work with the cast, crew, and production staff to make sure “Grace” is the best show it can be. I’m referring of course to our brilliant and more-than-capable director, the one and only JC Carter.

“JC has been fantastic to work with,” says Johnny Hebda, who plays the role of Steve. “He allows the actors to explore and experiment in each rehearsal, and offers insightful input as we work.”

Emilie Starr, who plays Steve’s wife, Sarah, says Carter “is a very organic director.”

“What exactly does it mean to be an organic director?” you may ask. Well, as Hebda said, it means that Carter lets his actors explore and experiment. It means that he doesn’t treat them like talking props by forcing them to learn and not deviate from exact and specific characterizations and/or blocking.

“I have very much enjoyed the ground-up approach he has taken to creating this show,” Starr further said about Carter ’s organic directing style. “He’s very open to all interpretations of the characters so I feel very comfortable throwing in my opinion. He has also created a very safe environment for creation by encouraging us to change the blocking if our impulses lead us in another direction. It is so much fun to be in the middle of a rehearsal process that relies so much on collaboration.”

From ATG's Picasso at the Lapin Agile (2008) when director JC Carter first got to work with actor JayC Stoddard

From ATG’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” where Carter first got to work with  Stoddard

About his directing process, Carter says, “I look at the play as a whole. What are its central themes, and what is the ‘true’ theme of the play? Who are these characters? Are they people I know and, ostensibly, that most people know? Finally, I consider the author. What is he or she trying to convey through their words? From there, I see myself as a guide to the actors to find these characters and themes. However, despite my preconceptions coming into rehearsal, I know that what I think will pale in comparison to the actor’s interpretations of their characters and their objectives in a given scene.”

“I appreciate how he gives us this freedom to make the characters our own,” says Hebda, “and allows the blocking to change and morph organically as we experiment with new ideas and layers in each scene. He is knowledgeable about the details in the script, and I have found the table work and discussions we’ve had on everything from speaking in tongues to the Promise Keepers to be very helpful as I have explored and developed the character of Steve.”

On that note, Carter adds, “I don’t believe a character can truly come to life or even be interesting until an actor is playing that part, because they’re bringing the most important aspects of themselves to the work. These are pieces of themselves that round them out and make them human beings, and without that the character falls flat.”

From ATG's "Bob Juan Casanova" where JC and JayC again worked together

From ATG’s “Bob Juan Casanova,” where Carter and Stoddard worked together

About his rehearsal methods he says, “I rarely have the script open in front of me once I start working with the actors. This can be frustrating when I have them do something that may be contradictory to written stage directions and intentions, but I find it freeing to just focus on what the characters say to motivate the movement of the story, and there’s always someone willing to correct me when I get something wrong, so it does work itself out.”

Of course actors aren’t the only people a play director has to work with, there’s also all the hardworking members of the crew such as the stage manager, lighting/sound designers, the costumer, the prop master, etc., all of whom the director must be able to clearly communicate and collaborate with in order to bring any play together under a united creative vision.

When it comes to putting together the right crew, Carter says, “I find and hire professionals; people who know their craft and have both the passion for their work, but the necessary skills and training to give me what I want. I then let them know what I want, and let them take over and create that.”

From Wasatch Theater's "True West", directed, of course, by JC Carter

From Wasatch Theatre’s “True West,” directed by Carter

Speaking for myself, I’ve worked with Carter on many shows over the past eight years, and although he’s always been one of the best and most competent directors in Utah, as I’ve watched him direct “Grace” these past several weeks, it’s obvious that he has somehow managed to step up his game this year and is currently operating on an entirely new level of excellence. He does a great job managing every aspect of every show he directs and makes my job as producer so much easier than it might otherwise be.

“Grace” opens April 25th and closes May 10th. It will be performed at the Sugar Space in Salt Lake City and is a Utah premiere. Tickets for the show are now on sale. We hope to see you there and hope you enjoy the show.

Join us next Tuesday for out next blog.

In 2012 JC directed "Twelve Angry Men" in a room at in a city hall building.

In 2012 Carter directed “Twelve Angry Men” in a room inside a city hall building.