By Allen Levin
In order to advance as an actor you need to work on many scenes. You are going to find varied styles of work. Find people that work well with you. There isn’t any one right technique, however there are techniques that work well the way you work. If your partner has strategies that annoy you, it’s likely you aren’t compatible scene partners. If you have a rehearsal or two and it’s really not working out – this isn’t a “the show must go on” situation. Give it one more try with full communication to your partner as to your needs. Still doesn’t work? Move on. Do not worry about doing the scene with that partner. Save your strength for work that matters.
As for “the scene must go on,” I tried one of those. I did a scene from Jerry MacGuire with an actor who was playing Kelly Preston’s role. We were in the break up scene. She decided that our scene would be best suited if we truly didn’t like each other. She would smack me on the back of the head in the middle of class during a scene. She would insult me. She was acting like an absolute asshole. We did the scene. I don’t believe the scene went any better with her “trick.” During the process I put up a poster that said “Do it anyway.” It helped me get through this and we got the scene done. After the scene she happily came up to me and admitted her strategy. It was upsetting to me. I never worked with her again. She did go on to have a decent career in film! I see her work occasionally and I’m happy that she’s working.
In the above example I believe my creative energy would have been better spent with other partners. I can remember quite a few partners that I did multiple scenes with despite our class having over 80 people in it. When you find people who work well with you, do plenty with them. When you find people that don’t, let them down in a thoughtful manner.
“I’m sorry. I think my acting style is simply a different strategy than yours. I need to get loose and talk for a half hour before we dig in. Shooting the breeze helps me to loosen up. You like to get right to the lines. We are both right. Tell you what: Let’s each find another partner. We can still put the scene up with someone else. Maybe in the future we can try another scene together.”
I like this way of letting the other person go. It’s far better than “I don’t like the way you work.” It’s possible you’ll never work with them again (and likely) but letting people off the hook in a thoughtful way is an excellent way to be a professional.
There will be some people that simply don’t work well with you. I got turned off by acting partners that liked to talk shit about my teacher, about fellow classmates. I can’t be around that. I’d find a sensitive way of getting out of the scene. I also would stop this head on when it’s happening. “You know what, I’m not the kind that likes to speak negatively of people in our community. Please don’t include me in this kind of dialogue. I’m not judging you. It’s just not my thing.” That can be a difficult thing to tackle, but sometimes it’s truly necessary.
If you take a booking, like a play, and the people aren’t working the way you like to work, do your absolute best to hang in there. That’s where “the show must go on” comes into fruition. There will be plenty of character building. I’ve been there. Stay in. Take your commitment seriously. If you gave your word, you should be there, despite amateur behavior. If the space becomes hostile or unsafe, it’s ok (and necessary) to leave it behind. I can tell you play producers I’d avoid, happily.
Do your best to make it through the run. Your word truly is your bond. If it’s unsafe in any way – that’s the deal breaker. That’s your out. Get out. Move onward to projects that are created in a manner that’s professional and safe.
Sometimes our careers are more defined by what we leave behind. Many times with scene partners leaving them behind is the right more. Really give your partner a try. Communicate. Work out your differences. You’ll learn a lot by getting the work on stage. If the gap is too far to build a bridge, move on to another partner. The main issue is you need to be working on scenes. Find a couple people (3 or 4 is ideal) with which you work regular scenes. Still accept occasional scenes from others and see if you can add to your scene partner family.
Keep in mind that no one is necessarily wrong in how they approach a scene. Plenty of people will be wrong for the way you approach a scene. Be judicious. Acting class scenes are the best because of just how much power you have to create the art you want. Many times the industry won’t grant you that power unless you are the producer. Enjoy the power to move forward. Enjoy the power to put the work up. Enjoy the power to put it down with one partner and pick it up with the right partner for you.
Onward and UP.