Jamie Williams is happy to be back at Lighthouse Festival for his first time as a director at the theatre. He’s starred on the Lighthouse stage in Skin Flick (Byron Hobbs); Melville Boys (Lee); and Baskerville (Dr. Watson). He’s directed at a number of theatres, including productions at the Foster Festival & the Upper Canada Playhouse. Jamie has recently been brought on board with the the team at The Foster Festival as their Artistic Associate, and is also thrilled to be starring with his wife Melanie Janzen (who is currently starring as Suzanne in Where You Are in Port Colborne) in the upcoming production of The View from Here, which he wrote, at Theatre Orangeville this coming fall, Oct 11th-29th. We chatted with him about what it’s like to direct a play that has never been produced before and what a daily routine of a theatre director looks like.
Lighthouse Festival (LF): When did you become interested in working as a director, and what influenced your decision to pursue this career?
Jamie Williams (JW): After some time in the business as an actor, which I have been primarily for the majority of my career, you certainly begin to develop thoughts on how you might do things. Especially when you have done a number of different productions of the same play which I have several times. But honestly the first time I seriously considered directing was when I had written my first play “It’s Your Funeral”. The opportunity came up and I thought “I’ve been living with these characters for a couple of years now, I’ve worked and reworked the logic, been envisioning the action of the piece since I set fingers to keyboard, so if there was ever a play I’d direct…” And I took the opportunity. It was a great experience, exciting in a whole new way from acting and writing, and I fell in love with the process. Since then I’ve had the great privilege of directing a number of Norm Foster’s shows and hope to continue doing so.
(LF): Describe your daily routine as a theatre director?
(JW): I don’t know that I have a routine per se, and maybe as I gain more experience one will certainly develop, but outside of the hours in rehearsal I like to arrive early and look forward over what we’re working on and write my thoughts, notes and general goals for the day down. Spending time in the rehearsal space when its quiet definitely opens me to new ideas dropping in, working through challenges that are yet unresolved. The most effective tool I have, and whether it is set in a routine or not, is writing out and through my thoughts and ideas alongside revisiting the script. All the answers are ultimately in the script after all. And at the end of the day I tend to review and again write down the next steps we need to consider the next day. Honestly, regardless of my routine or homework, the real work accomplished, and strides made, are in the rehearsal hall with the actors. It’s a collaborative art form and a director’s process can only be facilitated with the actors and vice versa.
(LF): What are the challenges of directing a play that has never been produced before?
(JW): No frame of reference. If a show has been produced and you’ve seen it before, or been in it, you have a starting point based on what you thought worked or didn’t work in that prior production. A new piece is a blank canvas which is exciting but daunting. However, the script, a good script, functions as a blueprint, everything you need is within it. Sometimes some real scrutiny is required but if you consider every word, punctuation mark, phrase and what is actually being said and the context it’s being said within, as a director you have everything you need.
(LF): Besides this one, what’s your favorite stage show?
(JW): I couldn’t possibly say. Julius Caesar the first Shakespeare I read and saw at Stratford? The Melville Boys, the first Norm Foster play I read and was later privileged to perform here at Lighthouse? Or Norm’s The Writer, arguably his most beautiful and heart wrenching script, in which I originated ‘Blake Wellner’? Long Day’s Journey Into Night which I saw performed several times by my idols Tom McCamus and Peter Donaldson alongside the greats William Hutt, Martha Henry and Martha Burns? Or Arcadia by Tom Stoppard in which I played Bernard Nightingale out at The Citadel in Edmonton? Or Hadestown? Or In and Of Itself? Or Possible Worlds…? I think you get the point.
(LF): What will the audience be thinking about in the car as they drive home after this show?
(JW): I hope they’re still laughing all the way home! A Pack of Thieves is a full out comedy and I think we’re hitting all the right notes that’ll elicit a lot of laughs. But it’s not silly and it’s not a farce and there are moments where Norm has deftly allowed the characters to reveal themselves as truly human with desires, needs, and flaws. They are a disparate group of unlikely partners each with their own quirks and yet they grow through this piece and reflect thoughts and feelings about friendship, love and brotherly affection that we can all relate to and identify as the stuff that really matters in good times and more importantly desperate times. Maybe some of the audience will talk about that. Good theatre is a good story with characters that matter, that we grow to care about, and this story, I think, is just that.