Actor’s Etiquette: The Young Actor’s Dilemma

cw_EtiquettePoster_v04_PrintReadyOne of my readers, Milo, made the following comment the other day:

“As a young actor, I find that directors seem afraid to give me specific direction.  So when I ask, how was that… I get a lot of ‘oh, great. You were perfect.’ . . . I don’t think I am that perfect.  So, I’d like more direction rather than less.  I’m working hard to be a pro and to grow as an actor, so directors, please pull some of that greatness out of me.”

Milo, I sympathize, and some of the answer you’re looking for is in my Actor’s Etiquette post on Working with the Director.  But let me take that further.

I’d like to start by addressing your particular situation, which is that you are a young actor.

Do the directors who don’t give you direction give the direction you would like to adult actors?  If they don’t, then perhaps they don’t know how to give direction.  Directors can be very successful despite this shortcoming, because they know how to cast well, and they have a vision.  Those two things can make up for not knowing how to communicate with actors.

When I direct, I am very actor-centric because I began life as an actor and can be articulate about the process.  Not every director works this way.

If they DO give detailed feedback to adults and it is merely your age that is holding them back, there’s a couple of possibilities.  Perhaps you were as good as you needed to be in that moment, and any improvements you could make aren’t worth the director’s time, since he has bigger fish to fry.  I know, that doesn’t help you to grow, but the director isn’t there to help you grow, the director is there to put a show or a film together.  (See the Actor’s Etiquette post, The Director’s Job.)

But perhaps he’s not sure how much better he can help you be.  Let me give you a golf analogy.  Most kids shouldn’t start taking private golf lessons until they are 8 years old (group lessons aimed at younger kids is another matter).  Younger than that, they have trouble focusing in a way that allows me to help them.  They also have some physical coordination issues that hold them back.

Even if they are 8, there are things I typically can’t ask of them.  There is a physical move in the golf swing that most 8-year-olds are challenged by, while a 10-year-old will be receptive to trying to copy that move.  I’ve got a 9-year-old student with whom I can discuss the golf swing and on-course strategy in a way I don’t with many adults, but he’s an exception.

The nature of a golf lesson allows me to chat with my student in a way that lets me understand his receptivity and abilities.  That sort of conversation isn’t de rigueur with directors, however, and a director who doesn’t work regularly with young actors may not know what they can comprehend and what they can’t, or know how to say it in a way that’s meaningful to the actor’s age.

How I talk to an 8-year-old golfer is different from how I speak with a 14-year-old golfer, and both are different than how I speak with an adult.  Ditto with actors of different ages.  And just as the 8-year-old golfer is baffled by certain concepts, so can the 8-year-old actor be (Milo, you’re older than that, I think, but you get my point).

Because of this, kids are often cast because they have a bunch of raw talent and are well-suited to a role.  This means they can turn in a respectable performance without a lot of direction.  So you should be flattered that your directors think enough of you to have cast you.

I know that’s unsatisfying as an answer.  I’ve got one more post to write on this topic, and I think you will find it more helpful.  But that’s for next week, I’m afraid. . .


3 thoughts on “Actor’s Etiquette: The Young Actor’s Dilemma

  1. Still mulling it a bit. It’s in its first draft, but I have the feeling there something that needs to be added, and haven’t figured out what yet. But it will show up next Friday. 🙂

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