Some directors do a lot of table work; some do none. Some like to plan blocking ahead; some like to let the actors develop their own. Some are very involved in what happens in rehearsal; some sit back and let the actors do their thing and nudge the train back on track when it diverts too far.
Whatever kind of director you have, it’s up to you to figure out how to get what you need from him. It’s a relationship, and like all relationships, we give what is easy for us to give, or what we’ve been accustomed to giving in the past. If your director doesn’t give you what you need, it’s up to you to ask for it. Good communication between an actor and her director is critical, but it’s a two-way street. Don’t expect the director to read your mind. He’s got a lot on his.
Most directors don’t give enough positive feedback to actors on their work, mainly because actors can’t get enough! Acting is so personal that even those of us with strong egos need to be reassured that we’re okay, that we’re moving in the right direction. In addition, some directors may only feel the need to provide you guidance and not reassurance. If you aren’t getting enough stroking from your director, be direct with him. “Do you like what I’m doing???”
If you aren’t clear on what your director’s vision for the play is, ask. Rephrase what he tells you in words that are meaningful to you in order to be sure you are both speaking the same language. (This is called “mirroring”, by the way, and it is the only way to be sure communication is effective and accurate.)
If you need guidance about your character, ask for it early in the rehearsal process. Don’t flounder on your own until you’re desperate for help. I’ve seen directors put off steering actors onto the right track until very late in rehearsal process, and it’s really too late to do much about it at that point. Remember that if you are struggling with a scene in any way, the director may not realize it unless you say something. Let him help you sort things out.
This isn’t a test you need to pass. It’s a work of art you are creating. Admitting confusion and uncertainty is a healthy thing in the theater. It’s how we find what works.
Most importantly, be open to what your director has to offer the production. Remember that he sees things from the audience’s perspective. If he tells you something looks a certain way, believe him! He has no reason to lie to you. If what you’re doing isn’t coming across the way you think it is, change it so it will.
It’s also important to let a director know if he is working in a way that bothers you. Some directors like to demonstrate. As an actor, I hate it, and if I see a director doing it with another actor, I’ll let him know (privately) at the earliest opportunity that I need him to not do it with me. If I am his first “victim”, I’ll diplomatically ask him in the moment to find a different way to get his point across.
Remember that while the director has many other concerns to deal with, helping you is still one of them. Don’t feel that you can’t “bother” him, because “he’s got so much on his plate already.” He signed up for this responsibility, after all; it’s up to him to figure out how to juggle his responsibilities successfully. Take responsibility for your acting, but the director is your partner in crime. Ask for anything you need that will help you produce your best work!