Actor and Director Redux

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During last night’s rehearsal, the director replaced one of the bits in the yellow-stocking scene with a different one that I don’t like as much. This is a thing that happens. Sometimes I still think, after the show is over, that it would have been better to keep the old version. More usually, I eventually agree with the director. Sometimes I reflect that I just didn’t want to change, or that I hadn’t yet found a way to tie the new bit in with everything else I was doing. Sometimes I still don’t like the new bit in performances, but the audiences do.

I wrote about something like this ten years ago, and much of what I said I still believe:

[The Director] is the one in a position to make that decision. I’m not. It would be stupid for me to be upset about it. […] That doesn’t mean I won’t express my opinion and all, but honestly, if it came down to her judgment or mine, I’ll go with hers, all the same as when the X-Ray wallah said my ribs weren’t broken, and I wasn’t inclined to trust my judgment over his. He knows his job. It’s to be hoped that I know mine, which as an actor does have a lot to do with directorial choices, but it isn’t really to be hoped that I know hers better than she does.

In the dozen or so shows I have done since then, I have learned that my judgment on these kinds of things really is rubbish. Early in the process, I try to tell the director something like this: I have millions of ideas, most of which are lousy, some of which are totally great, but I can’t tell which ones are which. So if I bring you an idea and you tell me it’s one of the lousy ones, that’s great; it helps me know the difference. I do think I’m good at doing things, so when a director says do it like this, I can do it like that. And I really do think that I have lots of great ideas, but I have absolutely learned how rubbish I am at knowing which of my ideas are great; I want to rely on someone who is good at that, and hope to hell the director is. At any rate, I choose to believe that the director is, for whatever play I’m in, for as long as I’m in it, because the other attitude leads to misery and woe, and who needs that? After the show is over, I can think about whether the director made good decisions; during the show, I have to have faith.

This is distinct, by the way, from forming opinions about the director as a person, or about the way the director handles rehearsals or communicates with cast and crew. I may well have fierce opinions about those things, and have already decided by tech week whether I will decline further opportunities with this director. But I try—and have so far largely succeeded in the last decade—to have complete faith in the direction that the director is doing. Because what choice do I have?

Of course, it’s always nice to have some sort of corroboration, and when a little later in that same scene, when I was sitting in the house watching, the director made a slight change in the duel that had me collapsing in laughter, I thought well, that’s all right, then.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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