I hope you’ve had a chance to contemplate my last posts, and at least agree that it is possible that you aren’t always RIGHT; at least, you aren’t always categorically RIGHT. And that neither is the playwright.
I hope you can also see that if the character you are playing doesn’t occupy space on the same slice of the pie that you do, you might have to reach a little bit to figure out who that character really is and what choices you need to make as an actor to create him believably on stage. That if you rush to judgment, you might make choices that aren’t the best ones you can make.
But BEST is a very different word from RIGHT. So let’s stay with RIGHT for a moment or two longer.
I know actors who are convinced that there is a RIGHT way to play a role. A RIGHT way to say a line. And it is next to impossible to convince them otherwise.
Some years ago, I was acting in a play, and commented at rehearsal one day that one of the lines another actress delivered was, to my mind, one of the funniest lines in the play. She was surprised, because she had no idea it was a funny line. Which explained why she didn’t deliver it in a way that would get a laugh. But that wouldn’t have mattered if she had understood the character properly. The humor came out of who her character was, so if she’d been more in tune with her character, the line would have come out correctly and the audience would have laughed. Automatically.
You don’t have to be a comedian to get laughs in a play. You just have to know your character well. (Not that it hurts to understand a little about comic delivery. A topic for another day.)
Anyway, the actress in question finally begged me to simply tell her the RIGHT way to say the line. I really hate giving line readings to actors (especially when I’m not the director!), but there comes a point when I will give in if they want it badly enough. So I gave her a line reading. She tried using it, although she never got a laugh in doing so. She didn’t deliver it well, because she didn’t understand what was going on inside of her character. She was giving a largely superficial performance.
Except for one performance: One of those happy moments when she accidentally collided with her character, and there was a living, breathing person on stage in the scene that night. And she said the laugh line perfectly; not at all the way I had suggested, but perfectly. And the audience roared. (Unfortunately, she didn’t notice that they laughed, so she learned nothing from the experience and couldn’t repeat it.)
But here’s the real point to the story. I went home after the rehearsal in which I gave her the line reading. Had I really given her the RIGHT one? Or even the BEST one? And so I ran through various ways of saying it, and realized that I could easily come up with six different ways of saying the line, all of which I was certain would make an audience laugh. Each reading came from a slightly different understanding of the character at that particular moment. Each understanding was perfectly valid and workable within the context of the play. As a director, I wouldn’t argue with any of those six choices.
In other words, there were at least six RIGHTs in that particular situation.
Another example: I was talking about blocking in class a few weeks ago, and in demonstrating how blocking could work in a particular scene, I realized that there were probably a half dozen ways of moving on a particular line. Which I would choose as an actor would depend on how I chose to define the character, as well as what the other actor in the scene might do (my movement on that line was, in part, a counter to the other actor.)
As with the example of the laugh line, each of the blocking options I came up with would work. Obviously, I’d have to make a choice at some point, but which choice I would make would depend on how I ended up interpreting the character and understanding what was going on in that scene for me. But I could probably make any of them work, if it mattered to the scene. In other words, if the director really needed me to finish in a particular location, I could find a way to justify that movement.
So again, there were at least six RIGHTs in that particular situation.
I can hear at least one person out there saying, “But which of the six is RIGHT for this production? I mean, one of them is going to work better than the others, right?”
So now we’re at least moving toward “best” instead of “right”. But there’s one more thing to say before we can fully do that . . .
To read The Validity of Other Perspectives, go here. To read About Those Stage Directions, go here. To read How Do I Know What the Right Acting Choices Are, go here. To read Line Readings and Why They Don’t Work, go here.