Dear Type-A Actor,
It's the first day of rehearsal. You've got your script in a binder or maybe you even stopped by Kinkos and got it spiral bound (you're such a pro!), you've got your lines highlighted, you've got three pencils, a notebook, your dance shoes, a healthy snack, and your water bottle. You're so ready. You are the most prepared actor ever. You've been practicing for weeks. You've written a detailed character history. You've watched every available bootleg of the Broadway production (strictly as research because you would never dream of copying a performance!) and you've read your script at least ten times. You're so prepared it's intimidating. And that might be part of the point. You stroll into rehearsal with a confidence that demands to be noticed. You sit up tall in the front row of the theatre and make eye contact with the directing team as we enter. I see you.
We all do. You want to nail this performance. And that makes me worry.
I worry about you, Type-A Actor, because you might give me some trouble in the next couple of weeks. I've worked with you before. Hell, I've BEEN you many times. You have a tendency to want to get it RIGHT. And that means you might not be willing to fail.
I worry that the performance I see in the read through on our first day will be the performance that I see during every rehearsal and ultimately this will be the performance that our audiences experience as well. And it's not that this performance is bad. It's good, actually! This is the performance that we saw at the auditions and it's the reason you got the part. But this performance is safe. And acting should never be safe.
The rehearsal is a place for failure. I know that sounds weird. Most of us spend a lot of time and effort trying to avoid failure. But I tell you that if you don't fail at least once or twice during rehearsal, you're not doing it right. Because taking risks is how we push ourselves past our comfort zones into that vulnerable and raw emotional place where great things happen. It's how we determine if a line is funny or not. It's how we discover the subtext or the beauty of an awkward silence. And when we take risks, we are bound to fail from time to time.
My dearest Type-A Actor, I know that you want to be the best you can be at all times. You want to get it "right" from the beginning and make everyone proud. You might actually be self-conscious behind your confident exterior. It is probably incredibly difficult for you to be vulnerable in real life (which is ironic since you play it so well on stage). I totally get it. We all deal with the pains of this business - the constant rejection, the judgements made about our physical appearance, the stress of needing to find a way to support ourselves while in between jobs - and you've developed this professional plastic coating that preserves your talent in its mint condition for all to see. It's impressive, don't get me wrong, but it does you a disservice. Being so prepared for your first rehearsal, means you've eliminated the opportunity to make discoveries about your character during the rehearsal process. If you've answered all your questions before walking into the rehearsal room then you've neglected the relationships that exist between you and your fellow cast members and how those will influence your character. You've ignored the important moments of clarity that come from working a scene on its feet with direction and context. You've made all of your character decisions before the work even starts. And while I admire your work ethic, I worry that you won't be able to break out of your "professional actor candy coating" to take risks and fail every once and awhile.
So, Type-A Actor, I encourage you to risk being underprepared for a role. Come into your first rehearsal with the following checklist:
- Dance shoes
As a director, I don't expect my actors to have all of the answers on their first day or even our last day. Theatre is great because it's LIVE which means that the characters are living breathing creatures who are affected by things like the mood of the audience, the health of the actor playing them, the current political climate; anything and everything can affect our performance on any given night. So, I encourage all my actors to stop working for a "perfect performance". Instead, work towards an honest one. Come to your first rehearsal willing to make some wrong choices and I bet you'll notice a difference. It might mean that you're slightly less intimidating on your first day and I think that's okay too. We see you. We know you're talented. We know you're prepared. We just hope that you're also willing to fail.
Dear Type-A Actor,