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What happens when the director gets sick?

This article was inspired by a situation that happened to me. Recently, we directed a production of Descendants of Disney: The Musical with a distribution of 23 extraordinary students in the 8th, 9th and 10th grades. We’ve been waiting to direct this two-year-old show – it was originally scheduled to run in the fall of 2020, but has been postponed several times due to the pandemic.

I was disappointed in the week of technology, which I blamed on the nervousness before running and the lack of training to direct in person (directed two virtual shows in the meantime). However, I woke up in the morning of the opening feeling awful. A quick test later confirmed that I had Covid-19. What a horrible moment. I had to miss the whole show, which was incredibly disappointing.

Although it was an annoying and stressful situation, I was lucky to have an amazing creative team and supportive administrators who were able to intervene at the last minute to supervise the students and make sure the show went as smoothly as possible. No one wants to anticipate that you will be sick or absent, but if you have a little advance training in your pocket it will reduce stress if the worst is happening. Here are some tips:

1. Know in advance the supervision policies of your school.

Find out in advance your school’s instructor absence policies. These may vary depending on whether the production is related to class or extracurricular activity. Who will supervise your students if you are absent? Does he have to be an administrator or another teacher at the school? Could he be a volunteer parent? If you have hired a team member (such as a music director or choreographer) who is not a teacher but is an adult, is he or she allowed to supervise?

There may also be different considerations depending on when the performance is. For example, an evening or weekend show versus a matinee during school hours. Knowing these policies in advance can help you make plans and avoid canceling a performance due to lack of oversight.

2. Bend over your colleagues.

Try not to be the only responsible adult throughout the process. If you direct a musical, you are probably working with a music director and a choreographer who can take the lead during the show. But it’s not uncommon for the director to be the main (or only) adult in the room most of the time.

Of course, it’s great to have a lot of student leaders working on your show (inclusive assistant directors, stage managers, backstage assistants and technicians) and can take the lead to make sure the show goes according to plan. But while your students can lead the show, they can’t supervise each other, even if they’re legally big enough.

If you have additional adults involved in your production, it can reduce your stress load (which will prevent you from getting disappointed and possibly getting sick) and make sure that teacher-led responsibilities, such as locking or adjusting the thermostat, are met. It may be helpful to make a checklist of these tasks so that the supervisor who will complete them knows what to do and how to do it.

3. Establish a routine.

Establishing a routine before the show it will help the students to maintain a certain normality while you are gone. If possible, ask students to lead the routine – even when you are well. It will be one less thing on your to-do list, giving students leadership opportunities and giving them responsibility for the pre-presentation process.

4. Communicate with your students and trust them.

Although you have no doubt contacted administrators and team members, you should also let students know that you will not be there as much notice as possible. Don’t surprise them at the time of the call, letting someone else share the news. You don’t have to give them all the details, just a short message with notes, tasks to do and words of encouragement. Thus, they will be able to cope with stress in time, so that they can focus on performance. Trust that they will continue to make every effort during the show, even without you being present.

During the rehearsal process, you may want to play The “What if” game. for students to work on problem-solving skills and see how they might react in a stressful situation.

5. Take care of yourself.

Although getting sick could have been inevitable, I know that pushing myself beyond my limits didn’t help. Engaging in self-care practices would have helped me reduce stress and perhaps helped me recover faster. Here are some resources from our blog:

Click here for a document with free questions.

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage fighter from London, Ontario, Canada. She writes on the blog at www.kerryhishon.com.

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