Three things you will have to deal with when you go from acting to directing

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I’ll start out by saying I’m writing this article from the point of view of someone who’s only directed amateur theater as opposed to union theater with a big budget. But in any case, going from acting to directing can be pretty challenging for a lot of people.

OK, so you’ve been an actor for a while, you got some good experience under your belt. You think, why not try directing? (I hope you’ve received training for it.) Maybe you still intend to act, maybe not. Maybe this is the only show you’re interested in directing, or maybe you intend to direct whenever the opportunity arises. That’s fantastic, and kudos for trying something new. But beware… there are things you should expect and be prepared for when you go from acting to directing. Directing is going to throw a whole bunch of new challenges at you. This article isn’t meant to scare you, it’s meant to give you some tips on what to expect so you can be better prepared to deal with it. Whenever you are wearing a new hat for the first time, it’s advisable to be as mentally prepared as you can. So, with that, here are three things an experienced actor should expect when they take a stab at directing.

#1: At some point, you will be hated by someone.

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Yeah, sorry. And I’m not saying this will happen all the time. How often it happens depends on how good of a director you are and how hard of a worker you are. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone. That’s a fact of life. Maybe an actor will be upset you didn’t cast them. Maybe they’ll feel you treated them unfairly. Maybe you screwed up the rehearsal schedule and this ended up with having actors with too much down time. Maybe an actor won’t like your vision for a show. There’s many things. And you know what? Maybe the person who’s upset with you will have a reason to be, maybe not. (Bear in mind, you are human, and you will make mistakes.) But eventually a person will be upset with you—and some will even talk about you behind your back. It’s like catching a cold; no matter how careful you are, it’s gonna happen from time to time. This reality doesn’t faze some people, but guess what? It totally fazes me. Because… believe it or not, I’m a very sensitive person. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But it does affect my theater life. I don’t like the idea of people being mad at me or not liking me. But that’s just something I have to deal with. And if it’s something that you don’t like, you’ll have to learn to deal with it too. Because here’s the thing: most of the time when you want something in life, you have to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone.

#2: You will deal with much more of the technical stuff and possibly the business side of things, rather than the fun, creative stuff.

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As an actor, you’re used to having the rehearsal and stage be sort of your playground. Of course, you work hard and it’s often grueling. But you get to play a role and embrace it (if you’re lucky) and for the most part it’s a fun experience. But be aware that if you’re a director, while you still get to do creative stuff, you are sorely needed for the not-so-glamourous stuff. You’ll have to attend tech meetings, and you’ll sometimes hear something you don’t wanna hear. Yeah, maybe you can’t have that spotlight you wanted. You need meetings with your costume designer, photographer, prop person, and so on. (If you’re on a shoestring budget, you may be able to go without having these staff members, but that will likely increase your workload.) All of this takes a lot of time and energy so you better be prepared to schedule it all so you can give the creative stuff your full attention. Because it’s much harder to get people excited for your vision for a show or prepare for a rehearsal if you’re drained and cranky from a meeting. Also, if this is amateur, non union theater, you may not have it in your budget to have someone take care of things like press releases, overseeing ticket sales, making sure ADA requirements are being met, and so on. That means these responsibilities will likely fall on you, so be prepared to plan accordingly.   

#3: You are the captain of the ship and everyone is counting on you!

As an actor, you’re a part of the team and you do your part just like everyone else. But the director on the other hand oversees everything. This means that people will be coming to you with questions—some of them you may not have answers to. This means you’ll be in charge of handling problems that arise. Sometimes all of this can come at you at once and it’s pretty scary. As of this writing, I’ve directed five shows and each time I could feel everyone’s eyes on me—especially when I made a mistake. It was a shock because I didn’t feel like I had the safety net I had as an actor. All of a sudden, I was the safety net. And I couldn’t let people down.

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There are many other daunting things an actor-turned-director can face, these are just the top three that come to my mind. So, as you take on directing for the first time, use this information to brace yourself. And do the best you can. And if you make a mistake and it’s a huge failure, believe it or not, it’s not the end of the world. Forgive yourself, apologize to people if you need to, and move on.

I do not write this article to scare you,
I write this article to prepare you.

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