There are many highly gifted directors, some were previously actors. Very few directors actually speak ‘actor’. Acting has always needed but never quite had a universal grammar, so the language is split into many MANY different dialects: each with its own set of words and terms that mean something like the same thing (and then nothing like the same thing at the same time). As an actor trying to work with a director can often be difficult. One of the primary needs of a good ‘leader’ is that they can communicate with their collaborators. This is not some namby-pamby call to be ‘nicey-nicey’ with everyone. Sometimes you have to be uncompromising and demand what you want, but for a professional director in 2009 not to speak some aspect of ‘actor’ is shameful.
Part of your job as an actor then involves trying to discern, from what the director says, what they really want you to do. Translating words and ideas in plastic form isn’t that easy. Of course, many directors (particularly film directors) just ask for results and communicate in metaphors and anecdotes.
Your job as an actor is to translate physically the funny things that directors say to get you into action. If you hear a result being requested such as ‘Could you be more sad?’ you need to translate that into something you can do. To pretend to be in the state of ‘sadness’ is incredibly difficult to fake well, and even if you can, it’s distracting from what you have to DO in the scene.
‘Smell the Gloom of the Fog’ was a piece of direction I once heard that a director gave to a company of actors. Whilst it is perhaps the most ridiculous thing they could say, they had an idea of what it meant, but they wanted the actors to share that idea without helping the actor to know what to DO with the direction. And that’s the important thing. Directors must offer physical direction. If the direction isn’t as practicable (capable of being put to use) such as go and open that door slowly, then the actor will struggle to get it. This isn’t about actors, it’s about people being asked to follow the trail of each other’s ideas and take action upon those instructions. The more physically capable it is, the better.
Actors! Your job is to listen as carefully as possible and speak back to the director in concrete terms. This will help you both get on the same track. Of course many directors do speak actor and have the tremendous gift to get the most out of the actor, but learning to translate director into actor is one of the single most important rehearsal techniques that you can establish.
To You, the Best