I got a phone call once from a gentleman interested in taking some acting classes. He’d seen one of my flyers somewhere and thought he’d call and find out what my angle was. Very nice guy. We chatted for a while, and eventually he got around to telling me a few of his experiences. He told me about a show he’d done recently where one of the actors drove him crazy. Seems he was always changing things, and you never knew what he was going to do next. “Was he changing the lines?” I asked. No, it wasn’t that. It was that he kept changing the way he was saying the lines, and sometimes what he was doing when he was saying the lines. And since you couldn’t depend on him to do what he was supposed to do, he was behaving unprofessionally.
I immediately knew which actor I’d prefer to watch, and it wasn’t the caller. Who wants to see an actor who plays it the same way every time? Who wants to see an actor who stubbornly insists on responding to what is supposed to happen rather than what actually is happening? Who want to see an actor play it safe?
I once worked with a very gifted improviser who would come off stage after a wonderfully funny scene inexplicably disappointed in himself. I’ve done variations of that scene a hundred times, he’d say. There was nothing new there. Now, the audience loved the scene. But he was disappointed with himself for leaning (settling for?) on ideas that still worked but that bored the hell out of him. Some people might accuse him of being incredibly self-absorbed, that it wasn’t about him, it was about the audience. I’ve heard that statement many times, and I’ve said it myself. But come on. Acting is not a selfless pursuit. Actors are artists, and the artist that isn’t stimulated by the work he’s doing is doing a grave disservice to his audience as well as himself.