the Director-Actor relationship

I am a young director so my experience is with professor and young actors. Not to mention my fellow young directors. One of the main points of interest that was addressed in the directing class was the way to treat your actors. My professor would call actors sacred. That the director must nurture her actors. And though I believe that this is the case, I disagree with so many of the methods I have seen in action when dealing with young actors.

actors

Actors’ Changing Room
Pieter Codde

There are key phrases that I simply do not agree with: “Follow your impulses,” “Listen. You are not listening,” “Make a choice. But not that choice,” “acting is reacting,” etc. etc.

All of these phrases are true, but they are vastly over simplified. These phrases touch on fundamentals of theater that cannot, ultimately, be summed up in such throw-away phrases.

Every actor must be brought into the playworld of each process. It is the job of the director to do this. Tge director must introduce the actors into the type of work they will be working on. For me, I never enter into a project without goals of my own, outside of the goals of the play itself; I do want to tell a story, but my goals also include how I would like to tell that story. I start my rehearsal processes by establishing the environment of this particular world and of this particular process. I recently directed a production of “Life Under Water” by Richard Greenberg. This could very easily be a rather mimetic play. But I wanted to use this play as a spring board for exploring how to create atmosphere with the actors making sounds as well as thier physical responses to their surroundings. This was an experiement I personally wanted to conduct, using the play as a vehicle. This also gave me a very clear playworld with very specific physical needs. Bringing the actors into this world, I would ask them to walk about the space paying attention to their gait and their relation to the rehearsal hall floor. Then slowly we started to layer in the imagined surroundings: sand between the toes, wind blowing off the water, the glare of the sun. Then finally we would add in the presence of the ocean, and that changed all of their choices. This is important because with all the information the explored in their walk they had a tool box of responses and they were getting a sense of their surroundings. When the ocean was introduced they were immediately following their impulses that told them to gravitate towards this massive body of water, they soaked up the sun, they played in wharf… Without further instructions they were following impulses, making choices that were informed, within the playworld, completely acceptable, and at the same time completely free of directorial judgment, and therefore emotionally free. This process was imporant for the actors because it gave them permission to trust their impulses, as well as evidence that they are capable of good choices, and introduced them into the world in which they were living, which helps expediate the choice making process of rehearsal because they are not weeding through what is and what is not within this playworld.

I illustrate this to show that an actor must discover her impulses before she can be told to follow them. And a director instructing her to follow impulses or pay attention to them does not help to discover her capacity for those impulses. She must feel out and discover this fundamental for herself in order to fully understand and employ it. The same goes for “Reacting” and “Listening” notes that so often frustrate actors (and, in turn, directors).

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