Directing is one of the more difficult to define roles in theatrical practice. In many cases, we are not the originators of work. We are not the producers (although that often comes with the job). We are not the designers who shape the world directly. We are not the performers. We don’t write the plays. What we do often has more to do with the past, mining a previously extant text for some new meaning, some personal vitality that can serve as the heart of a collaboration. The past always looms large as the place where we start digging.

The National Theatre School was a storied place for me for a long time. It was founded in 1960, under the guidance of Michel St. Denis, to cultivate classical theatre training in Canada. In 1964, my grandfather, David Peacock, was asked to found (and lead) the school’s production and technical arts program. Six years later, he became the general manager of the school. His daughter (my mother) Lucy Peacock, graduated from the school in 1983. The place has history, and I have history with its history.

When I first arrived at the school, I found myself at a crossroads. My own practice was shifting from a traditional sense of theatre and the director’s role to one more focused on creation and explicit performativity. As much as I wanted to be there, I felt that I must be looking in the wrong place. I wanted to be a director, yes, but I felt dissatisfied by the act of simply staging the works of established, and in total honesty, pretty exclusively dead white men. What was I doing here? How could this building, that reflected so much of where I’d come from, that I sought to leave behind, feed me in my search for something new? Alive? Authentic?

The connection came in stages. Working the core craft of the director through research and text analysis. Scene studies of those same writers I had known, but not known, before. By going deeper in to the work I was questioning, I saw more of myself in the practice. The dramaturgical clarity necessary to create something new, in the rigour demanded by working with what has come before. It wasn’t a matter of walking before running. It was a matter of discovering the walk inside the run. And the run inside the walk.

And as I looked deep inside the plays, I became better at looking deep inside myself. At interrogating the early impulse. My assumptions around the work, and life itself. If the past is the known shore, the future the ocean before. The lighthouse is the point between. A marker. A sign of return, and of possibility. And the director, as much as anything else, is the lighthouse keeper. The one who keeps the living light at that place between the past and the future of the text.

Harrison Thomas
Graduating student of the Directing program (2018)