Monday, June 6, 2011

Just Do Your Job

I asked a nine-year-old thespian if he had any tips to make The Shakespeare Club better.

Sam, thoughtful fellow he is, gave the question some time to swirl around in his head. We were sharing a bench under a tree on campus. Above us a bird tweeted and leaves fluttered in a breeze.

"Well, the one thing I would say is that if there are lines that the actors want to add or, say...when I'm playing Nick Bottom...I could say, 'Wow'...or 'No way!' Like, I think that would be a good thing in Shakespeare Club if we could do that."

"I hear you, Sam, and yet that's the one thing we can never, ever do. We can't change the playwright's lines. We can make cuts in the play, but we can't change the lines."

Sam accepted my answer. UNLIKE MOST ACTORS IN HOLLYWOOD.

I've spent a lot of time on the boards as a theatre actor. I've worked on my share of film and television sets and I've been to film school, so I think I have a right to air a grievance on the issue of folks doing their assigned jobs and leaving others to do theirs.

I have a bias toward theatre discipline in this regard and applaud the Dramatists Guild for protecting the words of their members by not allowing actors and directors to make changes.

Screenwriters, unfortunately, do not have the same protection — and I have never been on any set, as an actor or acting coach, where non-writers haven't taken it upon themselves to make changes willy-nilly.

Often with this reasoning: "But I would never say that!"

It's not about you, you ninny!

Directors seem to think that by placating these whiners, they'll achieve a "naturalistic performance" and "make the actor happy."

What nonsense.

To those actors, I say:

If you want to write, go learn the craft and write your own script.

And to directors who insist upon delivering line readings to actors:

If you want to act, go take a class, or a hundred, and cast yourself.

And to producers who like to throw around lens sizes and stand behind a director, mumbling ideas:

If you want to direct, go to film school and learn how to frame a shot.

So I'm sorry, Sam, we won't be changing Shakespeare's lines to make ourselves more comfortable. Anyone can do that. Anyone can rattle off one-liners to spice up a conversation. That's what dinner parties are for.

Actors do what regular folks cannot do: Take someone else's words, own them, and spit them out as if they just thought them up.


If I had a life of peace I would by me a fridge and fill it up with all of the food I have. If there is still food that could be put in there. I would stuff food in there and hurry and shut the door. Then when it falls out of there I would stuff some in a empty closet until it gets full. this just a dream it won't come true.
Mark, 5th grade

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