A Management Lesson From the World of Acting and Directing

The phrase (probably from Martin Mull, originally) goes “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  I think the implicit thought herein is that the thing is to be enjoyed, that analyzing it borders on absurd.  When it comes to analyzing directing and acting, getting a handle on the particulars can, at times, also approach absurd or, at the very least, be tricky.  I mean, how do you talk in concrete terms about something so abstract?  Well, there are ways to do so, but I’d like to talk about one specific aspect of directing and acting.

When everything is working right for a scene, the director shouldn’t have to ask for more.  More intensity, more focus, more energy, more honesty.  It’s there already.  Not because it’s ‘just there’, but because the actor has prepared and is ready.  So instead of asking for more, the director can focus on collaborating with the actor to dial in exactly what’s needed for the scene.  The intensity, focus, energy, honesty, etc., all of it put together, may even need to be scaled back.  The point is, all of what the actor is responsible for doesn’t have to be summoned or hunted down; he has already brought it to the table and now it just has to be directed, pointed toward the right spot, not unlike trying to get the moon in view through a telescope.  Is it a messy and sometimes inexact process?  Definitely.  But having to cajole an actor to engage, to bring out everything he has unnecessarily compounds the inherent creative challenges.

It’s like that leading any type of team, isn’t it?  Every person has different talents, different sets of strengths and weaknesses.  And while you don’t expect everyone to be an all-star in every facet of their discipline, you do expect everyone to be giving themselves fully to their role.  The difference is pointing a streaming waterhose at this or that plant versus endlessly pumping the handle of a pump, desperately hoping it will eventually pour forth.

So let’s ask the next question: on your team, are your ‘actors’ showing up?  Do you merely have to direct their ever-present energy and creativity or do you have to inveigle their participation?

Now, the final – and harder and essential – question:  is there really any room on your team for the latter?

To be fair, recasting of any kind is hard.

So, too, is having to find a new director.

 

– Matthew Porter

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