Divorcing the Director
When directing a show, there are certain types of actors that are hard to direct. The divas, the drama queens and the slackers provide obvious challenges. It is also difficult to direct an actor who has already portrayed the role you’re directing him in or someone who has been involved in previous productions of the same play. Perhaps, though, the most challenging person to direct is another director.
Going into this production of Time Stands Still, I knew that I would have to fold up the director’s chair and do my best to view the project solely through an actor’s eyes. In many ways, I have found myself greatly liberated by having to tend only to the responsibilities of the actor. I am working hard to know my lines, remember my blocking and develop a memorable character.
But there are times when it is difficult to suppress the directorial urge. One of my cast mates can attest to this because apparently you can “see it on my face” when I want to say something. Fortunately, though, Sonnie is a very open and collaborative director and we have had an open dialogue about character choices, blocking or other business. I do, however, make a point to speak to her privately on those occasions.
I am enjoying the different perspective that being behind the footlights brings. It has been interesting to see how easy (or difficult) it is to practice what you preach when it comes to rehearsal protocol. When I am directing a show, there are a few ground rules that I lay down with the company at the beginning of the rehearsal process. Though not all were articulated, per se, I suspect the director of Times Stands Still (and most others) would agree with these simple rules:
Start On Time
When I direct a show, I tell the company that I expect them to be on time. Just as the actor’s time is valuable, so is the director’s. A properly managed schedule can be very productive and can even afford some actors a “night off” here and there. I also think it is important to be respectful of a call time, both for the actors and the creative team. I maintain that actors should be onstage and ready to rehearse at the scheduled time. It is equally important for a director and crew to, as best they can, tend to production-oriented tasks outside of the rehearsal window. Naturally, there are times when circumstances or the point in the production process preclude this. And all bets are off during Hell Week.
Remember Your Blocking
This one seems like common sense, right? When you are stumbling through and/or fine-tuning blocking, it stands to reason that you are expected to remember it or at least have it written down, especially if you still have your scripts in hand. I can’t tell you how many times during our rehearsal process I’ve had the stage manager remind me that I had to cross to a certain point or sit or stand. When this would happen, I would look at my script and see no blocking notes. If this occurs more than once, as it did with me, it is inevitable that you will hear the director say, “This is why I tell you to write it down!” What is even worse is when you go to write it down, discover you don’t have your pencil, and the director rushes up to the stage to hand one to you. This also something I’ve done as a director and, mortifyingly, something that happened to me as an actor. Which leads me to…
Always Be Prepared
In early rehearsals, always bring your script and a pencil with an eraser. Highlight your lines and blocking so it is easier to find your place when you are running scenes or have to backtrack to a certain spot. In later rehearsals, when you are told to be off book, be off book. If you are asked to bring a prop or costume element, bring it in when it is expected. Likewise, the creative team and crew should be prepared by having blocking notes or ensuring that the technical elements come together as expected. When you are prepared, it is a much smoother ride. If you are constantly scrambling, then you better buckle up because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
When in rehearsal, pay attention to what goes on around you. Listen to your fellow actors when you are on stage. When you are off stage, listen for your cues or prepare for your next scene. Time spent waiting in the wings should not be spent checking your Facebook or chatting with your friends. During notes, pay attention to what the director is saying. Oddly enough, this is the one that I have the hardest time with. It is difficult when you are building a camaraderie with your cast mates to resist making conversation or sharing little inside jokes. But, truly, timing is everything with that. There is nothing more frustrating to a director than having to repeat themselves because someone wasn’t paying attention.
Don’t Give Other Actors Notes
I hate this as a director. I hate this as an actor. This is where building a good relationship with your director and your scene partners is key. Having a conversation or posing your idea as a question is far more productive then simply telling another actor what to do. There is nothing more annoying, for the director or for the company, than an actor telling fellow actors how to interpret a line or their character. Except for maybe the actor who takes that direction.
Respect Everyone Involved
There are many theatre maxims that relate to respecting everyone involved with the production, no matter their role. There are no small parts, only small actors. Be nice to the lighting guy because he controls the “off” button. If you mistreat a crew member, your prop could be missing or your quick-change costume might not be there. It truly does take a village to build a successful production. From the producer to the director, from the crew to the front-of-house, from the actor to the audience member, every person plays an integral part in the theatrical experience. Never forget that, no matter who you are.
This latest project has really broadened my appreciation of what it takes to bring a theatre production to life and it has refreshed my memory of what the actor experience is like. Acting is completely different from directing in terms of how you reap the rewards of doing theatre. I have to say, I am really loving this acting gig. I’ve joked with friends that I might never direct again. Of course, we all know that isn’t true. So, I guess I’m not really divorcing the director, it’s more like a trial separation. And I’m okay with that.
Times Stands Still is playing weekends at TheatreWorks New Milford from July 10th to August 1st. For tickets and further information, visit www.theatreworks.us.