“It’s scary because Daniel really wants you to make mistakes,” Julianne Nicholson said over the phone recently. Ms. Nicholson stars in “Heartless,” a new Sam Shepard play now in previews at Signature Center (opening Aug. 27), and she recalled an early rehearsal in which Mr. Aukin’s words of encouragement in the face of a difficult challenge were: “That’s O.K. I want you to do it badly.”
Ms. Nicholson said that while she trusts the director, having worked with him on “This” and on one installment of Adam Rapp’s “Hallway Trilogy” in 2011, being told to fail still goes against the grain. “I want to do it right immediately,” she said.
There’s a method to the badness of course. The playwright Itamar Moses, whose baseball-theme play, “Back Back Back,” Mr. Aukin directed at Manhattan Theater Club in 2008, said: “More than any director I’ve worked with, Daniel likes to explore the farthest emotional or dramatic boundaries of a scene as early as possible. He wants to figure out what the bandwidth is.”