Theater Info for the Washington DC region

The Role of the Director

By • Oct 20th, 2010 • Category: An Actor's Advice

My views on the role of the director in a stage production, at least on the community level, are often the subject of much debate between myself and other actors. I talk about such things on my blog often, and suffice to say my views on the position are unorthodox.

Yet that doesn’t mean I find the position unimportant. There are vital tasks that the director must perform. And the actor must allow them to be performed. One of the most effective ways of allowing the director to do their job is to keep your advice to yourself during an actual rehearsal.

Physical problems arise in a show all the time. Blocking oddities. Prop issues. Securing costumes from the local shop. You name it. And for the most part all of these non-performance related duties fall to the director. (Sometimes the stage manager, depending on the company.)

Yet there is a tendency in community theatre to not acknowledge the need for one voice to direct traffic. A crossing problem arises, and you suddenly find actors emerging from backstage saying, “why doesn’t she just cross this way?” Or a prop will be missing and one of the people in the chorus will step up to the front of the stage and offer to bring in an array of items that have “just been sitting around the house”, that the theatre is more than welcome to use. This somehow becomes a fiv minute conversation, outlying the advantages of said item, where it came from, and how it is used. Then there is one of my favorites, “When we did this show at the Main Street Theater, we did it THIS way…”

You get the idea. And while I wholeheartedly believe the community productions must be treated in a distinctly different way from professional ones, one thing that cannot be changed is organization.

No matter how clear you see the problem, no matter how much experience you have, and no matter what you did in any number of other productions, do not hold up rehearsal time making suggestions. Especially if the director is taking time to ponder how to fix a situation. A pause in rehearsal is not an invitation to chime in every four seconds. Nothing is more irksome than trying to think while have five actors, who still have plenty of their own work to do, shout, “How about this?” or “Try that!” or (the absolute worst) “This is how I would do it.”

You can contribute the most to a smooth running rehearsal, and even to the quick solving of a problem, by remaining quiet and waiting for rehearsal to start up proper again. If the director asks for different ideas from the cast, (which happens often enough in my experience) then you may offer your idea. But try to keep in mind that your job is to act. Interpret a script. Bring your little part of it to life. The director’s job is to make sure it all comes together in a way that looks nice and runs without a hitch. That job is hard enough. Don’t let your desire to help, (or, think a moment, perhaps your ego?) jump in every time there is a slight pause in the action to offer up one of your perfect solutions. You cannot see the entire stage, and do not have a perception of the whole from your vantage point as a single actor. You have plenty to do. The director has plenty to do. You can’t control how far out of their bounds a director may step into your territory as an actor, but don’t use that as an excuse to step out of your own bounds.

When you have worked with a director many times, and become very familiar with their style, as well as that of your cast mates, you can perhaps once in a while offer small bits of unsolicited advice when you know the precise moment it will not hold things up or add to the confusion. Even then it should be done sparingly, and basically never with a large cast. (Unless they have unworldly levels of discipline and can remain quiet.) Otherwise, in the very least, wait until notes to bring it up, or, if a large difficulty, ask the director if you may address a problem before the scene proceeds. Wait for their answer, and accept it graciously if the answer is “not now”.

A lot about acting is your overall presence in the theatre, both off stage and on. Learning to control your need or desire to co-direct will make you a better presence, and make the production run smoothly. And that helps everybody in the show do their job better.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

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