Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thoughts on directors

Most of the shows I've done have been musicals or operettas and in nearly all of those, I've been in the chorus/ensemble. I've learned a lot watching how the principals did their thing, so that when I was cast in a small role, with 75 lines (Comedy of Errors, Abbess Emelia), I wasn't completely at sea (even if I did keep waiting for the rehearsal accompanist to show up). Aside from a comment from the director during the "cut-up" rehearsal ("I don't know where that came from, but keep it!"), I didn't get much in the way of direction. Since I had one of the smallest roles in the show and the 2 romantic-lead couples pretty much carried the show, I didn't think much of it. I did have a scene with one of the female leads in which I thought she was misinterpreting the language. The director said nothing, so I did the same. To this day, I don't know if the director was just that hands-off or really didn't realize the error.

When I got my first lead, as Pitti-Sing in The Mikado, I similarly got very little specific direction. In that case, I think that was largely because the director had her hands full, as she was also playing Katisha. I did go up to the AD at one point and ask her about a scene in which I felt a little adrift; she reassured me that my instincts were just fine, but she'd say something if she thought it necessary. It probably also made a difference that the director realized I probably knew the show better than she did, having done it once already and seen several productions of it. At one point during the run, she even teased me that "you probably could play just about any role in this thing!"

I thin the most direction I ever got was playing Mae Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie. There was one scene the director kept running because we just weren't giving him the right reactions. That was about the physical interaction; I don't remember getting any direction about line readings, though I did ask about a couple of pronunciations as I worked on a New York Jewish accent.

In fact, looking back, I think all the directors I've worked with have avoided giving specific line readings (at least in my hearing), even in cases where I thought the actor in question was either doing it incorrectly (that one Comedy of Errors scene) or that a different reading might have served the text better or been more in character.

Being fairly new and inexperienced in having lines to give, I think I'd feel more comfortable if a director would address my line readings, whether to tell me I'm on the right track or to tweak an emphasis here or an intonation pattern there. Not sure if that's driven by insecurity, a desire for more attention, or just my love of all things language.

Similarly, I'd welcome suggestions for ways to bring the character to life physically as well as verbally - a gait, a gesture, posture, etc. At least let me know if I tend to, say, thrust my head forward or to stoop in certain situations if those don't suit the character or, worse, affect my vocal production.

I wonder if this kind of general, hands-off style is typical of all directors, or just those in community theater. Looks like it may be past time for me to sign up for an acting class or two and get some insight.

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