So periodically I am reminded that having devoted 30 years of your life to pursuit of one art form is actually not enough to have mastered it in any meaningful way. Malcolm Gladwell (he of the let-me-make-everything-complicated-very-simple school of writing, a school I have my doubts should be accredited, though I devour his output with vigor) says you need 10,000 of practice to become an expert in a field. Now my math isn’t very good, and it isn’t very good largely because I have spent the last 30 years IN REHEARSAL, in rehearsal for various plays that have never made me famous so should have at least made me talented. But every so often I am reminded I am neither famous, nor particularly good at this thing because if I were good then surely I would never stumble in my writing/directing/performing or otherwise honoring the GODS OF THE THE-ATER. Ack, who am I kidding? I always spell is THEATRE.
I am currently directing some very talented, hardworking college students in some plays written by other very talented college students and while I couldn’t be prouder of them, I had a moment last weekend of being frustrated by the director, namely, MOI, who is about 12 years their senior and, I fear, their intellectual inferior. Because here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter how many years I’ve been at it (and I will remind you, it’s been 30) I always forget a few things. Here’s the one I had to relearn for the 1500th time (or perhaps the 10,000th): YOU HAVE TO GIVE ACTORS DIRECTION THEY CAN USE. Don’t tell them to do things because they will look cool. Don’t tell them to do things because they create a general mood. Tell them why they WANT those things, in that moment, in that character. Put it in terms of need. Cause here’s the thing, I can scoff all I want at that Method-y/Stanislavski-y/motivation-y language that we use in the theatre, but the fact of the matter is, we are people, and we are motivated (!) by desire. By the things we want. That’s why I’m telling them to do things—I WANT to create a certain image. So why, oh, why, must I always be reminded to put all my direction into the language of desire?
Side note: When I was directing a play in college, I told one of my friends to stop being so 19th century in his understanding of theatre. As if I understood either theatre OR the 19th century. You’ll be happy to know he teased me mercilessly for this and continues to do so, over a decade later.