The 2 Primary Principles

May 15, 2010


These are the two cardinal principles I base all my decisions on:

1) To make everyone sound and look as good as possible.

2) To be as faithful as possible to the authors’ intentions for the piece.

Let me flesh those out a little bit.

1) As the music director, (and actually as a musician, and as a human being) you need to be trying to make all those around you seem as competent as possible. You want to do this for a few reasons. Firstly, there really isn’t any way for you to look good if those around you don’t. Theatre is a collaborative art, and in order to succeed in it, you must collaborate. Secondly, and this is very important: Everyone around you is remembering the experience of working with you. If you are focused on doing your best within your sphere to improve the quality of your colleague’s work, your colleagues will want to work with you again. If you become absorbed with your own concerns and don’t engage your colleagues, they won’t hire you again. If you’re a teacher in a school, your job may not be on the line, but it takes a lot of goodwill to keep a program going, and you can’t afford to lose that. Make people look good.

2) The people who write shows do so with varying degrees of skill, but the process of putting together a show for its first production usually involves a lot of people who are extremely good at what they do. As the show is being written and rehearsed the first time around, everything is up in the air, and songs are added or cut, moved into different keys, moved to different positions in the show, etc. They are usually constantly trying out the changes in front of paying audiences and in front of a group of backers who have spent a lot of money, and hope to get some of it back. Considering all the thought and care that went into each decision in the show, you should alter things as little as possible. When you do alter things, it’s very important that you know the authors’ original intention, and how your alteration is an improvement. Changing things you don’t understand is a little like removing walls in a house without checking to see if they’re load bearing. The author’s conception and intentions are not an artistic straitjacket. They are the foundation and framing that hold up your show. Change things intelligently if you must change them. Or don’t change them at all.


When you make artistic decisions within a show, you’ll soon see these rules coming up against each other in interesting ways. Let’s say you have a kid who can’t sing the high note he has at the end of a number. It’s breaking principle 1 to make the kid sing the high notes and sound terrible. But it’s breaking principle 2 to transpose it, since the author intended it to be in the key he wrote it in. Well, clearly the author’s intention is that the song be well sung, and if it takes moving it into another key, generally, that’s the best solution. But taking the song out and inserting a song by another writer is going directly against the author’s intention and could do damage to the structure of the piece. Let’s say the kid can sing the notes, but he can’t keep the audience’s interest for the duration of the piece. That’s breaking both rules, since the kid doesn’t look good, and the author probably wouldn’t intend for the audience to be bored. So maybe a cut is in order. But you must clearly understand the structure of the piece dramatically and the way the words function in order to know what best to cut if anything. So these principles must be held in balance with each other.

As you make your choices, ask yourself: How can I make these people look and sound their best, and how can I be true to the piece we’ve chosen?



  1. […] are a place where the balance of the 2 principles comes strongly into play. Your contract with the rights organization probably says you can cut […]

  2. […] function. With the proper discretion, transposition can be a great way to fulfill both principle 1 and principle 2; the kids sound better, and the show sounds […]

  3. […] moves the set that should have been moved during the last song. This is an example of using the second principle to your advantage: normally shows are constructed so that hard scene changes have scene change […]

  4. […] back to the two primary principles, Dealing with other directors, be they dramatic directors or choreographers is working out the […]

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