I direct community theater plays. I’ve worked with actors with natural talent and actors with little natural talent, with lots of experience or none at all. Actors with different learning styles and ways of processing information. Of these, perhaps three gave indications through how they worked that they knew something about what they were doing. Everyone else was flying by the seat of their pants.
My directing style reflects the fact that I am a teacher by nature. A few moments in rehearsal are clearly instructive, but mostly, I introduce technique without specifically saying, “Okay, this is something you want to use in every play you do.” I hope that my actors will realize the benefits of what they are doing and carry some small portion of that experience forward into other plays. I am sowing seeds, as it were.
I ask my actors to work in ways that use the tools without actually identifying them as tools. I help them to work in healthy, organic, productive ways that they’ve never used before. I help them to work in the way well-trained actors do, and every time they veer off course, I push them back on.
I don’t do the work; they do. I just make sure they are working correctly. Good process = great results.
My rehearsals are hard work. I have high expectations and encourage them to strive for greatness. And to a man (and woman), they do.
It’s a different way of working, and it’s uncomfortable for them. I run scenes as much as I can, but less than most community theater directors do. I work the beats. I work moments. I dig for motivations. I demand great physicality. As you’ll see when I talk about blocking, I keep my actors moving.
Actors have so much to learn in the course of my rehearsals that when they think about opening night, I can see the panic in their eyes. After five weeks, they have no confidence that this thing is going to come together in time. Everything still seems like a haphazard work-in-progress. They can’t make many conscious decisions, because I keep changing things just enough that they are always a little off-balance. “Where’s the run-throughs that are my security blanket?!?”
Once we start with run-throughs every night, I still have this annoying habit of stopping mid-scene and addressing issues that I deem too critical to wait for notes. Over the next couple of weeks, the interruptions become fewer, and the notes start addressing tiny details instead of major issues. As we approach tech week, we are fine-tuning at a level the actors have never done before. And now, the actors are beginning to think that we just might pull this off.
And two nights before we open, they kill it. They absolutely kill it. And they know it. They have brought this play to a place they never dreamt of. They have each gone well beyond what they thought they were capable of.
It happens every time. No matter who is in the cast, or how little experience they have. Good process = great performances. And you can do it without me there to guide you. I promise.