Sunday, March 6, 2011

My Day Among the Stars

On Saturday, I had the privilege of participating in a workshop-panel event at the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) called The Director – Actor Relationship. Sandy Tung, Co Chair Emeritus of the DGA’s Asian American Committee, and Michelle Krusiec of Saving Face fame organized the event to explore the critical relationship between Directors and Actors. I was one of six actors paired off and matched with a director to perform a scene in front of the group.

The day was surreal. First of all, check out the Asian-American star power on the panel with me:

Keiko Agena - Lynn Chen - Michelle Krusiec - Leonardo Nam - Aaron Yoo

If you don’t know who these actors are, you should. They’re the Asian-American A-List. What was my D-List ass doing with them?

I was paired with Leo to perform a scene from Hannah and Her Sisters. I played Lee, the sister in the middle:

I’ve never seen the movie (I know, I know) but I was able to find the script at Drew’s Script-O-Rama and read it before Saturday. Unfortunately it was a transcript, not a writer’s script, so it was rife with hyper-specific stage directions and clunky language, but I got the idea. I specifically did NOT watch the movie because I didn’t want it to influence my performance. I attempted to memorize the scene the night before and figured I’d go on stage with pages in hand just in case.

When it was our turn, our director Henry Chan kept us in our seats for a cold readthrough first. Whew! We were reading the scene on the street after Elliot kisses Lee in her loft and runs out. As soon as Henry started directing, I felt an enormous sense of relief and excitement because he was speaking the actor’s language, asking us what our characters wanted and guiding us through the ups and downs of the scene.

After a few more readthroughs, we got on our feet. By then, the words were mostly in my head, but I held on to my pages just in case. Henry gave us more direction, then came over and whispered a few notes just for my benefit. With the audience craning their necks to hear, he did the same with Leo. Time to start the scene. I shifted my weight, thinking about Henry’s notes and getting into character, when Leo suddenly crossed the space between us...and kissed me.

The audience howled with laughter. I must have looked pretty stunned. But inside, I was grateful for the surprise – one kiss and my “moment before” was solidified – total shock!

(I do have to mention that this only worked because I respected and trusted Leo and Henry. I also felt I was in a safe space. Actors pulling surprises like that on their colleagues doesn’t work when there’s no trust between them. More on that in another blog post to come…)

The first runthrough was great – the room chuckled. Henry stepped in with another layer of direction and more private notes for both of us. When I tried to start the scene again, Leo stopped with me another kiss! The audience really laughed this time. It was a pretty good kiss.

The second runthrough was a blur. People told me afterward it was great and that my look of shock was priceless. Alas, I’ll never know what it looked like.

During the debrief portion of our time on stage, Leo and I both expressed appreciation that Henry understood the actor’s process and how to rehearse the scene in way that helped us find truth. So many directors get it wrong – simply telling us “be angry” doesn’t inspire us to give an authentic performance. That’s results-focused directing. Helping us understand what a character wants, what’s in their way, what they’re afraid of, etc. – that kind of direction allows us to create a performance that will sweat anger or any number of emotions along the way.

Such a fun day! I was so grateful to be included and so excited to see so many familiar faces in the audience. Definitely a day of feeling like part of a community.

If you have thoughts to share on the actor-director relationship or stories about the bad directors you’ve worked with, please share them below!


  1. The best directors I ever worked with would tell you when you got it exactly the way they were hoping you would instead of giving you notes only when you weren't. Okay, I'll namedrop: Kathy Bates was one of the best. No surprise there...she's an actor and knows how it feels to be on that side of the camera. The worst director I ever met(and I wish I knew his name) freaked out on me during a commercial audition because I literally looked into a toaster to see what was in it after he directed me to look into the toaster to see what was in it -- which put the top of my head to the camera. Instead of a gentle redirect, he screamed cut and yelled at me at the top of his lungs, asking me if I thought I was "Marlon F*cking Brando"! Hilarious, frankly.

  2. I had no idea that Kathy Bates directed! Very cool.

    And there are so many crazy people in commercial directing, aren't there? Glad you could laugh it off! :)

  3. I was totally entertained by this post and I am absolutely elated for your success with this scene and having a good director to work with!

    You rock!

  4. d-list? hardly!!! (and a-list?!? will you be my manager, please?!?)

    you were really fabulous and i loved reading about your thought process through this because it was amazing to watch. i'm jealous that you get to see "hannah and her sisters" for the first time now b/c it's such a fabulous film!!!

  5. Wow Teresa, this was another great post! Must have been a fun and eye opening experience. Brought back memories about the relationship I had with my director Janet Sonenberg in Hydriotaphia, who always reminded me that I should discover and understand my character's objectives and the truth behind my every action.

    Thank you again for sharing, and I can't wait for future posts!


  6. @Currie - Thanks girl! Here's to getting kissed!

    @Lynn - You'll always be on my A-list. ;) I can't wait to see the movie - one of many, many Woody Allen films I need to see.

    @Julian - Thanks for reading! I wish I'd become an actor sooner so I could have studied with Janet. I'm sure I could have learned so much!

  7. I agree with Lynn. You all walked the same red carpet in December--no one's was longer than anyone else's.

    Everyone appreciated the effort of the event and all those who partcipated and made it happen.

    Though I would have trade places with you, Teresa, quite readily!!

  8. Thanks Ken! I appreciate your neverending support! :)