Joe Messina and Ashley H. White

Theatre Directing Life Hacks

In the 11th Square One column, Joe Messina offers tips for anyone wanting to become a director, and staying in the game.

published Monday, July 16, 2018


EDITOR'S NOTE: This edition of Square One is written by Joe Messina


Dallas —  I love being a director.

I know so many people who love it too. I also know an equal amount of people who want to become a director. They want to take that step but are unsure on how to being that journey.

The issue with directing though is you can never really learn how to do it, without…doing it.

And here is the rub… It can feel like no one will give you an opportunity, unless you have already proven yourself in some capacity. But how do you prove yourself? It can take years to become an established director, or you could be one of the lucky few who gets into it right away. Sometimes the years can make you want to quit. But hold onto that drive, that passion and good, old-fashioned optimism.

Let me cue the Wayback machine and briefly tell you my journey.

My formal education was not in theatre. It was in film. I wanted to be the next Roger Ebert. I wanted to watch movies all day, review them, write books about them and hang out with my friends and talk film. During this time, I was also a young actor. I’d audition for local theatres and get cast, or not. I was enjoying making new friends and just being part of the theatre community.

In my 20s, I found a theatrical home. A theatre where my closest friends did shows all year. It was here I caught the directing bug. I was lucky. I was afforded the opportunity to fail and then succeed. I was lucky to have a theatre that entrusted me to try and give me the chance.

I got more serious and took workshops at larger theatres in Chicago and learned from some amazing working professionals the trials and tribulations on being a director.

I didn’t go to school for directing and I was in my late 20s when I finally started. But I am a firm believer that if you have the passion and drive, you can succeed and it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. But you already know that deep down. (See there is that optimism).

Fast forward to today…I am lucky again to have landed in Dallas and to have met my Artistic partner, Ashley H. White. We challenge each other daily and I have learned from her as well.

Don’t give up on your dreams to be a director.

I want to leave you with some great survival tips I was given, and a little bit of good news at the bottom, so stay tuned. But also, remember: Theatre is an Art. There is no one correct path. It’s just a series of side streets that help you weave around traffic until you can get cruising.





Seek out a theatre company or group of artists you respect. See if there are any opportunities to work with them in any capacity. Any job will do. Work with them. Ask if you can be an assistant director on a production. Odds are, they’ll say yes. If they don’t have any availabilities, see how else you can help. Absorb everything you can about the creative process.  



Devour whatever you can about theatre. Yes, read scripts and books by playwrights and directors. But also read biographies, and not just those of theatre artists. I find learning about the mindset and life of people will help you understand them, putting you in a better place to analyze scripts and talk to actors about motivation and honesty in performances. by treating their characters as real people.



This one is so important. Go out and SEE as much theatre as you can. Professional, community, large or small. There is so much art being produced all around you. Absorb it. Resonate on it. I realize budgets and time can hamper one’s ability to get out. I understand that immensely, as a father of two and one who works a full-time job outside of theatre, that time is precious. When you get the opportunity. Do it.



The world, as they say, is your oyster. So is your own backyard. Experience new culture and traditions, whether it is in a different country, state or town. You don’t have to go far. Broaden that viewpoint. Stick to the same neighborhoods out of habit? Try a new one. Take the same route to work every day? Take another one. Switch it up and go to another grocery store, another coffee shop, another bar. Every corner of this globe is full of interesting people…which brings me to…



Step out of your bubble and meet people from all walks of life. Begin to observe people, talk to people, and get to know them. LISTEN to them. You will find the characters in your plays have amazing parallels in real life. After all, the plays you will direct are about Life. Know it well.


OK, we’re at the end. One last thing: Remember number one? About seeking opportunity? At IMPRINT, providing those opportunities for development of artists is an important part of our vision. Want to get involved? Let us know. And stay tuned, because next month we’re announcing our second season, which includes a very exciting opportunity for new directors.


» White and Messina are currently co-directing Lauren Gunderson's The Revolutionists, which opens July 20 at the Margo Jones Theatre. Imprint also has Devin Berg's play Suckers playing at the 20th Festival of Independent Theatres.

» Ashley H. White and Joe Messina are co-artistic directors of IMPRINT theatreworks

» Square One now runs on the third Monday of the month






  • January: The Importance of Team
  • February: Lessons Learned
  • March: Curtain Up
  • April: About the Company Manager
  • May: Another Closing, Another Show
  • June: Finding Clarity in Chaos
 Thanks For Reading

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Theatre Directing Life Hacks
In the 11th Square One column, Joe Messina offers tips for anyone wanting to become a director, and staying in the game.
by Ashley H. White and Joe Messina

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