The difference between teaching an actor how to become a better actor and directing an actor to give a stronger performance is a very fine line. There is clearly a lot of overlap between teaching and directing and they work hand-in-hand. So, “what’s the problem?” you may ask.
It’s not a problem. It’s a question. Let’s look at the different roles. The director’s objective is to make the scene work as best as he/she can envision. The teacher’s objective is to make the actor work in a way wherein he/she can become a stronger and more confident actor. And the scene presented is the testing ground, the display of the work, the laboratory within which we will experiment and explore. And if the teacher simply ‘re-directs’ the scene so that it will work better what have the actors learned? The actors now know how to do that particular scene in a more effective way. But have they acquired tools and techniques that they can then apply to other scenes, other situations? That is the question.
Wouldn’t it be better to guide the actors through a process where they could ascertain how to solve whatever problems there may be in the scene? (By ‘problems’ I mean flaws, inconsistencies, lack of character depth or arc, etc.) True, it is the teacher’s job to identify and pinpoint the problems so that the actor can perceive the work from another perspective. But now the actor has to learn how to address the problem in a constructive way. And if the actor is simply told ‘how to play it’ then a part of the actor’s process has been circumvented.
And this also brings up another question or concern. Dependency. As much as actors are dependent on the director for guidance in character and scene work, don’t we want the actors to be extremely independent in their own process? If the teacher can lead the actor through a series of steps that would lead to problem recognition and then potential problem solutions I think there is a greater chance for increased independency on the actor’s part.
Several of the teachers that I have observed are, in fact, excellent directors. And because of their strength and confidence in their directing I can see them falling comfortably into direction as a means of addressing the ‘problems’ in the scene. It’s a natural reflex. I know that I have it every time that I teach. I can feel the overwhelming urge to just step in and re-direct the scene – to show how it ‘should’ be done. So I know that I am as guilty of this technique as the teachers I am observing. (Not only when I am teaching directing but especially when I am teaching acting.) I think, perhaps, this is why the question has come up for me. I am aware that I am questioning my own process, my own approach .. my own ‘failings’ if you will.
Which leads to one more question, or situation. When I am teaching and I observe a scene that is not working as well as I can imagine, I will address the director and actors with several questions about their work. I know I am helping to lead them to discover new ways of looking at the work. But often I can see that I am not getting through. So I will choose to show them what I am talking about, to show them a solution. And often I see that look on their faces, which may be wonder or amazement, clearly also contains a modicum of “how did you come up with that?” And this only means that I was not successful in leading them to a process wherein they could find the solution on their own. And I feel, to an extent, that I have failed as a teacher. I succeeded as a director but failed as a teacher. Or, perhaps not. Perhaps this “show and tell” is all an essential part of the teaching and that I need to learn how to find the proper balance.
One thing I do know, though. The more I teach – the more I am the student. And, the more I am willing to be open and learn, the better teacher I will become.