The Seven Deadly Sins of Directing
by Scott Crain
Perhaps the first rule of the arts is that artists hate rules. Most of us were originally drawn to the performing arts because we like thinking outside the box; after all, without a pioneer spirit, where would the arts be? That having been said, however, there is also a very real danger in assuming that the arts should have no rules. The simple fact is that we live in a world fashioned by an organized creator, and everything in life works best when certain guidelines are followed. So, while I'm a huge proponent of "breaking new ground" on stage, there are a few hard and fast rules that I believe every director should follow, not just for the actors' sake, but for his or her own ultimate good and that of the production as well. What follows is a list of what I consider the seven "deadly sins" of directing, picked up from far wiser directors than myself (and through a lot of personal mistakes):
1) Line readings.
At times we may be tempted to say an actor's line for him or her in a rehearsal, in order to illustrate exactly how we think it should be said. While this may be satisfying to you, it essentially makes the performer feel like a puppet, with the director holding all of the strings. Those lines are not yours (even if you wrote them!), and the moment you start saying the lines for the actors, you are no longer directing, you are dictating.
2) Suggestions between actors.
Let actors know at the first rehearsal that there can only be one director, and they are not to give suggestions to other actors as to how to play their parts. Actors work best when all notes are coming from a single source.
3) Open rehearsals.
Allowing spectators to watch rehearsals is asking for trouble. All it takes is a single offhand remark from a family member (i.e., "That other role's a lot funnier than yours.") to set an actor back several weeks of rehearsal time in terms of confidence and character development.
4) Carelessness with the actors' time.
Starting late, running overtime (even for a good reason), requiring actors to be at rehearsals at which they aren't needed, and requiring actors to be at a rehearsal significantly earlier than needed—all demonstrate a lack of planning on your part as well as a lack of consideration for your actors. Their time is important too, and as directors we have to respect it.
Often we're tempted to blame all of our show's failings on a single difficult actor. "If only I could have gotten her to work with me, the show would have been a success." Though this may sound comforting, it's rarely true. Remember that it is your job to unify the team. Even if there’s a "problem child," it's ultimately your responsibility to keep the peace and elicit quality work.
6) Offstage romantic relationships.
This may sound juvenile, but theatrical work – particularly youth drama – often puts young single people in emotional situations, which can quickly lead to romance. A wise policy is to not allow actors to date while the production is in progress, to avoid a potential disaster if things don't work out between Romeo and Juliet.
There is never enough time, rehearsal, or money – welcome to theatre. Venting your frustration with the lack of resources in front of your cast is simply bad form. In the words of directing guru William Ball, "A professional works with what he is given." In other words, work miracles with the loaves and two fishes, and perhaps next time you'll be given more.
You'll notice that most of the principles above simply boil down to treating your actors with respect and insisting that they do the same with each other – the golden rule in action. This isn't legalism. In fact, it's the highest form of freedom – and a principle that Jesus emphasized again and again. The game isn't made to protect the rules; the rules are made to protect the game. By following these simple guidelines, you can guarantee that your drama team can play inside the lines…while still thinking outside the box