I don't really understand those who feel that actors have minimal or no investment to make into a piece. Don't laugh, this view is more common to theatre these days than you may think, in all levels of performing. The notion that all emotions, motivations, character traits, quirks, back story and creativity in presentation are none of the actor's affair. A notion that reduces fine acting into nothing more than projecting one's voice, and not tripping over anything on stage.
I try to preach against theatrical monotheism here on the blog. I avoid, when I can, the notion, that any given method is wrong. Getting to the truth of a character, remaining consistent throughout a performance, and doing so with passion and energy is my acting credo. Whatever a person needs to do in order to maintain that, without denying it to someone else, is generally fine by me.
Yet once in a while, I feel an almost visceral need to reject certain notions. One of them is in fact this idea of actor slavery to text, to directors, to the whims of stage managers, and basically, just about to anything but their own creativity. The "actors as living furniture" view of live theatre, which dictates that the true nature of the experience is exclusively the director's vision, (read as "dictates" to many), and the words of the playwright. I have always found this to be particularly offensive.
In too many places the actor is considered subservient to some other person or institution. Yet that is the nature of some media. Movies. Television. A certain degree of acceptance to the idea that actors are lower on the totem pole in those two industries is inevitable if one wishes to be part of them. It has been that way for decades. Yet part of the compensation for this acceptance was the idea that live theatre remained the actor's medium. Yet in far too many circles, (amateur was well as professional) an attempt has been made to shift the theatrical tide towards less actor oriented, and more director centered, spectacle driven productions. And I say, enough is enough.
Mechanical, uninspired, and lazy is the director who insists on one unchanging vision from first rehearsal to opening night. The same goes for the playwright that leaves no room for personal interpretation of his text. And even applies to those actors who feel that they can only perform when being placed like a pawn on a chess board. None of these types breathe much life into theatre.
The stage is an actor's medium, despite a trend away from that notion in recent years. Directors who want to be tyrants should get into film. That is where directors must be given the highest amount of freedom in the creative collaboration. Writers who want to be gods ought to enter television, where their talents and positions generally reign over that of others. The peculiarities of those industries require such hierarchy. But I stand vehemently opposed to the encroachment of these philosophies and practices into live theatre. As I said, it is the actor's medium, and those involved in it, directors, playwrights (and yes, actors) should learn to accept it if they wish to create the best possible result.
This means in fact that within the teamwork and collaborative efforts of a stage production, actors ought to be the one with the greatest amount of freedom. Unlike TV and the movies, the very specific draw of live theatre is exactly that. It is live. It is visceral. If we rushed the stage from the audience, we would encounter human beings of flesh and blood. That is live theatre, and it is what people pay for. It is what people as a whole fall in love with when they come to the theatre. Directors and playwrights, stage managers and set designers who think otherwise are quite simply unwilling to relinquish power and are afraid of not having 100% control over things. Equally unwilling are they to concede the notion that people do not generally go to the theatre to see "how something was directed". We have cinemas for that. People attend theatre to see how it is acted.
Naturally, directors and playwrights are not irrelevant. A script needs to work according to certain rules, and somebody must be directing traffic. So this is not an advocacy of eliminating the director, or of ignoring/changing a script in the middle of a performance. (You can face legal issues there.) It is rather, a call for those involved in all aspects of bringing a live theatre production to life to recognize the freedom that actors deserve. And a plea to not be afraid of same. Let us do our jobs, and the magic will happen. (If the right actors are selected, which is another actual job of the director.)
Actors, don't accept a shrinking influence in your own medium. You are not in a movie. You are not in television. You are in live theatre. Don't let anyone take that away from you. And if they would, go be in another show, with people who know their place and are willing to let you do your thing, and won't silence you and your need to connect with what you are doing. Don't accept limitations on your creative power in order to maintain the false and insecure notion that any one person in theatre is sacrosanct. Truth and passions are the sacred things of theatre. The rest will follow if you possess them. If you do not, it's a crap shoot at the best.
There are directors out there who understand this. Find them, and be in every show you can with them. You will better for it, and so will theatre itself.