I recently had a conversation in the comments of my post Actor 101: The Actor, The Art & Advertising where the question came up about actors in a show who were asked to make changes in their performance that they were, for personal reasons, uncomfortable with. While you can see the full conversation at the link above, I wanted to post my initial response as a post because 1) this may happen to a new actor and it’s important that you maintain your personal integrity and 2) when collaborating it is essential that everyone is on the same page.
I actually cover this a lot in my acting class because if we, as actors, are going to do good work then integrity must lie at the center of that. It’s the kernel that a good performance sprouts from. There are a few things that must be considered in this answer:
1) The show itself: Tone and final objective for the audience is the biggest factor to consider here. Are they supposed to enjoy themselves? Should they have a visceral reaction for or against? Should they be shocked? Assuming that you are doing a standard version of South Pacific it’s a pretty solid romantic musical. The audience should be happy when the relationships culminate. However, if this is an avant garde take then perhaps another goal is trying to be reached?
2) The director: They are in command of the overall vision of the show, which can include adjusting the tone of the show as a whole. While actors see individual “strokes,” the director is responsible for the completed “painting.” Based on your description it sounds like he is trying to put his own stamp on the show? Maybe making it grittier? My default reaction is to have trust in the vision, but it’s also his duty to make you, as performers, understand what that vision is and what part you play in that vision. Based solely on your description it sounds like this may not be very clear.
3) The actor: You have a responsibility to deliver the character that you have been hired to play that matches the tone of the show and the vision of the director. To that end it is entirely possible that there will be 11th hour changes that may need to be integrated into a performance, but these changes, whatever they are, need to be applied as they would work for the character. They need to be defensible if you are asked where they came from. There needs to be a motivation behind them. There’s a reason why the phrase, “what’s my motivation” exists – it’s a legitimate thing for an actor, it just sounds really pretentious. If the actors being asked to change behaviors that don’t match their personal beliefs then the performance may come off either contrived or poorly done – neither is good for the show. But the people are not their characters so if the character displays different behaviors then the actor that is something the actor should be prepared for. I don’t like the phrase, ” to be a good actor you must be willing and able to substitute your moral upbringing…that’s acting 101″ I disagree with that, but characters do things that actors as people would never do and sometimes the most powerful performances are the ones that challenge the actor to really think and maybe even question why they feel the way they do about something.
I’m not sure how vulgar they are asked to be, but in my opinion the best solution is a director/actor meeting where each side comes open minded and the reasoning for this change is discussed. That way a compromise can be made that follows character and place in show versus “I say do this!” “But I don’t want to do this!”
I hope that helps and that you guys have a great show!
What are your thoughts on this? Do you have a story about being asked to do something you were uncomfortable with? Let me know in the comments.
See you next time!