Here’s a conundrum. I cast actors in readings/workshops of my plays so that I can understand whether the nuances I’ve written really tell on the page. Some actors assign a ‘take’ to their roles that’s only marginally supportable on the page, but is very much who they are as people. Which means that I don’t get to see/hear what I wrote.

When did this habit of type-ing become the paradigm? For actors’ work aesthetic, I mean, there’s always been that habit among producers and, to a lesser extent, directors and casting directors. In my day – yes, I’m old enough and successful enough to have had ‘a day’ – we actors, singers, dancers prided ourselves on being able to do anything, to change on a dime, to take direction, actually take it, chew it up and assimilate it and express the changes. Today, getting an actor to take direction is like pulling teeth. Is it the YouTube paradigm, everybody watches, everybody says, “I can do that,” but there’s nowhere an actual authority, just the self-proclaimed ones who say, “Sure you can!” and it’s “better than Broadway!”

Yes, I get that an actor must make a solid choice and explore that choice as they go. But. When the director or playwright shows that the choice has little or no basis in the text, doesn’t it behoove an actor to shift gears post haste? Even without specific direction (e.g., ‘Try something else, please.’)? Maybe it’s overpopulation and over-education, there are so many humans now that there’s the precise embodiment of every role in some actor, somewhere?

Sometimes casting the exactly wrong actor is a great boon, showing you all of the unsewn seams, the missing buttons in the garment of your character. I once cast a Broadway veteran who, back when I acted with him – yes, ‘in the day’ – was a sweet, sexy, self-effacing man. Not having interacted with him for 30 years I cast him in a NYC reading of one of my plays, and imagine my surprise when a ballsy, blustery sort appeared, one who played my sweet, frustrated, self-effacing character like the proverbial bull in the china shop. I learned volumes. In another case, every actor we wanted, every one who could handle a role, was already booked, and we cast a very nice actor who wanted to do well for us, who said yes to direction and (I think) tried to implement it but who, in performance, got up to maybe 15% of the character’s bluster and grace. In that case, I can only hope that the writing holds up, that I get another chance to explore in a workshop setting.

Which gets me (back) to TACTICS. Emotion is all good and well, never mind that it’s a byproduct of life, so when you choose your emotions for the stage, they’ll never come off as authentic, or at least, authentically spontaneous.

However, if you-the-actor understand the situation, have some comprehension of the character, know your objectives and obstacles, you have a choice. You can choose a state of being, an emotion, or you can play your objective by utilizing tactics. You can say, “My husband just fell off his chair and injured his shoulder, how should I feel” and act accordingly, or you can say, “My husband just fell off the chair and injured his shoulder” and find out, each and every time, what it makes you feel. It won’t always be the same emotion, it can’t, and if the guy playing your husband is working tactically as well, you can make stage magic.  Not recycled TV, actual theatrical in-the-moment magic.

Want the audience with you? Try it, try controlling what one controls (or tries to) in life and leaving the spontaneous stuff to its own devices. I guaran-damn-tee your audience will take that ride with you. They might miss that you’re a really good actor because maybe you didn’t cry onstage, but you’ll have given the gift of respect for their emotional intelligence. And yes, sometimes emotion is a tactic – what little kid doesn’t cry or yell in public to get attention or a sweet, what adolescent doesn’t pour out love in expectation of a certain reward – but we’re savvier than that, we audiences, and when those tactics are employed disingenuously, we-the-audience tend to fall asleep. And then give a standing ovation. Guilt? Don’t get me started.

All these examples, all of this rhetoric is presented in the hope that actors will stop delivering emotion as a result, that directors will stop asking for it, so the ones who pay us to be up there will receive truly transformational experiences.

And I’ll get to see and hear what I wrote, so I’ll know how to make it the best it can be.












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