Actor's Notes

No matter how famous you get, or more advanced our industry becomes, taking notes will always be something Actors will have to face. It may be in an audition or with a Director after a show, but trust me, there is no escaping from the Actor’s notes.

Directors will tell you that when they look for Actors, how they respond to notes is essential. So, you better make sure you practice this skill. Here are some tips on how to take and apply what might seem at first as a series of negative comments.

Make your choices before you step foot in a rehearsal room

Before we even start talking about Actor’s notes it is important to begin… at the start. It is an Actor’s job to make decisions. Before you turn up for rehearsal, it is critical that you have read the script, cover to cover. Be thorough with your preparation and you’ll be on your way to make some informed and interesting choices.

When you receive notes, all you are doing is amending the choices you have already made. If you don’t prepare and make choices; when you receive notes they are trying to change the way you naturally think. It is then much harder to go forward.

Write them legibly

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve written down notes, sat down to look at them later, only to realise that I can’t read a single word.

Please… please… make sure you read back what you write.

This is so important because I can tell you from personal experience, Directors don’t want to keep repeating themselves.

Think about how you write

Whatever you need to get those notes down clearly and efficiently – do it. I have a friend who writes on post-it notes so he can put them in his corner and see them constantly. I pull out an A5 notepad. There’s no definite rule on what you have to write your notes on, try out different methods to see what suits you.

Date every new piece of feedback

Many people use the same notebook until they’re out of paper. This is fine, notebooks are expensive after all. Be sure to make sure the notes are dated, there is nothing more confusing than trying to figure out when a note is from. Or worse, what production they’re from!

Differentiate your notes

It is useful to split your feedback into two sections: Performance and Technical. Performance notes relate to your choices, such as, your action or think about the ‘truth’ of your character. Technical notes relate to things like being in light or forgetting to move downstage.

This way the Technical notes I can do straight away – Go stand on stage, walk where I should, make sure I’m standing in the right places. Performance notes will need a little more work so you can consider those when you get home/the next day.

Keep a positive frame of mind

I once worked with a Director who refused to give positive notes. In his opinion ‘If you know it’s good, you will overplay it because you know it works’. I completely get this, but let’s face it, us Actors like a compliment. The notes became quite a bleak affair.

You have to remember that it’s in the interest of the production. Even if you don’t necessarily even agree with them, remind yourself you don’t watch it, the Director and audience do. They know best. Trust me.

Give it thought

As an Actor, people want to see a small amount of you in the character. This is what can make a performance truthful. It is important to remember that you shouldn’t blindly follow a note, you should first give it some thought.

I never understood this until I saw an Actor struggle with it. Whenever they received a note they would jump straight into it and do it the whole way. The next night a different note, the same thing would happen. It was like watching a tightrope walker swaying left and right instead of maintaining balance.

Enthusiasm is great, but be sure to take a note on board, rather than let it sink you.

Have discipline in your work

What is being said to you is being said to help you and the production. Try to action every note that you’re given so the director doesn’t have to repeat themselves. If you don’t understand a note, don’t ignore it, query it with them. A director would much have a sit down with you than have to keep repeating the same note.

Finally, remember that: it is the Director’s ship. You help sail it but you don’t run it. I have seen people change their performance once the Director has left. Don’t be that person. No matter how much you disagree, it is criminal to change what has been set because you think you have a better idea.

At the end of the day, no matter how you think you are doing, the Director is the one watching, so they know best, to be fair they actually get paid to do it… usually.

John Francis Collins

John is a graduate of the YEP Actors and Writers courses and is currently studying Acting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. He continues to write his own plays in his own time. He is also an avid football fan and is trying to make his debut into the Liverpool first eleven. Acting was always the plan B.