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An Actor Behind the Table

USC Junior Zach Kaufer talks about his transition from actor to director. logo

Zach Kaufer, TMU contributor and junior at USC

It took me until very recently -- when I actually started auditioning people -- to understand the mindset of a director behind the table. It's something that you're told about in class and by audition coaches. "They want you to succeed." In the audition room, we're coached by the director to be okay with messing up, starting over, and adapting to things not going as planned. Even though the casting table will encourage us, there's always that nagging feeling lingering after we exit that makes us believe those people were really out to get us, even after we've been reassured dozens of times by the auditor.

My name is Zach Kaufer. I'm a junior directing student at the University of Southern California, and I'm hoping that not all of us suffer from the aforementioned plagues of the "actor brain." I know that I do. As a student director and an actor myself, I'm hoping that I can bring a little bit of the knowledge I've accumulated from being on the other side of the table to the rest of you, and maybe we can bridge the gap between the actor and the production team.

I've been an actor as far back as I can remember, and I believe I've always had some inclination towards directing, but my real epiphany happened early last year when I was given the opportunity to direct a production of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Even though I had no actual experience, learning by application caused a much deeper relationship with the work I was creating and forced me to give up my defense mechanisms against failure. You know why? There was no way I wasn't going to fail. Without experience, I had nothing to lean on. I had no philosophy, no education, and no relevant experience to draw from that would help me to lead a group of people. This is not to say that the production was a failure; we sold out all six of our performances, and audiences loved it. I'm saying that my job as a director was only just beginning, and failure is the first step.

Since that experience, I've assistant directed one School of Theatre show and I've had numerous other directing experiences in and out of the classroom that have given me the confidence to move forward with more projects. This blog will focus on those projects. I've been given the opportunity to assistant direct for Stephanie Shroyer (you'll get more info on her in a later post) on the School of Theatre production of James Joyce's The Dead, and I've also been given a production grant from the School of Theatre to direct Stephen Karam's Speech and Debate. In this blog, I will be sharing what I'm learning as a student director in hopes that I can demystify the production experience for those actors out there who have never been on the other side. I'll be talking about pre-production decisions, the casting process, the rehearsal room, the production meeting, and all sorts of other insights that actors don't normally get.

Check back each week for secrets, intrigue, and some tips on how you can better understand the production process from the first monologue to the last bow! If you have questions or want to know about anything specific, feel free to leave comments and I can do my best to answer them all!


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