Three shows in a row now, I have launched into rehearsals with a concept of my character, only to have the director undercut and/or completely change that concept through rehearsals. Even though the director has ultimately been proven correct, I hate how this process feels and am ruminating on ways to address it.
I will cop to my inability to successfully put away my director hat when I act; I see the big picture in all my scenes, but I try to disregard it and only focus on what my character knows, says, sees, or other clues from the script. But the homework that I do as an actor often becomes at odds with the director's concept of the character, a concept that I only fully come to understand through rehearsal, resulting in my feeling as if I am wrong a lot of the time. Often, it is very hard not to notice that the direction is derived from a need to minimize my size, stature, volume, and energy.
"You sound angry," one director said, repeatedly. He was right, even though no anger was in my intent. The world hears my voice and the energy behind it, and it can quail. Not fair. Not remotely fair, but true and something I have dealt with all my life, onstage and off.
"I need to move you over here," another director regularly says to me upon looking at an already blocked scene and noticing I am in the way. I knew when I was initially put there that I would not be staying (director hat), but I always wait for the actual director to decide where I belong. We lovingly refer to this as "Walter, go to your corner!"
My current director is one of those camp counselor cheery-types, full of relentless praise and encouragement for every effort, large or small. This, of course, makes every gentle correction and admonishment stick way out--a simple "don't point so much here" has added weight in the midst of "you're doing a great job."
No matter the style or content, if I have made any kind of commitment to the movement, line reading, gesture, or blocking, I have a bad internal reaction. It comes from my need to avoid feeling wrong. (This is a big thing people misinterpret about me--I do not need to be right all the time, but I have a desperate need not to be wrong!) I know I try to hold it in, but I am sure my face must give a hint as to what I am feeling.
When you get cast, you may have received a little direction at the callbacks, made a little connection with your costar, gotten a script, and started to read and make notes until rehearsals begin. If all that has happened, I walk into rehearsals with a pretty clear idea of where I'd like to go on my journey with my character, and though I am absolutely open to direction, I want to have the chance to explore my choices in addition to theirs.
If there is a read-thru, or a table read, I ask a lot of questions. Often, there is not one; you launch right into music rehearsals, dance rehearsals, and blocking rehearsals with little advance discussion of the play, the role, or even the director's vision. Not so with GYPSY! Several Rose/Herbie rehearsals were held, with much back-and-forth. Still, I find that much of my understanding of Herbie's internal journey is at odds when it comes time to stage the scene according to the director's vision.
What do I do? When I have no preconceived notions until the key to the character is revealed by the director, I run into either A) they give me none, other than "you're too [fill in the blank]"; or, B) they launch right into character analysis and serious stuff in the first blocking rehearsal. I really prefer to just get the sense of where I am standing, when I enter, what business I need to create first, and THEN start putting the character stuff into it, so directors (and musical directors) who start giving you character notes as you are just learning the material get to see my "learning" face, which I gather is a cross between "I am confused" and "I am annoyed."
I am making notes to myself for future directing gigs, assuming that, if I feel this way, other actors must under my direction. This explains so much about what I see on some actor's faces during my own rehearsals. There has to be ways to address this issue, for me and for others.