Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Working With Directors

By • Oct 19th, 2011 • Category: An Actor's Advice

I was once cast in a one-act play as part of a festival. I already was appearing in a different play within said festival, but there was a shortage of actors, so I agreed to be in the second as well.

During the first day of rehearsing, the director, instead of having us go through a read through, gave us detailed notes about…everything. That is to say she explained, on the first day, every nod, every line delivery, every cross, every pause. Things like, “and you’ll smile sweetly for about 2 seconds before delivering this next line in a quiet voice.”

Later she said, “If you have any concerns about your character or your responsibilities, please feel free to come to me after rehearsal, where I can tell you you’re wrong in private.”

I quit that show after one rehearsal.

Some directors in the theatre have a tendency to believe that they are gods over the production, and that they have the right to assert control over every last aspect of the production. I have a name for such directors. I call them “really bad directors.” That is because no good director worth working with will take everything out of the hands of other people. Especially development and presentation of the character, which is the responsibility and privilege of the actor alone.

However, an actor is not exempt from responsibility in such off balanced relationships in the theatre. Even directors who are not dictatorial, those who are willing to listen and work with you cannot do so unless you are upfront about your concerns, questions, fears and difficulties. In the absence of any response or conversation from you, even the best directors are going to at some point fill the void with something with which you are unhappy or uncomfortable.

That doesn’t mean, however, that a director can never be of use to the actor in regards to creative choices. Assuming you have a director that is open to ideas and has the good sense to allow actors to do their job, you should still be willing to approach them, early and often, with questions and concerns you have as an actor.

Good directors do in fact have a broader perspective on the nature of the entire narrative of the play than any given actor on stage will have, and hence will sometimes need to direct traffic, and polish things up. There has to be a pyramid, and the director must be first among equals, in a sense. Yet they are unable to see into your mind. The best directors will listen to your concerns and not tell you in private you are wrong, by default. They will help you see things differently, or work with you on something that is troublesome, but not if you are too timid to share with them.

Do so in the correct way of course. Be respectful, as with any interaction. Don’t take up the time of other people who are not affected by your concern. (Such as in the middle of a rehearsal.) Take some time after a rehearsal, or ask the director if there is a time that could be set aside before the next meeting. But certainly ask. Not only will your concerns be addressed, and give you more confidence and comfort in your performance, (two of the key factors for any actor during a show), something you bring up may in fact inspire a change that helps more than just you.

In other words, work with a director, not for them.

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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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