Perhaps this has happened to you. You’ve just finished performing your scene and have gone to the director to get your notes. She says, “Wonderful. Let’s do it again but this time infuse the scene with the color blue.” And you’re thinking to yourself, “Is the director crazy? What does that mean?!” Nothing can be more problematic to the success of a project than when the director cannot clearly communicate with an actor and vice versa.
Essentially, it boils down to the way each of them speaks and listens. And when it comes to talking, while you can’t change the director’s way of conveying her/his ideas to you, you can endeavor to understand what kind of style it is and adjust your responses accordingly.
Words, Words, Words
You’d think that actors and directors would be experts at communicating with each other, given the fact that we use language as our primary tool in telling stories. The reality is something quite different. Both directors and actors find themselves stymied in their efforts to get their ideas across to each other. The root cause of this problem lies in the fact that we don’t understand the style of communication being used. Basically, there are two styles: literal and metaphorical.
The Literal Style
Does this describe how you, or the director, communicate to others?
- You primarily think of communicating as a simple interaction for getting information across to the other person.
- You like to keep your exchanges short and to the point.
- You always try and use the right words to get across your exact meaning.
- You always focus on the minutiae when giving out instructions because you don’t want to leave anything to chance.
- If you make a request or give someone instructions, you expect them to be carried out exactly the way they were given.
The Metaphorical Style
Is this a better description of the way you, or the director, get your ideas across?
- You tend to view a conversation as a chance to make a personal connection with the other person.
- You prefer to be engaged in longer conversations.
- You use words metaphorically and as a way to express your feelings about a given subject.
- When discussing an idea you focus on the big picture, speaking in a conceptual way.
- You count on the other person to figure out the details of what you want and how you want it done.
What Did You Say?
It’s important to understand not only your own style but the director’s way of communicating. If you speak literally and the director uses a metaphorical style, then you can “translate” her notes into something you can use to improve your performance. Also, if you understand the director’s style, then you can learn to speak her language. Sometimes you have to learn to talk the talk in order to walk the walk.
“Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.” – Winston Churchill