Today, I’ll be talking to all of you directors out there, but actors, you should definitely eavesdrop on this one. You’re listening to acting for community theater, a little show with big ideas, stories, acting tips, and a lot of heart for community theater artists. I’m Barbra French directing is not an easy job. There’s a lot to research to interpret, to create, to manage, to design, to organize to polish. And there’s a lot of people to deal with, to, from producers, to designers, actors, to technicians, and ultimately audiences. Sometimes it feels like you’re doing six different jobs all at once, but I would say that the director’s most important job is hands down communicating with the actors. You can do all the research and thinking and interpreting and creating and designing that you’d like in your head. But if you can’t get your actors to bring your ideas to life on stage, then what’s the point.
Many community theater directors learned their craft by first becoming community theater actors, and then working their way up to the director’s chair as actors, they probably worked with many directors learning the ropes from them along the way. The problem of course is that if the directors that they worked with did not understand how to talk to actors, how to help them do their job. Then what they learned from those directors might not be helpful or effective, and it might even be counterproductive to the actor’s process. So let’s dive into what a director’s job actually is and how they can more effectively communicate what’s in their heads to the actors on the stage. Here are a few things to think about when speaking with actors first, you need to understand what the actor’s job is in order to understand what your job is. The actor’s job is not to just memorize their lines, learn their blocking, and then say their lines.
The way you tell them to their job is to have truthful moments of human experience and share those with an audience. Your job is to facilitate them having truthful moments of human experience that they share with an audience. Actors need to clearly understand why their characters are doing and saying the things that they’re doing and saying, and they need to share these truthfully with their audience and you can’t get truthful moments of human experience. When you, for instance, tell them how to say things. I can always tell when a director has given line readings. In other words, they said the lines the way they wanted the actors to say them and then told the actors to copy it. Because even if those lines ring true, the moments all around them, usually don’t, it’s just because the actors haven’t dived down into the story and the characters and the action enough to understand what’s going on in the play. And they have to understand it. If they’re going to have truthful moments, otherwise the subtext doesn’t work, the blocking looks forced and the tactics aren’t clear. We don’t want forced moments. And we don’t want parroted line moments. We want real honest, truthful moments. So let them explore and discover those moments with you. Understanding what your job really is, is the first step to communicating clearly with actors. Second action and reaction are the things you need to explore to get those truthful moments as a director, you need to be very clear in your mind on what the action of each scene is. That is why you do a thorough directorial analysis. Well, before you start rehearsals, the action of the play is often discussed in table work during the first rehearsal or two, but even if you don’t do table work, and I often don’t, depending on the play, you should at least begin the rehearsal for each new scene, with an overview of what the action of the scene is and what each character wants. This should drive everything that you work on from exploration to blocking, to polishing, to giving notes. If the action isn’t clear your actors, won’t be having those truthful moments. The story will not be clear and engaging, and you will lose your audience.
Third, because an actor’s job is to have truthful moments on stage. And those are only created by playing action. You must speak that language, the language of action. It does not help an actor. When you give a note like, can you be more angry there, or I’d love to see you cry during that monologue. Actors cannot truthfully play emotions on stage in that way. And if they try to be angry or cry on demand, without understanding and playing the action of the scene, the moment will look forest faked and definitely not truthful. And again, you will lose your audience.
Actors need to work with action actions are their primary tools and directors need to speak the language of action so that the actors better understand which tool in their toolbox to pick up and when and why. So use action words when you give directions, whenever possible, give the actor something to do, not something to be. Now, none of this means that you should never direct an actor by talking about what is emotionally going on with his character. There will be lots of discussion about the emotional lives of the characters, but fundamentally actors must work with the action of the scene above all else, and you must be able to help them with that. Emotions are the byproducts of action, not the driving force of acting, so speak to your actors in the language that they can and should understand the language of action. You can get much more clarity, detail, and step by step instructions on directing in my book, the ultimate directing handbook for community theater, which will hopefully be out later this year. In the meantime, I always recommend that directors take a good acting class because nothing will help you understand the needs of the actor better than learning the fundamentals of acting. So drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org that’s info at V I T a T H E a T R E. That’s right. I’m Canadian, and it’s spelled differently.ca
Next week, we’re going to have some fun. We’re going to take a peek at what kind of community theater actor you are by taking a look at some traits of some very famous, lovable character actors from your past. But for now I’m Barbra French. Thanks for listening. Your job is to felicitate them having your job is to facilitate them having truthful moments of human experience that they share with the audience. Well, congratulations actors. Well done. I felicitate you!