Sunday, August 24, 2008

With This Role, I Thee Dread

Chances are good that if you are in as many shows as I am, you are going to play "opposite" to someone else. That is to say, playing their character's romantic interest. I have done it several times, and kissing has been involved, and other such activities on stage, as has oft been discussed on this blog.

One thing that has not happened to me yet, however, is what more than one of my fellow actors has called "The Meeting".

The Meeting is when an actor sits down with the real life significant other of his co-star, so everyone can get to know each other. This is not merely being social. The "Meeting" requires all invovled to discuss scenes and direction and the play, and the nature of the performances with the non-stage significant other.

Being required to attend this sort of meeting is, as far as I am concerned, absurd. Yet it happens frequently enough for me to have an opinion about it.

I have known actors whose "meetings" have required a dinner for 4 with the real spouses and stage pairs "getting to know one another". (Which makes it sound more like some kind of swingers meeting.)

I have talked to several actors who have been unfortunate enough to be told "My husband is super jealous, so, he's not going to like you much."

This is not the place for me to express my disdain for such insecure couples. However, since this is an acting blog, I will say that I pray I am never saddled with playing opposite to someone like this.

If your spouse is that jealous of you kissing or touching another member of the opposite sex, albeit in a stage setting, that is your business. Yet perhaps the stage is not the place for you. And if you do feel the need to keep acting despite such feelings from your partner, I would certainly conclude that you should work overtime to avoid roles wherein you have to touch other people. (Though this is incredibly difficult.)

A performer should not be put through this Meeting. It is distracting, annoying, and in more extreme, (but not rare) cases, can be scary. Sharing the hidden nuances of a performance with someone not involved in the show makes one unnecessarily vulnerable.

All of these feelings would unnerve even the most stone cold professionals while they are trying to perform a love scene of any depth. And this should not be the case.

I cannot say how exactly I would react if someone told me that "John needs to meet you". I feel fairly certain I would feel somewhat insulted and more than a little annoyed. I would not be happy, by any definition.

As a corallary to this, I have also encountered people who "refuse to kiss anyone for any reason other than my real life husband/wife". I suppose that is noble in its way...but directors and co-stars should not be required to re-write scenes to accomodate this. People that uncomfortable should be very picky about the roles they will accept.

Those of us who act, and who take it very seriously as I do, know that not everyone we come into contact with is going to understand the nature of our art. Nor are all actors going to feel the same way about being on stage. This is natural.

Yet an actor cannot exist in a vacuum, no matter what some people will tell you. They must be able to interact freely, to engage in that dance of envoking a character with others doing the same thing. If they are forced to do so with someone who insists on "The Meeting", or refuses, out of "devotion" to never put their lips to a fellow actors, one cannot achieve maximum comfort. And of course comfort is crucial to a great performance, and a great production is made up of a series of great performances.

1 comment:

Alexus McLeod said...

Insisting on something like "the meeting" you talk about seems like a horrible idea for an actor. Strictly from an acting standpoint (leaving aside possible problems of jealousy, etc.) it seems like one of the worst things one could do in such a situation. I can imagine if I had to perform in an intimate scene with someone who felt they needed to resort to a "meeting"--it would make it a thousand times harder to get into character, and interact naturally in the scene, because doing so would require suppressing the strong aversion that would come with thinking that you're stirring the jealousy of an angry partner who has nothing to do with the performance. This just adds baggage that can't possibly help the performances, but can likely destroy them.

I know from first hand experience that once there's awkwardness between two actors who are supposed to perform an intimate scene, it's almost impossible to overcome it. This happened to me in a scene I did in an acting course--the evaluation my partner and I got was exactly right--the scene was on target until the intimacy, then it fell apart because you could see the discomfort. In this case, it was my fault rather than my partner's--I hadn't taken the time and effort to get comfortable with that part of the scene, and hoped I could just "get through it", and concentrated on the dialogue instead. I learned a valuable lesson with that scene, and never made that mistake again in the few times after that I did such scenes.

This is why some of the best directors I worked with used to suggest that their actors who were supposed to be friends, lovers, or whatever, actually spend some time together getting to know each other and forming a decent relationship in real life. That way, there's less to stand in the way of the performances--and as you know, actors can only really pull off difficult scenes if they sufficiently trust one another. A jealous spouse/significant other can really muck up this trust. I think insisting on a "meeting" might be a sign of an inexperienced actor, then--just like I thought that "nobody would notice" if I hid the intimate stuff under the bed, so to say--such people might think that having such meetings won't change the dynamic the actors achieve on the stage. It almost definitely will, unless the actors and significant others involved are the most self-aware and uninhibited people imaginable. And if that were the case, they likely wouldn't need to have the "meeting" at all.