by Brandon Moore, Communications Coordinator
Is the Director a Teacher? Dictator? Confidant? Therapist? Facilitator? Cheerleader? Social Convenor? Guru? The answer to these questions was the topic of Jane Carnwath’s Adjudicator’s Workshop “You And Your Actors” on Thursday afternoon at Theatre Ontario Festival 2011.
Jane used this workshop as a launching point for an open discussion on the role of a director beyond the functions of the role—how can a director work best with actors to achieve the best possible production?
The consensus seemed to be that the director needs to create an environment where the actor has freedom to explore, but within boundaries that the director establishes and manages. The director’s challenges is to try and understand why an actor behaves a certain way under certain circumstances, so that they can help maintain that environment of trust.
The metaphor that Jane frequently used was a playground, an open but safe place where actors can explore limits, knowing that they wouldn’t be subject to ridicule through embarrassment or hurt. It requires an emotional intelligence on the part of the director to be able to gauge that. The actor needs to know that the director is an ally. That doesn’t mean changing the status of the relationship, but the actor needs to be able to know that anything goes, that whatever risks s/he takes.
Using a brief scene from Judith Thompson’s adaptation of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler as a launching point, the workshop participants simulated a first read-through and what the director would want to do in those circumstances. This lead to a discussion of how the director can ask questions that drive action in an actor (as opposed to questions that drive thought in an actor)—What do you want? What’s stopping you? It doesn’t matter if the actor is necessarily making the right choices (yet), what matters is encouraging the actor to make strong choices. Directors shouldn’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”—it’s one of three answers you have (“Yes” and “no” are the others) and is better than a dithering director who shifts between them.
The workshop then got into problem-solving around specific situations. Jane circulated a lengthy list of situations that a director may encounter during rehearsal. (I’ll publish it after the Festival.) She freely admitted that she didn’t have the precise solution for many of them, but they opened up discussion for all of the participants to explore, and to consider their own responses in those circumstances.
My take on the answer to the opening question? Maybe all of them, at various times, depending on the needs of the actor. Building an environment of trust requires flexibility by the director—the person who shoulders the blame in all circumstances.