Are tantrums all bad?
It used to be very, very common that directors would lose their minds as a matter of course during the process of a show. I guess it’s still pretty common. This meme has been so ingrained that some people equate a loss of temper with genius (though not if you’re female). As in the movie Whiplash, teachers/directors often go way too far. And that’s not acceptable anymore. Kinda like corporal punishment, our acceptance of “losing one’s mind” as a society has dropped dramatically (pardon the pun) in the last thirty years.
Okay, but if doing a dummy spit is still such a common directoral behaviour, however, it must work, right? It must have some positive overall effect or folks wouldn’t do it. If that is true, what is the desired outcome and can we replace the tantrum with other kinds of behaviours that achieve the same goal?
What are we trying to achieve?
Okay, what’s our end goal? Putting artistic considerations to one side, we want the cast and crew to be as prepared as well as they possibly can. We want the people onstage performing at their peak. We want the whole group working as a team and each individual ready for anything (shit goes wrong in live theatre). We want the group to respect and recognize each member; so that no one or other member is more or less important. We want the cast and crew humming along like clean room full of supercomputers. Now. Sounds like a solidly built team, huh?
Group building is one the most important functions performed by a director. Not many people talk about this, but it’s true. It follows, then, that somehow yelling and tantrums bind the group. Cause it doesn’t make anybody happy and it certainly doesn’t aid creativity. If we think about it, though, this tantrum technique is often used by sports coaches. They scream; they yell; they belittle. Aaaaaaand, the whole team solidifies against the abuse. Boom. Cohesive group with solid purpose: to show the asshole what they’re made of.
Okay, if that is true, if we accept that the yelling can solidify the group and increase performance, what does a director do if they have a different management style? What if negative tantrum-like behaviour is becoming unacceptable in society (as it is). What if it’s just more pleasant to have a positive atmosphere? If that’s true, how can we, as directors, replace the negative conditioning and still get a great show?
You don’t have to yell…
You don’t have to yell to solidify a group. You don’t have to have them hate you to do their best. You can, instead, support people to be their best. You can create an environment of trust and safety in which the artists can be fearless. And then encourage them to keep trying. Help them along. As a director, I have used this management style time and again and it only fails me very occasionally. I am living proof that you don’t have to yell.
I suggest that you ask yourself one question: Is your cast a bunch of lazy, ne’er do wells? Or do they genuinely care about their performance and the play in general?
If you believe the former, it’s probable that nothing will stop you from yelling at them at some point. If you believe the latter, you will do everything in your power to not yell.