How do you work with actors?

Dean CareyQ&A

DC’s Creative Exchange — Q&A

“How do you work with actors when directing them? Do you block the play rehearsal by rehearsal?”
— Andrew, Australia

Hey Andrew,

Really important question, as it brings up the essence of how I and a number of directors work.

The stage, as we know, is divided into blocks: upstage right, downstage left, centre stage etc. Hence the term ‘blocking’. I don’t use the term as I never felt comfortable with it. To me, it sounded objective, clinical and constructed. I heard a great teacher many years ago use the term ‘physical life’. I loved that term as it felt free, organic, like characters’ movement around the stage is a reflection of them living.

In my process I go one step further and add every movement onstage is actually a reflection of characters’ psychology as they speak. So, every ‘move’ can be seen as a reflection of characters’ thinking, feelings, responses, tactics and actions. Once we uncover the psychology driving each scene, a ‘move’ is then actually a physical reflection of the drama itself.

I find when we begin to discover this in rehearsals, I hear myself saying, “I feel she wants to now move closer to him because she feels safe. I feel he wants to move away from what she’s suggesting or implying. I feel they feel they’re now on the same page completely, so what about sitting side by side at this moment and see how that feels?

This becomes a process of physically knitting together the unfolding action with the particular psychology driving it. It’s a delicate and inciteful ‘dance’ as the actors feel comfortable enough to suggest physical moves they feel they’d like to try because of what their character is thinking. The actors also begin to trust my objective eye, knowing I’m also looking to capture their character inflight.

Finally, this process creates a faster grasp of the lines (learning them). It also creates muscle memory which will be triggered in each performance as the ideas (text) are mirrored in the physical life of the scene. Each moves makes sense. Each move captures the developing arc of the scene’s energy. I find this process very exciting, with my focus 100% directed on capturing the physical ‘heartbeat’ of each scene.