The Boards

This ought to be instructional. You can’t come here every five or six days and expect to simply be entertained or, more often, shocked at my level of self absorption. You ought to be able to learn something as well. So, here’s a little lesson for all you career actors out there. This is for all you people who fell in love with acting because you got cast in your high school production of Annie Get Your Gun, but to this day don’t realize that you were cast because the Drama Teacher needed a popular kid. I call it ‘Acting For The Effortlessly Attractive’.

Your job is acting. Your job is not writing, directing, costuming, producing, choreographing, lighting, set or sound designing or, most importantly, performing your stand up. You are going to want to do all these things, because deep down you know that you don’t know a fucking thing about acting and you want people to think you are smart and cool. But you need to remember that you don’t know a fucking thing about anything, so trying to help with everything else makes you an asshole.

a. The writing. Say what the playwright wrote. I don’t care if you think it’s your job to bring the funny, I don’t care if you think memorizing the lines too well make your performance wooden. Say the words. A person who considers his body to be his instrument has no right re-writing words from a guy who considers his mind to be his. As an actor, your job is to look at what is written, and make that into the character. If you decide who your character is, but the lines don’t match, then you are wrong.

b. The directing. If your director says ‘I need you stage left’, the only right answer is ‘Thank you.’ Among the large, long list of wrong answers is, ‘But why would my character move stage left?’ It’s your job to figure it out. Do it, and make it real, that’s why acting is hard, why it’s a discipline. It isn’t about being famous, it’s about thinking and being present all the time. Don’t suggest direction to the director. She or he is seeing more than you are. That, and, as a dumbshit, you don’t know anything anyway so just feel blessed that the hours of work you spend on your abs gave you the opportunity to even be a part of this.

(As a quick aside, when I started acting I was taught the ‘Christmas Wonderment Cross’. It is a sure fire way to follow the blocking without too much worry about motivating the motion. As a child entering a department store, when you see all the decorations and the giant tree, you can cross anywhere, even while talking to the guy behind you.)

(Also, one of my favorite directors, Dan Kois, always builds the entire set for you, fourth wall included, every imagined detail, so that even where the set is incomplete, you always have reasons to go to another part of the room.)

c. The costuming. If your costume looks dumb, then maybe you are supposed to look dumb. If you can’t move right in your costume, then find a new way to move. If it makes your ass look big, or if it gives you love handles, then guess what? Your character has a big ass and love handles. If you didn’t want your character to have them, you should quit eating ho-hos. Theater isn’t a vanity project, so shave off your fucking 90210 beard, take off your fucking wonderbra and try to pretend you’re a real human being.

d. Producing. Don’t make the staff come to you, begging for your free time. If acting is a priority, then switch shifts at work, apologize to your girlfriend about her birthday, give the cat too much food in the morning and do your goddam job. We are actors, that’s what we get to do all day, and there is no-one luckier in the world. I could give a shit if your cable gets turned off, let it go and read ‘An Actor Prepares’ with all your new free time.

e. Designing. As with everything else, you have no idea how things look to the audience. The design team wants you to be who they need you to be for the show, they don’t care if you look yellow in blue clothes or if you have trouble seeing because of the follow spot. The platform is too small for you to release your inner demons? Then try acting. There won’t always be room for you to do chin-ups before your five line walk-on, so the art better start being internal.

f. Your Goddam Stand-up. Sure, we laugh at some of your shit. Sure, it makes it harder to get furious at you for the rest of your staggering lack of efficiency and character. But if someone makes a joke about dogs licking their balls, you don’t have to say ‘If I could do that, I’d never leave the house.’ Remember when you used to walk around saying ‘You Look Mahvelous’ and then you stopped because everyone hated you? Your routine is better than that now, but no less stolen or offensive. Making fun of other guys in the cast when they look retarded is one step beyond the usual cruelty associated with this act, because looking retarded is the first step to an honest performance, and you are unable to even get that far.

Take this as lesson one. Just this much will make you ten times the actor you are now.

(By the way, the cast for this show is spectacular, but being in a theater, I’m reminded why I go so long between plays.)