Talking RehearsalsSome directors are criticized for either talking too little or too much. People assume that talking too little means that you are afraid of saying the wrong thing, while talking too much means you are too opinionated and don’t care enough to listen to the actors. Body language can be helpful in recognizing the signs that the time for talking has ended. If, as a director, you notice the actors sighing, shifting in their seat, or if they appear genuinely disinterested, then it is likely time to stop talking.  This can be especially true as pre-production rehearsals begin.  This time should be focused on purposeful conversations and activities that will work to facilitate the most effective creative process.

Set the tone for exploration

The purpose of the initial rehearsal is to let the actors explore their characters, assemble raw materials, and to free them from everything “real,” allowing them to fully embody their characters. Directors require actors to disengage themselves from their emotions and simply be their characters. This sets the tone for new exploration into their characters, away from their own personalities.

Create association and connection to the subject manner of the script

During the rehearsal, the most effective conversations can be the ones whose sole goal is to simply communicate with your fellow actors regarding the script. Sometimes, your character may be involved in something that you can relate to, so you may be able to talk about your own personal experiences on the matter. Open up about your own experiences and make sure that you encourage your fellow actors to ask questions. Topics that you may discuss can include your families, children, relationships, hopes, desires, dreams, and frustrations. It is important to initiate conversations about these matters if you feel your personal experiences can help fellow actors prepare for their roles.

This technique, termed “telling stories”, can help the rehersal feel more natural. For example, if the story involves the subject of divorce, the director might ask the actors to share their personal experiences related to divorce to make the scene more realistic. Some directors talk about their own experiences which can be really helpful to the actors.

Create a working relationship between the actor and director

When recruiting established actors during the casting process, directors often win over actors by their willingness to share personal stories. For example, Meet The Parents director, Jay Roach, said that actor Robert De Niro was interested in engaging the director in the story. De Niro wanted to know Roach’s own relationship with his parents to gain insight into how the director would want him to portray the character. De Niro was interested in Roach’s feelings and wanted to hear his personal stories in order to make his character more realistic. 

Create an ensemble

Every script ultimately boils down to primal human issues. For example, Pulp Fiction focuses on loyalty, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon demonstrates the power of moral sacrifice, There’s Something About Mary illustrates the pain of love, etc. During rehearsals, directors who gather the actors to encourage discussion on the the script’s themes in the script will allow the actors to become more emotionally transparent with each other, resulting in more honest and emotionally gripping performances.

Find out how the actors work

Asking actors about their methods can help cast and crew anticipate how production will proceed.  It’s important to find out the artistic values of the actors and discover what they love about acting, along with any problems they may have with the script.  Having these types of conversations will create a relationship between director and the actors, as well as between the actors themselves, and can also help cast and crew anticipate and deal with any potential problems that may arise before they become a hindrance to the production.

Get on the same page

Actors need to understand exactly what the director is thinking and what s/he needs in order for the scene to achieve his or her artistic vision. As the rehearsal process continues, as an actor you must become comfortable with the set, the other actors, and the director. Instead of being solely interested in your character, you should try to learn about the other characters and how they are viewed by your director. Stay interested in the emotional underpinnings of the story while maintaining a focus on the development of your own character.

Establish the humanity of the characters

Examining and trying to understand exactly why characters do the things that they do can help create an emotionally honest foundation for your portrayal. If an actor judges or resists the character, then that actor never fully becomes that character. By establishing the humanity of a character, the director can guide an actor in interpretating the character in unexpected ways.

For example, the character Randal in the movie Clerks makes a remark about what people say during sex, revealing that he once called a sexual partner “Mum.” Of course, this disclosure tells us much about the character, elements that the director had suggested. The director offered that Randal might have an odd relationship with his mother, or she might have been a stern disciplinitarian that he had decided to rebelagainst. Specific character lines like these can actually define the character as a flawed, complex person rather than simply a two-dimensional figure involved in a scene.

The philosophy here is that a director has the opportunity to present the actor with a variety of ways to experiment and deconstruct his or her character. This presents the actor with a field of options from which to make a choice, and allows them the opportunity to choose the one that they think would be the most likely based on their thoughtful analysis of the character. Often, an actor needs a simple, primal clue to give them the key into the core of the character.

Make sure that the actors know what to do in front of the camera

During a “talking” rehearsal, a director can discover a great deal about what the actors intend to do in the actual peformance.  Finding out an actor’s ideas and validating them can be an important part of this stage of production. Directors can have more control of filming if they focus on these ideas during a ‘talk’ rehearsal. These will provide him a rough idea of what the actor’s performances are going to look like during the ‘dress’ rehearsal or before rolling the film.

Restrict yourself to two facts

Remember that the purpose of talking rehearsals is not to explain the plot; the actors have read the script, so they already knew the plot. If the actor hasn’t read the script and is not ready for rehearsal, that indicates that the actor has no real interest in the plot or the characters.  Instead of focusing on the details of the plot line, focus on one or two essential facts that can create behavior and will start the ball rolling.

What not to do in a “talking” rehearsal

When you begin the “talking” rehearsal, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.  The first is not to be tempted to intellectualize your discussion of the story, the character, or the plot in an attempt to convince the actor that the choice is wrong.  Anchor all stories and ideas in real life to prevent discussions from becoming too abstract and, therefore, unproductive. The main important thing is to connect human relationships, predicaments, needs, memories, hopes, and fears.

The second thing to remember is that talking to fill time or impress the cast and crew is unwise. Directors should not stuff the actors with direction and instruction. Also, the director must pay attention to the body language and signals from the actors indicating boredom or disinterestedness. If actors seem to be glazing over, change your approach by asking a question, changing the subject, or getting them on their feet.  Everyone should be engaged in the rehearsal process.

The third thing to remember is that implicit in the term “talking” rehearsal is the idea that those discussions are taking place face-to-face. Telephone conversations between actors and directors who have never met each other do not constitute as quality rehearsal time. Getting as much face-to-face rehearsal time as possible is essential to ensuring a smooth production.