During much of the rehearsal period, as a director, you are breaking the play down into scenes, into moments. I am very vocal during this period, jumping to my feet YES! or ACK! Stop! Do it again- think about where you just were! What do you want?
Later on, however, we have to put it all back together, establish continuity, rhythm, pace, the long arcs of the characters and of the play itself. We can't stop. We run through, all the way through the scene, the act, finally the entire play.
While I, like most directors, take notes.
Sometimes, because the hour is late and actors (and I) have to go home, I type up the notes and email them to the actors after I've returned home. I don't like to do this because A) actors may not understand a specific note, B) actors may not read the notes and C) I like to give notes.
I like to give notes. I do. I make eye contact. I make jokes. I exaggerate, exhort, and expound. I prance and I posture, I prod and I praise.*
From time to time, I may have to shush the actors who are starting side conversations. After all, for many years, the actors with whom I have worked have been teens.
Still, all in all, I have fun giving notes, and the actors have fun receiving the notes.
Here are some of the key ingredients for good note-giving:
- Make eye contact. Make sure the actors are listening.
- EVERY actor should receive a comment. Each actor should know that they are important, and that their work is (literally) noted.
- Use humor. I use a lot of humor at my own expense... I tease and challenge them to be bigger, bolder, more energized than this "old lady"
- Catch them doing something right; be specific about when it happened, and what it was. Comments like "you're great" or "good job" might feel good for a moment, but they don't tell the actor where they are succeeding or how to build on that success. A comment like: "I could really see you focus on the other character on your line 'Not now, darling''" tells the actor what is working and when.
- Be specific about what you want the actor to change. Comments such as "That's no good" or "I didn't like that" again do not give the actor any useful information. A comment like "When you enter in scene two, try rushing straight to the couch- remember what just happened to the character before you entered" gives the actor useful information about what needs work in the scene, and a suggestion for a new approach.
- I try to give both the "director's reason" and the "actor's reason" for a direction. For instance, in the above example, I might remind the actor that the actor's reason- the character's reason- for rushing in is that the character is escaping from an uncomfortable encounter in the other room; while I will admit that my "director's reason" for asking you to rush in and cross to the couch is that the scene needs more energy, and I need you out of the doorway!
- Be a believer. Believe in the play, believe in your actors, believe in theater magic. Keep cheering, keep watching, noting, and sharing what you see. Eventually, it all comes together- how? It's a mystery!
*In fact, over the years many parents have confessed they stayed at rehearsals for the entertainment value of watching me give notes!