The Director And His Actors
( Originally Published 1938 )
WE COME to the most difficult work in directing: getting amateur actors to act. Even though audience and stage limit the director in what he can do, they do not impose serious restrictions on his imagination and creative powers; he is still free to work out a production agreeable to his own ideas. But when he confronts his amateur-acting material, he is face to face with a reality that admits of no compromise.
The director often makes this reality more formidable by taking the attitude that he must give an opportunity to act to everybody who wants it. In the stage presentation, which this book has in mind, the director is not primarily a school-master or a reformer; his first consideration is not the development of students' characters or the training of a be-ginning actor in poise and self-assurance. His first consideration is the production of a play which shall possess the highest qualities of which he and his resources are capable. He will benefit more people by giving a good production than he will by displaying a pedagogical or a reform attitude toward his actors.
If the director is teaching a course in acting, then he will cast his actors in parts that will give them the most training and profit; he will consciously miscast and give students of no experience and of but little promise the opportunity they desire. But when he sets out to give a public performance, he should search for the most suitable acting material for his play.
The leader of the orchestra, if he has good musicians, does not permit poor musicians to play first violin; the athletic coach does not permit weak, inexperienced men to play on his football team if he has better players; the painting teacher does not put on exhibition the work of his poor painters. Training in acting is important and necessary. The beginner should have an opportunity to experience and to learn; but a public performance at which admission is charged is not the place for him to learn.
As he has studied his audience, as he has studied his play and devised the most intelligent and dramatic production of which he is capable, so the director must study his actors and cast his play as well as possible. He will have difficulties enough in getting his best acting material to act. If the amateur theater justifies itself, or is going to justify itself in the future, it must be done on the high standard of production it displays and on nothing else; and a high standard of production includes good acting.
Such aesthetic pleasure and cultural value as the theater has to offer will come nearer to realization for the amateur audience if the directors will cease to be sentimental or weak-willed about their actors and cast their plays with a high standard of acting in mind.