Rogue Theater Company Artistic Director Jessica Sage answers your theater questions
By Jessica Sage
Jessica, you say “Great actors actively listen and respond in the moment, creating authentic interactions on stage,” and I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes, however, an actor can find him- or herself in a two-person scene with someone who, regardless of previous experience or training, is clearly not actively listening. How best for a director to address that?
— Tom W.
Congrats! You are the first male reader to ask a question. From my perspective as a director, clear and direct communication between director and actor is a priority. I like to foster a safe and collaborative atmosphere among all involved in a production and generously offer positive reinforcement. In the case you mention, I would engage the actor in a private, one-on-one conversation to rectify the problem. I’m a straight shooter, and when giving constructive feedback, I want to communicate with kindness, empathy, and patience as I zero in on specific areas that need improvement.
It may be that specific triggers or moments are causing disengagement, so modifying or reworking a scene may be necessary. It may be of value to pause the rehearsal and focus on techniques designed to increase awareness, such as breathing and listening exercises. It may also be useful and insightful for the actors to switch roles and improvise a scene to allow for another perspective.
Acting demands the actor be present each moment on stage, and if that doesn’t happen, it can make or break the performance. By addressing the issue of an inattentive actor through a combination of the strategies mentioned above, the director can help actors improve their focus and thus contribute to the overall success of the production. I hope that answers your question, Tom.
Last month you were asked about what makes a good actor. It got me thinking: what do you think makes a bad actor?
— Susan L.
This question makes me both giggle and wince as I recall moments of bad acting. Have you ever watched an actor and simply didn’t believe her or him because they were unconvincing in the role, unskilled, or inauthentic? Or maybe you experienced an actor showing no emotional depth, making the performance lackluster? How about when the actor overacted by exaggerating emotions and gestures? One of my biggest pet peeves is when an actor is supposed to have an accent, but the accent is inconsistent. It’s so distracting that I can hardly focus on anything else. These are bad acting traits.
Other signs of bad acting are an actor’s excessive physical habits (scratching, running fingers through hair, adjusting eyeglasses), lack of preparation (forgetting lines or missing cues), or an inability to be vulnerable and engage and connect with the audience.
The worst offense, in my opinion? When actors don’t enunciate or project their voices, and the audience can’t hear and/or understand what they’re saying.
An actor needs a consistent character portrayal, including facial expression, tone of voice, body language and access to emotional truth to make a convincing performance. It’s a lot harder than you’d think!
Theater lovers, what would you like to know about theater, acting, stagecraft, etc.? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Bring up the houselights, and let’s have some fun!
Jessica Sage is artistic director of Rogue Theater Company (roguetheatercompany.com).