Theatre Information

Choosing Your Director

By • Dec 15th, 2010 • Category: An Actor's Advice

Both professional and amateur theatre have their advantages and their disadvantages. One of the advantages to amateur theatre is that the actor can concentrate on finding the best overall experience for their art. No contractual obligations can force the amateur actor into specific venues, casts or activities. It is a freedom that community players should make the most of. Especially when it comes to directors.

A director is going to make or break your production. And because most people do not want to be labeled as quitters, (though there is nothing stopping you from quitting a community production), a bad director can mean for a rather unpleasant 6 to 8 weeks taken out of one’s life.

Actually I will amend that somewhat. A director that is a bad fit for you can make for a long and unpleasant rehearsal process. Some would argue that a director which is a bad fit for you is not a “bad director” per se. To me, it depends on why they are a bad fit, but that is another issue. For now, let us remain with the topic of knowing about the director.

Ask yourself under what conditions you do your best work. Not necessarily related to acting only, but in any creative process. Any situation in which you need instruction and guidance. Under what sort of structure do you feel most comfortable? Knowing for certain may require getting a few shows under your belt, but these are questions that you need to answer.

Take me for example. I work best in an environment of trust for the actor. To me, the director’s job is the big picture. Blocking the play, encouraging actors to ask questions of themselves and to come up with consistent answers, and then helping them perform according to those answers. Where the performance and the character belong to the actor, and the director’s influence on method is minimal. I do not thrive well at all under directors who tell me how to deliver a line, what my character is thinking when that line is being said, who dictates the nature of all of the relationships on stage, and feels the need to keenly observe every movement of the technical crew at every stage.

I like to workshop and brainstorm for a while, but then I also prefer rehearsals to be prompt and structured with an agenda. Not free floating and informal from start to finish.

You get the idea.

These preferences are the result of ten years of acting, and finding under what circumstances my talents as an actor can thrive. So whenever I can, before auditioning for someone the first time, I will talk with people I know who have worked with them. I will ask some questions. I will try to determine what sort of shows that person has directed before. And if I decide to try out, I will pay keen attention to how they conduct the audition. Are they fair? Do they seem to be favoring one actor over another in an obvious manner? How do they treat those who are trying out?

Not all of these things can be determined each time. But being in a show with a director that matches your style versus being in one that works against your style is like night and day for the actor. So do your homework and make sure you are working in the daylight whenever you can. You have nothing to prove either to yourself, or to the world, by working with a difficult director. You have only to give yourself the chance to allow your performance to flourish.

Sometimes you get it wrong, and a director is not what you thought they were going to be. It happens. And then we gravitate towards directors with whom we have worked before. That is human nature. Yet working with a new director need not be a nightmare if you do a little bit of digging, both inside of yourself and as it pertains to the director. It’s some extra work, but very much worth it if you can avoid that director who would cramp your style, whatever that style happens to be.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

2 Responses »

  1. I don’t know what this means: “One of the advantages to amateur theatre is that the actor can concentrate on finding the best overall experience for their art. No contractual obligations can force the amateur actor into specific venues, casts or activities. It is a freedom that community players should make the most of. Especially when it comes to directors.”

    Professional actors, for the most part, are basically independent contractors. I don’t see any less freedom to be selective about the work you do, where you seek to do it, and with whom for professional actors than for amateurs. I don’t know what contractual obligations could force an actor to perform in a venue unknown to him or her at the time they auditioned. And professional actors have rights to break their contracts (though doing so may tarnish a reputation and make directors and companies leery of casting the actor again, but I don’t see how quitting a show would have any less detrimental impact on the reputation of an amateur). It’s bad form, indeed, but it happens all the time that an actor who has been cast in a show for months will drop out to take a better role, work at a company or with a director more advantageous to their career, or so that their husband can go on a dream vacation (a reason recently given to me by an actress dropping out of a show). Sometimes dropping a show burns a bridge forever, other times (as with the actress I just mentioned) the director understands and moves on.

    To one other point the author makes, if you don’t like directors giving you specific line readings try working more professionally. At the professional level, it’s kind of unheard of that a director would be that micro-managing as to give a direct line reading. They might have a very specific idea as to the intention behind a line but to tell an actor how to say a line is just not done.

  2. Thanks Jay.

    The purpose of this, and other articles I write for this column is to help people embrace and get the most out of the aspects of acting itself, and in many ways acting is acting. But because I write from the perspective of non-profit or community players I must sometimes take into consideration the intrinsic differences between the mechanics of voluntary community theatre, and professional, paying productions. (Professional meaning money, not necessarily of better quality.)

    I think you can agree that even when a contract is broken, that there is a lot more to it professionally than there would be in the voluntary theatre world. Of course a person CAN break a professional contract, but as you said, they would probably have to take a lot into consideration before doing so. But at the community level it is very easy to do. You jut say, “goodbye” and don’t show up again. It is that ease of being able to leave a community show that people need to take into consideration sometimes. I advocate an actor not doing so in a flippant manner, because of how easy it is.

    Sometimes in community theatre a reputation is damaged by it. Sometimes it is not. But professional or amateur has little in my mind to do with the reputation situation. It is a personal perception thing. I myself would like down upon anybody who left a show in the lurch, whether professional or amateur. But not everybody would feel that way.

    As far as venues, I was thinking more along the lines of Equity and that sort of thing. I realize I did not point to unionized professionals specifically in the piece, and perhaps I should have, seeing as how one can be professional without being union. But since the column wasn’t intended to go into such details, I didn’t think to offer the distinction in this particular context. But the fact is if you are in the union, there are venues and companies for which you would be prevented from performing without special exemption. Which means if appropriate union sanctioned venues in a given area are only served by specific directors, a unionized actor would, in a sense, be limited to the specific director with which they could work on stage. They couldn’t follow just any director friend of theirs to any theatre they chose. That was more of the point I was trying to make.

    As for the final point, about directors giving line readings; I cannot agree that the only way around this problem is to become a professional actor. There are plenty of community players and companies that behave in a “professional” manner, without being paid professionals. I advise amateurs to seek out such directors in their area. One such “professional” type of director is one who does not as you say, “micro-manage” and give line readings. But it happens all the time in community theatre. But there are also plenty of community theatre directors who understand how uncouth such a practice is. It is those directors that I encourage community players to seek out. They are in fact out there.