A young theatre director watches actors on stage.

Getting the most out of your actors that you are directing is a fine art. You’re not going to get it right the first time. You’re not even going to get it completely right the twentieth time down the line. But, this does not permit you not to try.

With the following tips, you can help your actors to achieve their potential and bring their everything to the stage.

Putting on a performance together

When directing actors, it can be easy to dismiss your actors’ suggestions if they run contrary to your ‘vision’. You may have spent many hours going over the script, or meticulously planned the blocking, and here comes this person and wants to change it – the cheek!

If you hold too tight to your ‘vision’ for the piece, then not only will it hurt your relationship with your cast, but you will also miss out on a suggestion that could have made the show better. Through the repetition of rehearsal, your actors are in the best possession to be able to give thoughts on things to try.

If you take on these suggestions and allow them to space to explore and play, then you may find something new while allowing your actors’ room to grow.

Friend or foe?

You may be directing your friends on this project, or maybe you’re very friendly with your cast in the rehearsal room, and there is nothing wrong with that, right?

In the rehearsal space, you are NOT their friend. You are the director. You leave your friendship at the door.

Too many times I have seen directors that are just too friendly with their cast. They don’t mind that their actors are late because of that thing they just had to do, or that they didn’t learn their lines because they were ‘too tired’.

This attitude doesn’t help, and it only exacerbates if you are directing your friends. You can be blinded by your friendship and can overlook mistakes or feel you can’t give feedback because you don’t want to hurt them.

If you can’t give appropriate feedback so your cast can grow, then you can’t get the most out of them, and you are hurting them in the long run. Constructive criticism will help your actors learn and grow.

So, don’t be their friend. Be the director.

On the reverse of this point, it’s also pertinent to not be a tyrannical dictator. I have had directors who shout and scream at people for not knowing their lines.

Please don’t shout and scream at your cast. I have seen people quit acting altogether because a director kept shouting at them for the pettiest of points. You wouldn’t see that behaviour in an office without a complaint to HR, so don’t think because you’re in the arts that you can get away with unprofessional behaviour.

I have also been moaned at for people not being at the rehearsal when I am in fact in the rehearsal. Don’t preach to the already converted. If you have people in your rehearsal room then you can work on things and then talk to the absent actors later.

It’s true some people need a friendly person to help them give their all. Other people, that you know can do better, may need a good shove or a firmer hand. It’s up to you to decide who needs what kind of management.

Time to act

Time management is crucial to get the most out of your actors. Some actors will need the time and space to grow and others will want to get right into it but both will want their time used efficiently.

There is nothing worse than waiting around to lower the mood or enthusiasm of an actor. Sometimes this can’t be helped, like when you doing a tech run and your actors have to wait around between cues, but this time can be used efficiently.

Can your actors be running lines while they wait? Can they be thinking of their motivation for a scene? Can they be playing a game to keep their mood up? These tasks can keep your actors motivated and can enforce a stronger group dynamic.

Whether through giving your actors the time to explore, an opportunity to voice their suggestions or a push in the right direction, you can get more out of them.

In doing this, you will have given your actors the best chance to achieve what they’re capable of. Your role is to be there for them to help them achieve that goal.

Like this article? Check out our entire How To Act section for more great content about learning the craft of acting!

Annie Brett

Annie Brett is a Writer, Performer, Director based in London. They have their own company Invisible Until when they make work. They have an MA in Advanced Theatre Practice from Central School of Speech and Drama, and have worked with such companies as the BBC, COSmino, Working Title Films, and Dystopian owls to name a few.