First rehearsal for Harold Pinter's The Homecoming is tonight. We'll do meet and greet, and then table work. I love table work. It's my favorite part of the process. I'm a very psychologically oriented actor, and delving into why people do what they do in a play, making discoveries in each line, putting two and two together to create an arc, finding the moments where I want to put major shifts in the arc, all of it is fun to me.
Acting is very much an intellectual pursuit. It's also an emotional pursuit. It's also a physical activity, akin to a sport. It's also politics, like the junior high bullshit we watch Mitt Romney and Obama fling at each other.
There's I think a misconception about acting, that it's somehow the "easy" art form. That it's a cakewalk for actors, who really just want to have our egos stroked and be told we're wonderful all the time. That we're just whores for attention. And while I won't deny that just like anyone, an actor has an ego; and just like anyone, when that ego is stroked we glow a little...I will tell you that there is no profession in the world that makes its professionals take more of an ego HIT than acting.
We get rejected more than any other professional on the planet. 80% of all actors are out of work at any given moment. Glamorous! We get injured more than most other professions, because we do monkey tricks like have full-blown sword-fights and wrestling matches on stage. And when we do get work, it pays shit. So, you'd better not have a family or a house payment and be an actor. Easy, it ain't.
OH: But back to yesterday's conversation for a moment.
Q: How much of the director's interpretation of a character is an actor required to heed? Where does the director's job stop and the actor's start?
A: There is no answer! Suckas! But a good place to start is The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate
And so, continuing from the fire analogy...
The Relationship Between Director and Actor
A: I think the director's job is to look at the overall interpretation of a play. I think it's her duty to look as hard as possible at the piece to discern the playwright's intent, and to faithfully execute that intent in the production. This is not to say that a director might not have his own take on the meaning of the play, and indeed many a playwright has said, "Leave me alone! I have no idea what I meant, I just wrote it!". It's just to say that if there is a clear, definable thesis, it's the director's duty to remain loyal to that, and not to re-write the play in her own image.
Caveat: Shakespeare and many of the classics. If a play is open-domain, super old, dated but with the potential to be apropos once more, by all means, make it happen. This is how we get new forms, new genres, is by mixing the old with the current.
I had a teacher in college who would re-write the plays he directed, through style. The play would already be very interesting, that's why he chose to do it. And then he would put German Expressionism onto it. Didn't matter what play it was, it could be a victorian play about feminism. He'd make it German Expressionist. It could be a 1980's kitchen sink sitcom play. German Expressionist. There's something wrong with that, I think. Where's the respect for those who've come before you in the art?
A2: I think it's the actor's job to look at the whole play first. Figure out what the director is using as her thesis, or through-line, and understand that fully. Next, the actor's job is to interpret his character in a way that corresponds to that interpretation. For instance, if the character is gay, you're not going to make her a closeted straight person afraid to admit she loves penis just to entertain yourself. The character is who they are. There is plenty of room to play within that, and actors have much room to make it our own.
And it's the actor's duty to be real. That is, not to interpret the character, not to project character, not to indicate character, but to be a person on stage. If you're a very good actor, it's your duty to give the character life on stage. To experience real emotion in performance. To breathe. To behave and react to others as if it was you in your real life.
If you're a piss-poor actor, your very best course of action to get yourself as comfortable on stage in front of others as you possibly can. This will allow you to have the appearance of being a good actor by making you more natural on stage. That is your only hope. And many successful actors take this tack; it makes them millionaires with longevity in Hollywood. Tom Cruise, Bill Pullman, Bruce Willis, Diane Keaton, these are all BAD ACTORS. They're not theatre actors, but they illustrate my point. They have figured out how to be comfortable in their own skin in front of audiences. Their own egos are strong enough to carry them through whole movies without too much trouble. They simply are themselves on screen and stage.
For the bad actors, directors are needed in a dire way. Andie McDowell tanked Four Weddings and a Funeral because Mike Newell (director)
evidently had more pressing fires that needed put out than Andie McDowell's HORRIBLENESS. Mr. Newell could have been extremely instructive to McDowell (who knows? Maybe he really tried his best to make her into a princess; but alas, the frog remained). In scenarios such as these, the director has every right to take an actor line by line and interpret for her who she is, why she is doing what she's doing, and how she goes about it.
For more adept actors, all a director needs to do is say, "GO!". Michael Caine, Alfie and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, is a perfect example of this. Frank Oz knows he knows how to be another person, naturally, on stage and screen, and should be left alone by the director to do this work.
For the rest of us, who are somewhere in the middle, it's a balancing act. We work together, with the common goal of finding the director's interpretation. It's the director's job to keep the actors consistent in style, and moving toward the thesis that he has found to be the right interpretation for the production.
With "The Homecoming", there are many possible interpretations, and angles from which to take the piece. It is, as I said before, specifically written to be open to a director's vision, which is a wet dream for a strong director. And this process will tell how the actors and our very strong director, Paul Angelo, work together to find the line where actor and director meet.