Advanced Directing Technique: Insights for Actors through Storytelling, Part I

Storytelling helps actors relate to the script, their characters and other characters.
Storytelling helps actors relate to the script, their characters and other characters.

Over the years I’ve directed my share of professional and university productions. Recently, I was working on a production of Steel Magnolias. It was an Actors Equity production and all of the actresses were professionals, many with more than 20 years of experience in the business. It occurred to me after all was said and done that I utilize a technique in my directing is unique. I know this because once again after the production each of the actresses came to me to discuss this technique.

This technique works well with plays and can also be used with musicals or any other form of drama. It is useful when directing on the university or professional level. It can be used with younger actors but sparingly.

Telling Stories

Simply put one of the major techniques that I use is storytelling. Calling “storytelling” may be misleading to some but that is basically what I do. I developed the technique over many years and actually discovered the need for it when I failed in my first three attempts at directing to communicate effectively with my actors. I was spending a lot of time telling them what to do, think, and feel and what I said rarely seemed to get through to them.

After graduate school, where I was a little more successful in my directorial efforts, I focused on stage managing and playwriting. I worked with a lot of directors some of whom I felt were very good and others who were barely passable. Finely, I decided that I could direct better than 70% of the directors with whom I was working. I quit stage management to pursue directing and writing fulltime.

Ulu Grosbard

Grosbard directs De Niro and Streep in Falling in Love.
Grosbard directs De Niro and Streep in Falling in Love.

It was at that time that some friends of mine were stage managing for director Ulu Grosbard who on Broadway had directed The Floating Light Bulb, The Price, The Subject Was Roses, American Buffalo and The Tenth Man. Grosbard was nominated for numerous Tonys and won the Obie and Drama Desk Awards.

They told me of a technique Grosbard used that they found fascinating. During rehearsal, he would take an actor off to the side and talk to them. No one else could ever hear what he was saying. When they ran the scene or moment anew, there was always something different and exciting about it. I got the chance toi sit in on a few rehearsals and watch Grosbard. He was very in tune with his actors when he spoke to them, they listened intently and often there was back and forth conversation.

My Technique

In The Sea Gull we created close connections by making their lives real through storytelling.
In The Sea Gull we created close connections by making their lives real through storytelling.

Grosbard got great results and although I would eventually talk with him about playwriting, I never did quiz him about his directing technique. But I kept it with me and started to develop, quite naturally, my own version of it.

My technique is grounded on the belief that actors are creative artists and one of my jobs as a director is to give them ample room to be creative while I also help them focus their energies. I’m also a great believer in working towards understanding how each actor in a production works and communicates so that I can custom-fit my direction to them.

Technique Specifics

In the second installment of this two-part series on Insights for Actors through Storytelling, I’ll discuss very specifically how this technique works, possible missteps in using it, and rewards you can garner as a director.

  • Author Spotlight

    Paul Mroczka

    Paul Mroczka has served Theatre By the Sea as associate director and playwright-in-residence. He has directed for companies including North Country Center for the Arts, Pontine Movement Theatre, The Theatre of Newburyport and the Palace Theatre. A former National Endowment for the Arts fellow in playwriting, he has also garnered a Shubert Fellowship, the Jason Miller Award and has received grants from the New Hampshire Council for the Humanities. His plays have been performed at New York’s La MaMa La Galleria, Nat Horne Theatre, and Manhattan Punchline Theatre, among others. His interactive planetarium show, Pathfinders, is running at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, NH. Recent directorial assignments include Good People, Steel Magnolias, and The Complete World of Sports (Abridged) at The Barnstormers Playhouse in New Hampshire, and Rumors, Orpheus in the Underworld, and The Glass Menagerie at PSU. This summer Paul finished an initial draft of his new play, Smart Money and is working on numerous other projects. Read Full
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