I haven’t been directing improv and sketch all that long in the grand scheme of things. But over the last few months, I’ve witnessed some pretty awful behavior from my fellow directors. (Hell, I’m sure I’m guilty of some of this, too.)
But for the love of God, if you get to direct, please heed the following rules.
1) Focus on your own team.
You have enough on your plate with that team. Seriously.
2) Focus on your own team.
Dude, look at your team. It’s your job to make them better. Are you doing that? Every team can improve. Yes. Yours, too. Just because your team is stocked with veterans or playing a lame slot in a bar somewhere or low on numbers, you don’t get to stop coaching.
3) If you must bring up an issue with another team/player, take it to that team’s director.
You are not the boss of them. They have a coach. Talk to the coach. Throwing your weight around with another team makes you an asshat. You don’t get to parent another man’s kids. Don’t try to coach another man’s team.
4) Watch the show.
Some directors don’t watch their team’s show. They play solitaire on the computer or text their girlfriends or hit on chicks at the bar. (Yes, I’ve seen established coaches doing this.) Are you watching your team’s show? That’s why they’re paying you. How would a movie director make his film if he didn’t watch what’s coming into the camera?
5) Don’t blame the audience.
A show’s quality is sometimes reflected by the audience’s reaction, but not always. If your players get rattled by a “bad” audience, you must make them stronger. And if your actors feel bad after a show, there’s always a non-audience reason.
6) Give notes.
You are there to make the team better. Give overall team notes and give individual notes. If you are afraid to give notes, stop coaching. Also, make sure your notes are helpful. If your notes are not helpful, stop coaching.
7) Know when to lay off.
A jockey who continually beats his horse ends up beating the horse to death.
8) Know when to quit.
At some point, the team stops listening to you. Or you stop caring. You want to bail before that happens.
9) Check in.
Look your actors in the eyes. Do they still care? Do they need something from you? Are they acting weird offstage? In some ways, you are a father or mother figure. Monitor your kids and encourage them always.
10) Play the hand you’re dealt.
During the Civil War, an overmatched Confederate force stopped a Union attack by simply marching past a clearing in a circle. The Union force failed to notice the exact same people filing past them over and over. Thinking it was a large group, the superior Union force held off.
Sometimes you get to pick your team. Sometimes you don’t. It’s your job to get the most out of each player. Discarding someone should be a last resort.
11) For the love of God, focus on your team.
Focus. On. Your. Team.