Speaking In Actions
I’m frequently amazed by how much interest you can show in a given topic while remaining ignorant of its most basic principles. And how, once you learn them, your worldview can shatter (for the better, of course).
As I may have mentioned once or twice, I’ve spent the bulk of my December working on a theatre directing course. Between the three hour classes and the plays I had to stage outside of the classroom, it has been an in-depth study of the art form, to say the least. It’s interesting, because there was a long period of time when I was determined to become a professional theatre director. My incredible high school theatre teacher took me under his wing when I showed interest in directing, and I assisted him on several productions, both in and outside of school. I chose to pursue a BFA in theatre with the goal of focusing on directing and pursuing a career on the Boston and New York stages. It seldom turns out the way it does in the song, and I couldn’t be happier about pivoting to writing, but I always considered myself relatively knowledgable about directing. But this semester, I had to learn some lessons through trial and lots of error. They seem incredibly obvious in hind sight, but were earth shattering at the time.
By far the biggest lesson was learning to use a proper director’s vocabulary. There is a very specific way to talk to actors as you direct them, and very few people do it correctly. The idea is that you should always speak in terms of goals, but the goal in question should never relate to the actual acting performance. For example, a good director never says “be louder” or “walk faster.” Instead, you want to explain what is happening in the script, albeit in a way that causes the actor to instinctively act in the way you want them to.
My professor would frequently correct me as I said things like “I need more emotion and anger from you on this line.” Whereas the correct phrasing would have been “remember, you and your husband have had this fight most nights for 15 years, and he still hasn’t internalized your point, but now time is running out for him to act.” Both methods generate the same effect, but the former feels forced and inhuman, while the latter is natural and organic.
By speaking in terms of actions, rather than feelings and adjectives, you allow the actors to draw from their own emotions, rather than manufacturing what they think you want. The job of a director is quite literally to explain what direction the script is going, and then give the actors room to do their job. Thinking about it now, it’s remarkable that it took me 20 years and an advanced theatre class to learn that a director’s job is to direct. But all’s well that ends well, right?
While I am not pursuing a career in directing, this is interesting information to take into any field. Every job that involves managing people requires a certain way of speaking to them. And while the adjustments are often difficult, those rules usually exist for a reason. Once you commit yourself to speaking with the proper vocabulary, things can become infinitely easier.