The director of live entertainment needs to be a person of many qualities. They must decide upon
the interpretation to be given the play; work with the playwright, designers, and technicians in
planning the production; think about lighting and sound, colors and costumes, and much more.
There is one thing, however, that is beyond everything above – relations with actors. Many find
it rather challenging, though.
The relations between director and actor begin at the stage of casting, which is the most
responsible and thus time-consuming process. When casting a play, the director is aware of the
physical demands of a character. Physical appearance must fit the character and must also be
seen in relation to other characters. Above all, the director must be able to see the actor as a
person and strive to draw out that person’s potential.
At the stage of casting, an error of judgment may occur, which leads to hiring difficult or
troublesome actors. There are two things you can do if you did not cast the right person. First,
do not bend your working process: do not adopt one way of directing for the difficult actor and
one way for the rest of the ensemble. That way you can end up losing the trust of the whole
group as well as the difficult actor. A change in the working process will not remove the difficulty.
Second, make sure that the difficult actor does not take up all your mental space. Reduce the
space they take up in your head and adjust your expectations to what is realistically possible in
the circumstances. Then concentrate on the other actors and on the things that you can change
Cinema directors often give clear instructions of what the actors should do and how they must
do it. Theatre, however, is a totally different affair. Only on rare occasions do theatre directors
tell the actors precisely and, in every detail, exactly what they want from them. They cannot and
must not control everything in the performance. All actors are soloists, so to say, and they need
room to explore their creative power. Actors need at least the illusion that their own imaginations
have full freedom.
The work on detail also helps an actor discover the character. This is the time to let them originate
much of their own stage business. Detail includes working out the actor’s small-scale movement.
For instance, making coffee, answering a phone, putting on shoes, or adjusting a tie are pieces of
Rehearsals should allow the actors to build things step by step over time, gradually and slowly.
This is the stage where the director needs patience and long-term thinking. You shouldn’t expect
an immediate outcome from the actor and see their work in an early rehearsal as the final result
to be shown to the audience. Errors are quite natural at this stage. Actors need time to build their
characters and to practice what they have to do in the scenes. This is often referred to as ‘finding
the character’. They also need time to respond to your instruction or find their own solutions on
the way to a final result. If you wait a couple of days you may well see the outcome unfold. If not,
simply keep giving the instruction until it does.
It's better to follow some rules while noting the actors.
• First, always be even-handed and make sure you note all the actors involved in the scene
or called to the note session. That way everyone feels that their work and contribution
• Second, keep the balance in the amount of feedback given to each member of the group,
so as not to pressure one particular actor.
• Finally, you mustn’t forget about positive feedback. The absence of positive feedback
might be seen as a sign of disapproval or bad work. When you give feedback about work
that is going well, remind the actors of what caused the clear work.
One of the things to bear in mind while rehearsing is your language. Remember that you should
watch your tone and vocabulary in order not to discourage the actors. Words like ‘completely
awful’ or ‘a disaster’ would not help the actors build anything. Similarly, the use of hyperbolic
words of praise like ‘excellent’ or ‘brilliant’ can be counterproductive. Find accurate words that
describe the strengths and weaknesses of the work the actors do and you will create a calmer
and more measured rehearsal environment. And if you need to adjust your language in any way,
then always try to reduce the scale of any problem by adding ‘tiny’, or ‘little’, or ‘slightly’ to your
If you wish to get an insight into the subject and get first-hand experience in building productive
relations with actors, consider participating in the online workshop ‘Director and Actor’.
Now, we offer you to have a look at Twelve golden rules for working with actors by Katie Mitchel
(The Director’s Craft: A Handbook for the Theatre, 2008):
1. Cultivate patience and long-term thinking
Work slowly and take small steps rather than big leaps. Do not respond to the actors’ work in an
early rehearsal as if it were the final result that the audience will see. Instead, watch it as a step
towards that result. Actors need time to build their characters and to practice what they have to
do in the scenes.
2. Be consistent
Be consistent in your use of language, your goals, your behavior and how you conduct your
relationships. Hold a steady and straightforward relationship with each actor with clear boundaries.
Do not prioritize one relationship over another and thereby create competitiveness in the room.
3. Do not worry about being liked
You will not make clear work if you are too concerned about being liked by actors. If this is your
goal, you will avoid saying anything difficult, or challenging, for fear of being disliked. Replace the
need to be liked with the aim of being respected.
4. Make the text the mediator of any conflict
If there is any disagreement in the rehearsal room, read the words together and ask what it is
that the writer intends. This will help the actor to see the difference between what the director
wants and what is actually written on the page.
6. Always apologize if you make an error
If you make an error, apologize immediately and keep the apology simple and brief – then move
on. Do not be tempted to hide an error because of embarrassment or pride.
7. Do not use anyone as a kicking stool
Treat someone badly and everyone’s respect for you in the rehearsal room will be undermined.
You will also create a climate of fear. The actors will stop offering you the best of their creativity.
8. Do not put time pressure on actors and do not waste time yourself
Never give the actor the impression that there is no time or very little time – even if that is the
case. This makes the actor feel that there is no time to build anything properly or explore. It puts
them under pressure and makes them product-driven.
9. Keep an eye on the actors’ ‘audience thinking’
Sometimes actor’s thoughts about the audience get in the way of them playing the characters in
the situation and may distort and disturb what the actor is doing. For example an actor might
think ‘I want to impress the audience’, resulting in them unnaturally slowing down what they do,
or they might adjust where they are standing in order to be seen by the audience or raise their
10. Keep clear the boundaries between actors’ private lives and the work
Encourage actors to draw clear boundaries between their private lives and their work. Actors will
often draw on personal events in their lives to build aspects of their characters – whether you
ask them to or not.
11. Avoid last-minute instructions
If you have a last-minute thought, do not give it to the actors just before they rehearse a scene.
Instead, jot it down in your notebook and give it to them the next time you practice the scene.
12. Hold your nerve
There are moments in every rehearsal process where the director loses his or her nerve. How
you manage these vulnerable moments will determine the success of the production the