Notes towards a book I'm working on, early title:
Notes to a Younger Artist
Came out of a conversation I was having with a younger director after he worked his ass off on a show, critics came in and his cast went hay-wire. He asked me how to assure that the work in rehearsal is carried on to the stage.
As far as creating consistent performances for the actors, I don't think it's possible, frankly. Once the lights go up and they're in front of other live humans, it's all them.
There are some wonderful actors, good friends, that I no longer work with because they regularly die out there. It's an individual thing that has nothing to do with talent, everything to do with courage and focus. Some people are performers. Nancy is calmer and more focused on stage than she is off and she's not unique. She's just a performer, it's where she lives. Other people, equally talented, are artists and they can get thrown off their game by random shit that neither you nor they have any control over.
And it breaks your heart when you see all of the months of work disappear.
All you can do is address it directly and play psychiatrist, ask the questions, get them to define what exactly happens when they feel it going off the rails and find some physical, easy thing they can do to get their shit back together.
Stop and stare at each other for ten seconds.
Walk over the other performer and hug them, then slap their ass.
Something that an audience will never recognize as a break in the action. If they know that it's not an abyss they're falling through but a job they're all doing together and they can stop and readjust, they may not panic as much.
Also, you can tell them straight and simply:
Look, some people are just not going to dig this no matter how well we do it. It's experimental. It's alternative. By the very definition, it's not easy to watch and understand. Lots of people turned off John Coltrane after the first two minutes.
What is that noise?