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How to… direct so actors can give their best

Jack Silver. Photo: Alex Fine
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1. Use positive body language

Actors are very sensitive to body language; it’s part of their training. Whether you’re in rehearsals or auditions, there’s no better way for a director or casting director to make actors nervous than negative body language. Avoid crossing your arms, closing your palms, or looking uninterested. Smile, maintain friendly eye contact and, if you can, sit with an open stance or even on the floor in front of them, so you’re looking up, rather than down, at them. Small signals will have a big effect.

2. Give good notes… and time

Nothing makes an actor nervous like not knowing their lines, so give them as much time as possible to learn sides. Most actors are incredibly dedicated; many will stay up all night learning sides they’ve been given the night before. However, you won’t see their best work if they’re sleep-deprived. The same applies to notes: if they know what you’re looking for, they’re more likely to be able to deliver it. You are looking for an actor who helps you solve a problem. If an actor ‘nails it’ first time then great, but most actors won’t. Give them time to get over the nerves, and give them playable notes to help them show you what they’re capable of.

3. Treat them as equals

Make sure you set up the room so the actor doesn’t feel like it’s ‘us and them’. Try to avoid placing a table between you and the actor. It might make great TV on The X Factor, but it puts a physical barrier between you and sends a subliminal signal about who’s ‘in charge’. Instead, set out some chairs in a circle, so they feel like they’re joining a group.

Jack Silver, a London-based director and actor who directed Confessional at Southwark Playhouse, London, was talking to John Byrne