Five Golden Rules for Stage Directors

Now, none of these things should have to be said.  They just shouldn’t.  We work in a field of usually intelligent, well-informed, compassionate people and yet here we are.  Why?  Because I have witnessed all of these indiscretions - whether they were directed at me (number one) or whether they were directed at a colleague (number two), or whether I was in a cast subjected to them (numbers three through five).  So listen up, all y'all who wield the big, powerful director stick: 1. Never, EVER tell your actors to “use it.”   As in, “hey, Director, I need to keep my phone on in rehearsal today because my sibling was almost murdered and I need to keep in touch with the family regarding his progress.”  And the director replies, “of course, Leigha - and how this relates to the play, well, you know - Use It.  Use that fear to relate to your character and what she’s going through in this scene.”  That is not directing, nor is it humane.  It’s a shitty reference to a persnickety, uninspired acting method that every performer learned about in high school, and it makes you look like a grasping, idiotic director who doesn’t know common sense from his ass.  Any questions?

2.  Never give your actors line readings unless they ask for it - and even then, seriously consider your options.  If the actor isn’t getting it, then you must guide them there until they DO get it.  For example, “I want you to enter the scene, pause for a second and a half, then say the line exactly like this, and then pause before saying your next line like this” (actor says line) “no, you’re not listening, I want you to say it like THIS,” that...that is not directing, it’s jealousy.  It’s the mark of a fumbling director who actually wishes she was an actor.  If you’re starting rehearsal this way - before you’ve even worked with the actor to get him to a baseline of understanding your vision - then you’re clearly in the wrong field.

3. Read the play before you start rehearsal.  Unless it’s a brand-new work that the playwright won’t start writing until you’re all in the room together, you have no excuse.  I don’t care if you were a last-minute replacement - MAKE TIME.

4. Don’t use big words if you don’t know what they mean.  Your job is to communicate clearly.  If you are regularly misusing words, your actors will have to spend more time deciphering what it is you actually mean to say instead of doing their jobs.  And, frankly, it’s profoundly counterproductive to your goal of sounding intelligent.

5. If the play resides outside of your knowledge-base, do your homework before you start spouting off.  Or get a dramaturg and delegate.  Persians are not the same as Parisians, even though, yes, they sound similar.  Not. The. Same. When actors ask you for historical references, do not offer suggestions of completely different political/social warfare from different eras with different cultures and motives.  Doing so just showcases how clueless you really are.

Am I taking a risk by posting this?  Yes.  But I hope that by calling “foul,” I will be a constructive contributor to the ongoing director/actor dialogue.  You see, it seems that everyone and their second-cousin-twice-removed has a list of Dos and Don’ts for actors, and yet no one is willing to speak up about directors.  At least no one who still wants to work in the field.  And so here I stand - on my little internet table with my bloggy cardboard sign in my hands, held high above my head.

And honestly, it’s a little scary up here.  But it feels right.  So pull up a chair, friends, and hop on up.