“Stupidly steadfast, steadfastly stupid.” – Anonymous
Don’t be stupid. Don’t be steadfast. Life is about change. If you always have to insist on your point, you are probably wrong. If you find it hard to take other people’s direction or criticism, this is probably not the profession for you.
I once knew of a director who would purposely give incredibly dumb directions at an audition. “I liked the way you delivered that monologue, but could you do it like a chicken?” Besides having a really good time, he was testing the actor. He wanted to see if the actor could follow directions, no matter how stupid. The best “chickens” were cast and never once had to cluck during rehearsals or performance.
And speaking of rehearsals, the rehearsal process is an exploration. How can you explore anything if you are not willing to look at the other possibilities? Always approach direction with an open mind and try to accomplish it to the best of your abilities. You never know what the director is really looking for.
Keith Johnstone talks about status in his book, Impro. Status is how you feel about yourself. Low status people feel insecure. High status people feel secure about themselves. This is not saying anything about how good or bad the person is. I’ve known many high status people who were completely unenlightened individuals. If you never read his book, you should. Status is a very efficient way of approaching character.
Decide upon what status you would think your character would be. Play the scene as either a high or a low status person. Some things probably felt right, some others didn’t. Now reverse the status. If you were insecure, now play the scene as if you were very comfortable. You will probably find other places in the scene which now feel good.
How can a person feel both secure and insecure in the same scene? Well, don’t we all change our own status a hundred times a day? We get up feeling great and we get to work and someone says something stupid. Our status goes from high to low almost immediately. The reverse can happen also.
In fact, the most interesting characters are constantly changing their status. This is the struggle that is most interesting to watch, the struggle within ourselves.
So if you believe one thing about your character, the reverse is also true. Never tell the director, “My character wouldn’t do that.” He probably would. And if you can play it fully, truthfully, it will make your character much more interesting.