How to Deal: You Want Me To Do WHAT Onstage?

How To Deal: You Want Me To Do WHAT Onstage?
Pulling faces… what I do best!
Three Musketeers, September 2010
(Photo Credit: Ross Davidson)

Imagine this: You’ve been cast into a show that you know is going to be awesome.  You’re in the middle of rehearsal, and your director has just asked you to do something really embarrassing.  What’s an actor to do?

We’ve all been there.  I’ve had to do some pretty embarrassing things onstage.  I’ve had to act like a slobbering drunk, kiss a boy in front of my entire public school, and roll around on the floor in a ball gown.  I also remember being really embarrassed to have to squeal in delight and hug the actor playing my husband onstage.  I did it in rehearsal once or twice, but during the run of the show, I never actually squealed.  Looking back on it, I know it would have been much better for my character to have actually committed to the direction given to me, but I was too embarrassed because I thought I’d look foolish or silly onstage.

Now that I’m older, I’m a lot more confident about looking silly onstage, but of course nobody wants to look foolish.  Part of being an actor, however, is learning to really commit 100% to telling the story of the show, which may include doing embarrassing things.

Still embarrassed?  Let’s break it down and figure out how to deal.

1.  First, figure out why you’re embarrassed.

Read through the script.  Reflect on the directions you’ve been given.  What about it is embarrassing to you?

2.  Speak up — sooner, rather than later.

Talk to your director.  If it’s something morally, ethically, or safety-wise that you have an issue with, you need to talk to your director immediately — preferably before you rehearse the scene.  You should never do anything you feel is morally wrong or unsafe onstage.  A good director will (hopefully!) accommodate that, altering or adjusting the scene, line, or gesture.  For example, if it’s a stage combat move, talk to your fight director.  He or she will be able to adjust the choreography.  Recently, while working on The Hobbit at OKTC, one of the scenes involved two actors being carried offstage by other actors.  One of the actors was feeling a bit nervous about the lift, and they got their friend to speak to me privately about the lift.  We were able to get all the actors back together to make adjustments to the lift and practice so all the actors felt confident about performing the move.

If what you’ve been asked to do is not morally objectionable or unsafe; if it’s just embarrassing to you, then of course, still speak up!  If your director doesn’t know about issues, then they can’t do anything about it!  If you wait too long to say anything, it may be too late to do anything.  The director may be able to adjust the scene, but be prepared that they may not be able to — or won’t.  You may have to suck it up and do it… or worse, be removed from the scene or re-cast.

3.  Remember, it’s not “you.”

You have to separate yourself from the character.  It’s not “Kerry the person” up on stage, it’s “Sabine” or “Lord Lancaster” or “Bianca” (of course, insert yourself and your character in that last sentence!).  Your character is the one doing the silly or embarrassing.  Your friends and family coming to the show are not laughing at YOU, they are laughing at the situation your character is in.

4.  Think about other actors who have had to do silly or embarrassing things onstage or on screen.

Your favourite actors and actresses have all had to do embarrassing things, and on much bigger stages or screens than you, and they survived — and probably got even more famous because of it!  So just think — if they can do it, so can you!  Remember, Jennifer Lawrence tripped going up the stairs while getting her Oscar while the world watched, and she laughed it off gracefully.

How about the opening scene from Pitch Perfect where Anna Camp’s character Aubrey got sick onstage? Yeah… that must have been fun to film.

5.  Above all… be brave.

Actors, in general, are brave individuals.  There are so many people who wouldn’t even dream of walking out on a stage, let alone memorize lines, sing and dance, or have to do something embarrassing up there!  As an actor, you have already made a major achievement by putting yourself out there, so take the next step, push yourself outside of your comfort zone, trust your director, and as Nike says, just do it!  Believe me, you will impress everyone with your dedicated performance!

Have you ever had to do something embarrassing onstage?
How did you overcome your embarrassment?
Do you have tips about how to overcome embarrassment onstage?
Share in the comments!

Photo Credit: Ross Davidson

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