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Actors` Exchange/dealing with directors


actor-power wrote at 2011-11-20 20:34:38
The above answer is very fare, but does not quite cover the situation that often occurs where a director wants an actor to do something that is cheap or simply wrong for the show, and wrong for the individual actor. In order to deal with bad direction an actor may try just to carry on as if s/he has not understrood the director's note, but the director may repeat the note, insisting that the actor does thing's the director's way, and thereby discouraging the actor's feeling of harmony and creativity. THe director may be do all this patronizingly, possibly out of a defensiveness at working with an actor who seems to know more about the play than the director. The director may be very clearly at fault, failing to give anyone in the cast a proper respect, and trying to make each member of the cast play their role in the way the director would, thus making all the actors look rather the same. Many bad effects come from bad directors. How does one deal with this!? Well the answer is not to mind too much, or not to mind too serioulsy, not to feel one is owned by the director, not to depend on the director totally, not to make a big deal of questioning the director on some points, not to react as if it is the final act of a director who has raped the actor earlier in the day! The importance of directors confuses many actors, when they behave - for example - with a self-importance which is not justified, when the only "importance" they should have is that they may be able to help an actor and a production, and they may not. They must not be thought of as "serious" or "important". Just as "useful." Or, to be more clear, we may all be regarded as important to some extent, but the director, especially a bad one, is like a child, one who is important, but who is a child whose whims we are sometimes forced to follow, but who - if he is a bad director - must be remembered for being what s/he is - a child.

Klevergirl wrote at 2013-05-06 16:04:59
I agree with this. ^

One of my directing professors once said "NObody knows what the director's job is." He was talking about critics AND most directors.

Here's my experience.

Since leaving school and moving into the semi-professional and professional world long-term, I recently and finally started to make the big leaps in craft that make the difference between a good actor and a great one . You know the kind you can't really see or get but hear about all the time when you first start learning. Not realizing that I was and had already spent far too long at a very high level of ability, I was expecting, because it had been the case before, that every colleague i had was at least as competent at their job as I was at mine.  I was raised by my parents to defer to authority within reason and to treat everyone as though they knew something that I didn't. I treated each professional job and director as though they had at least my level of competence, if not greater.

Believe it or not, I was wrong and am wrong to assume other people know what they're doing, the MAJORITY of the time. And you will be wrong most of the time past a certain level of maturity, competence, experience, or age. And it's the kind of mistake that can cripple your work and cause a lot of self-doubt and blame, and get this--conflicts with others. Mostly because of them, but even if they now it, they won't let you think so. You will end up doing the emotional work as well as the labor for both of you, if you care about accomplishing your goals.

See, I was at the point where I'd had a lot of different styles of training, and had been through the old-school training that basically forces a certain level if competence and exploration with EVERY creative job in the theatre. In a bind, I could do most everyone's job, or at least knew and had grappled with myself enough to know when that wasn't a good idea! That's not the way it works anymore, and most people aren't confident in themselves or the people around them enough to do the next logical thing and either delegate defer or self-educate. This is a fatal flaw in directors (and most middle-managers in any venture), especially when combined with confused or toxic notions of what it means to be "in charge" or to lead others. Unfortunately, it's also very common, particularly in directing (and middle management)!

For example, when I went back to school for an MFA, I knew what I needed was to learn how  line up my tools (and learn whatever it is that Meisner does) and move from the conscious competence to the unconscious competence. But teachers refused to deal with me on that level and were instead adamant about making up and finding "acting problems" they could fix. If you can imagine, what was "wrong" with my acting changed with every teacher's pet technique, some of them even had to convince themselves that I had never heard of their technique or their way of doing things, when they were standard in the industry and I'd already had several years of training in it and was just short on mastery. Of course, they tried to convince me of the same thing.

In the majority of experiences I've had with people who similarly needed to think people they consider beneath them or people whom they believe they need to control, they will follow a similar pattern. That is, if they're aware of their shortcomings. If they're not, they'll just call you crazy and believe it and recruit other people to their point of view with the threat of power behind them. In a self-made town or a closed environment or industry where the majority of people are not required to get a broad and ongoing education, there will be far more people in this toxic category than you'll be able to escape from.

I have learned that this --the phase from conscious competence to unconscious competence is where honest, hardworking, and idealistic high-achievers are most vulnerable. It is the phase (in socio-emotional activities in particular) where dealing with other people can break your talent and confidence, your will, and even your body. If you haven't mastered or been considered by others a A Master of your craft (and you have to realize, no matter how good you are, if you arent established, and especially if you are a woman or a minority, you may never be), many people will approach you as though you are  incompetent. Be wary: this takes many forms, some nice and not-so-nice, and some passive-aggressive. Just remember they're all doing it in an effort to make themselves feel better. Directors are no exception. (Neither are many also-ran actors-turned-agents, acting coaches, and castmates, so watch out.) .

When you're consistently forced to work with people who are in the unconsciously incompetent or consciously incompetent phase, you can't grow, except as a manager of people and situations. And this happens a lot when you are unknown and experienced, but lack the clout and therefore trust of others. Many people may think you are incapable of or be afraid of your growth because it forces them even further out of their depth. Sometimes this means they will create power struggles by among other things, insisting you do things that are actually bad for the show or bad for you just so they maintain their sense of control and superiority. You have to learn how to deal with that without lapsing into the old habit of assuming that they really do know better than you and are looking out for your best interests. And believe me, you know when they are, because you won't have to question it. If you have to wonder, or they can't even seem understand that it's their job to interact with you in such a way that you don't have to wonder, then you're dealing with somone with an ego. And you can't fix them. Particularly when they have pigeon-holed you because of their own insecurity, and ignorance and prejudice. You just have to learn how to get through it without letting it effect you or your career.

I know that's probably why you posted here, but I just wanted to let you know that chances are, if you're smart enough to phrase this question the way you did, you're not incompetent or crazy or alone.

If you figure out how to deal with this, please let me know. In the meantime, I'm going back to directing. It's much better for my health.  

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Arlene Schulman


As a professional director, dramaturg, acting coach and actor for over 25 years in the NYC/NJ area, I can help with questions on acting technique, character development, audition and rehearsal techniques, dealing with directors and stage managers, what directors are looking for, and other aspects of the acting and directing professions.


A professional director, dramaturg, acting coach and actor for over 25 years in the NYC/NJ area, I have directed in professional, university and amateur theatre and have directed and acted in dramas, comedies, musicals, Shakespeare as well as collaborating closely with playwrights in the development of original plays and musicals.

SSDC associate member
Advisory Board - Isle of Shoals Productions
Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of America associate member
Shakespeare Association of America
The Shakespesare Institute - MA "Shakespeare & Theatre" candidate, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK

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