Direct And To The Point: I Am Not A They

I was working on a staged reading recently. Rehearsal time was limited, but it was just a brief excerpt of a larger work. The hope (expectation) of the creative team was that everyone would be off book for the final presentation. The end of our one rehearsal concluded with notes from the director, one of which went something like this, “I’m not going to name names, but some of you really haven’t done enough preparation for this project. You guys are incredibly talented, but you need to go home and do your homework.”

The Crowd

It’s easy to imagine why this director addressed this issue in this fashion. He may have felt pressed for time. He may not have wanted to single anyone out. He may have just not really thought about it. But ultimately, I think it did more harm than good.

My initial response was one of confused shame. Did he mean me? I had been involved with this project in a previous iteration and while I was referring to my script due to changes that had been made late the night before I was not glued to it. I decided that he was not talking about me. I decided he was talking about two (possibly three) people out of our ten person ensemble. Certainly not the majority that you might infer from a group note like that. As I rode the elevator down with some other members of my cast (after a round of “Did you think I was unprepared?”) the consensus that was reached was this: when you give a note like that, the offenders don’t think it’s for them and everyone else is already doing it.

The negative effects here are two fold. First, if his note was meant to apply to any of us who were in that elevator, it was not received. We all came to the conclusion that it was a note we should disregard. Any time an actor hears a note and thinks, “that must be meant for someone else,” is dangerous. I think it sets a precedent for your future notes to be ignored and/or significantly watered down. Second, the scolding tone of the note created a negative emotional tone for the relationship. Of our 10 person cast, only one of the actors had worked with the director previously. For the rest of us, our first interaction with this person was being put on the defensive with regard to our professionalism in how we had prepared for this project.

My point is that this was not a group note. This was an individual note that happened to pertain to 2 or 3 people. If you’re going to give a group note, it should be about information. (Any time you exit stage left, be sure to pull the curtain behind you.) If it’s behavioral (Learns your lines. Pick up your cues. Etc.), it should be an individual note. Our strongest potential for change (which is what we’re trying to do when we give notes), lies in our ability to make our relationships personal – our ability to say I see you specifically and what you’re doing matters to me. It give the note immediacy, urgency and accountability. Giving personal notes, especially unpleasant ones like “you need to work harder” take more effort. But it reaps more rewards.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Post them below. The more the merrier.

Direct and to the Point: Give the Note

Instead of trying to trick your actors into doing what you what them to do by means of some exercise (without explaining the purpose of the exercise) why not just give them the note?

The actor/director relationship is one that has to be based in trust. If you have a long history of working with someone, you can skip to whatever the shorthand formula between the two of you is – do this exercise here, insert this tool over there. However, if you’re new to an actor and you try to skip over the “getting to know you phase” and go directly to “I’m going to get you to do exactly what I want you to do”, I start to feel manipulated. And defensive. Which isn’t where any of us do our best work. I begin to sense that you want something from me but you’re not telling me what that something is. Trying to figure out how to deliver what someone wants is hard enough when they tell you what they want. It feels near to impossible when they don’t tell you.

Sharing is great. It’s amazing when you can pool the brilliance and experience of all the minds on your team to crack open the story. However, springing an exercise on your actors by saying “this is what we’re going to do today” isn’t sharing. It’s dictating. And explaining why you dictated something after you’ve dictated it, doesn’t mean you didn’t dictate it. It means you want people to excuse your dictating because you think it was such a good idea. And it might be a GREAT idea. But I’m much more likely to feel like I’ve been shoved around and I can’t have a open conversation with you.Note Image

Time is always short in any rehearsal process. And your shortcut may well be the fastest way to get to your desired result. But the fastest solution isn’t often the most lasting solution. Taking the time to build solid, respectful relationships will have a significantly greater payout in the long-term.

Give the note. Give up a little bit of control. Recognize that we both have training and tools and tricks. We’re both creative. We’re both problem solvers. At the end of the process, I’m the one who has to embody the choices we’ve made. If I can get there in a way that I’m comfortable with, in a way that makes sense to me, that’s an excellent solution for both of us – you have what you envisioned and I feel valuable for being able to give it to you (and I feel comfortable doing it). Value the way I might add to the process. If I get stuck, then, please, by all means, offer up your exercise and together we can figure it out.

Or at least have the conversation. Beforehand. It doesn’t have to be long and involved. It can be as simple as “Hey, I’m looking to get more of a feel for such and such in this scene. Would you mind if we tried this to see if we can find more of that?”There’s nothing worse than not having any idea why you’re doing an exercise. Will some people fall into what you want them to discover? Sure. But monkey’s with typewriters will eventually make words. Rather that leaving it up to fate, why not just fill everyone in on what it’s all about and let everyone get as much as they possibly can out of it.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Post them below. The more the merrier!