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Dear Aadyam

Could you share any tips for people who are directing a piece that they are acting in as well? Gouri Bhuyan, Actor, Mumbai.

Dear Gouri,

In the words of our friendly neighbourhood Spidey- ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. This quote is done to death, YET wholly effective in the case of this question.

A director wields immense power whilst shaping and manipulating a script into a vision. This vision or play will either absorb and move the audience emotionally and become a success or bore them to tears. The former is preferred of course! The director also bears the burden of responsibility to not only remain true to a script, but also mould his actors to fit the plays vision. However, this responsibility grows leaps and bounds when one is acting and directing as well.

Trishla in Six Characters In Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello which she directed as well

My first leap into acting and directing was for the Drama Club in Law College. Bored with lectures, I wandered into a dank, depressing room where I saw an actor rehearsing a Marathi monologue and transforming the space into a magical portal of possibilities. I was instantly inspired. And meeting likeminded people led to co-writing and directing an original play called Homecoming, which we performed for a festival called Kaleidoscope. I had passion and madness, but no experience. Well, nobody told me I needed experience. With sheer good luck we won best play. It steered me full time into my true passion, which was the theatre in all forms- acting, directing, writing, production and being an avid audience. I watched with wonder the magic even an empty stage conjures.

Main takeaway- Key ingredient for any venture – Passion!

Tip 1– Never listen to anybody who says it’s not possible. Follow your gut. And then double check with the people you trust, like your mentor or teacher.

Tip 2– Be patient. Believe in your own vision. Be truthful to yourself and set limits.

Tip 3– You will have to play a dictator in the rehearsal room, without actually dictating, to earn the trust of your fellow actors.

Tip 3.5– Experience has taught me that actors should never direct other actors in the same play. Reason being, that each actor has their own backstory and does a given amount of homework to shape their character graph after discussion with the director. Wrong advice from another actor can lead to irreparable damage to a character and the play.

Tip 4– Do not be scared to make a fool of yourself. Fail, Fall and Try Again.

Tip 5– Do not surround yourself with Yes men or women. Getting complimented is easy. But to allow yourself to listen to select criticism can help you grow as an actor and director.

Tip 6– It’s never a bad idea to assist or shadow a director to gain experience.

Tip 6.5-However, it’s even better to have an able and intelligent assistant who can play devil’s advocate when required.

Tip 7– Main rule of direction- Keep it simple, stupid. Do not make unrealistic goals or choices.

Tip 8– You should be clear as to why you want to act in the play you are directing.

Tip 9– Always good to have another actor around to read your lines and help with the blocking so you can visualize it as a director.

Tip 10– Yes, imitation is flattery, but do not copy other people’s work intentionally. Use your imagination. It is limitless.

Tip 11– Leave the ego at home. There is always room for improvement in a rehearsal room. Respect the cast and crew.

Tip 11.5– A good way to keep the ego in check and to make sure the play is working as director and actor, is to invite fellow directors or peers one respects. Or even your mentor. It helps immensely to have another perspective and allows you to make the required changes much before show day. My mother used to be my harshest critic and at the same time a very involved audience. It helps to have that combination so one can see through another set of eyes.

Tip 12– If it’s a monologue or poem you are enacting and directing, record it and see if you yourself are convinced by it. If it is difficult to be impartial, then do a rehearsal for a more experienced person, so that they can shed light on what can be improved.

Tip 13– If you are only acting in a play- learn your lines. If you are acting and directing, learn the script backwards.

Tip 13.5– Acting is Reacting! When directing oneself, make sure you are getting the correct reactions to your actions. If not, allow your assistant or a visiting mentor help you from the outside to the degree that you think is required. The rest will happen with rehearsal, rehearsal and more rehearsal!

Tip 14– If you can’t crack a scene, don’t give up! Leave it aside to simmer for a bit. Then try it in a way you never thought was possible. For e.g. – change the setting, the language spoken, the tone of the scene, add music or remove an element and try again.

Tip 15– It helps a lot if you had a good teacher or mentor in the theatre so that your basics get grounded.

Till date I still follow the advice of my teacher, Dubeyji. This was his parting shot before every show- ‘Kitnaa kharaab kar logey’. And I say the same to you.

– Trishla Patel

About Trishla Patel

Trishla says that she has had the good fortune of doing theatre for the last 20 years under the best of teachers like Dubeyji, Naseer Sir and Makarand sir. Wonderful directors like Sunil Shanbaug and Purva Naresh and countless others have helped her to push her boundaries. Film and TV also happened side by side but stage has remained the focus through the years.

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