NIDA: Forging a Bond Between Theatre and Film

September 8, 2017
Knowing how to craft and create for the stage can come in handy when you’re getting a film up and getting it running, as NIDA student, Sarah Hadley, explains.

The mediums of theatre and film are inextricably linked, whether through the performers and technicians who drift between the two worlds; the content shared by them (with a seemingly now equal number of films being adapted into stage works as plays are being reconfigured for the screen); or the audiences that happily gorge themselves in both cinemas and theatres. And learning your craft in one can also feed your abilities in the other. Such is the case with Sarah Hadley, who is currently punching her way through a Master of Fine Arts (Directing) course at NIDA (The National Institute of Dramatic Art) after working for several years in the film world as a focus puller, clapper loader, and director in her own right.

Firmly in control of the technical aspects of filmmaking after her years on film sets, it was the foundation skills of theatre that drew Sarah Hadley to NIDA. “Having a heavy cinematic focus on performance, I wanted to withdraw from the screen world to further my ‘on the ground’ skills,” she tells FilmInk. “I wanted to work with text and dramaturgy, movement and gesture. There is a skill to directing an actor body to body; a relationship between actor and director that the camera can sometimes interfere with. Coaching theatrical performance is an entirely new challenge. Harnessing the skills of theatrical direction will develop a cinematic director’s skills ten-fold.”

The division between the worlds of theatre and film, however, is continually shrinking, with skill and expertise in both areas setting a director up for even greater success. Working with actors is an essential skill in both formats, while the lines of technique are becoming increasingly blurred. “Live video use is everywhere,” Hadley offers. “The presence of a camera and video image onstage can create a new experience for a live audience. The trick is to properly integrate its use, especially considering the audience who are already adept living in a world of screens and cameras. When used in conjunction with the movement of the narrative, film onstage can reveal something unexpected to the audience. The integration of the two mediums in front of a live audience has created spectacular results for character conception and dramaturgical tension, showing me the strengths of each medium. I can then take that away and use them individually.”

Hadley has found the Master of Fine Arts (Directing) course at NIDA a source of great creative nourishment for her work in both of her chosen fields. “When you’re working behind the camera in film production, specificity is everything,” Hadley says. “The job involves a combination of mathematic skills and intuition in space. The elements of specificity and intuition are also immensely important for creating a captivating and memorable experience for a live audience in theatre.”

But the linkage between theatre and film can also create peaks and valleys of its own, with Hadley’s transition from rear of camera to front of stage prompting a mild rethink on her work across the two mediums. “Moving away from the idea that the stage is comparable to the film frame has been a challenge,” she says. “Instead, I have begun thinking about the differences between film and stage. Film is like a gesture in time – through montage and editing – while stage is like a gesture in space, through embodied live movement.”

And finally, does Sarah Hadley have any tips for aspiring directors in either film or theatre?

“Cross-pollinate your mediums,” she replies. “Within all my projects, I hold to the idea of trusting and provoking the opinions of my co-workers and their specialties, be it designers, dramaturges or DOPs. Within my own practice, I push myself to think across mediums so my work in film will be informed by the live space of theatre, and my theatre work will be informed by the montage of the film frame.”

Applications for NIDA’s MFA Directing course are now open.

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