Being a choreographer for a theatrical production can be so much fun. You get to help bring a performance to life by providing movement for the cast. You get to interact with both the cast and the production team. You get to share your creative ideas with an audience.
But what is a choreographer’s job in a live theatre setting? This can vary from one company to another, but in my experience, here is what’s expected from a choreographer:
Communicate with the director and fulfill their creative vision.
The director ultimately gets final say in the creative aspects of the performance, so the director and choreographer need to have a conversation so both people are on the same page regarding the director’s vision for the show. From there, it is the choreographer’s job to create pieces that accurately reflect that vision.
That’s not to say that choreographer’s don’t have creative control over their work within a production, but they might need to collaborate with their director or simply incorporate the director’s ideas into their own creative process.
Teach the choreography to the cast, or work with the cast to create the choreography.
This requires skills in communication and instruction. As the choreographer, you will be telling the cast what you want from them next. You need to be able to use your words or body to properly communicate what step you want, how you want the performers to do the step, and perhaps even get deeper and talk about their characters’ motivations for doing these steps.
Make sure the cast feels safe in their choreography.
Two kinds of safe here. Firstly, your cast needs to be physically safe. Is it safe for someone to do a back handspring if they haven’t trained that move for a year? Are your performers going to be safe moving from one set piece to another, or do they need more time, or a different way to get there? If the answer to any safety questions is ‘no,’ the choreography has to change. Yes, it’s a bummer, but not nearly as much of a bummer as somebody seriously hurting themselves in rehearsal or onstage.
Secondly, your cast needs to feel emotionally safe. This might mean there needs to be a conversation before a performer is touched by a dance partner, whether on the hand or around the waist. O this might mean providing choreography that is skill-level appropriate so your cast feels confident about performing their routine in front of an audience.
Safety always wins over your choreographic dreams.
Answer cast questions about the choreography.
Or, assign dance captains within the cast who can answer questions for you. Your cast might have questions about the quality of their movement, or a small detail that has yet to be set. You are the head of the choreography department, so you are the authority that cast members will go to with these questions.
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Choreographing in a theatre setting is a gift. Just remember that you are ultimately part of a team when you’re putting on a theatrical performance, and your closest teammates are the director and the cast. Communicating clearly with them is key to putting on a great show.
What did I miss from this list? Let me know in the comments!