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How do I tell an effeminate actor to "butch up?"

Printed From: Community Theater Green Room
Category: Producing Theater
Forum Name: Directing
Forum Discription: For questions about handling shows, actors, crew, board members, children ...or do we repeat ourselves?
URL: http://www.communitytheater.org/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=5457
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Topic: How do I tell an effeminate actor to "butch up?"
Posted By: doublezero420
Subject: How do I tell an effeminate actor to "butch up?"
Date Posted: 3/04/13 at 10:26am
I am currently directing a production of Inherit the Wind and need advice on how to get the actor playing Davenport, the local prosecuting attorney, to be more manly on stage. He is *very* effeminate (I do not want to say he is gay, because he is not out) and actually sits and acts more lady-like than most of the women in the cast. I do not mind the character being a bit "foppish" but the play does take place in a quite conservative, southern small town.

-------------
aaron

“One of my chief regrets during my years in the theater is that I could not sit in the audience and watch me” -John Barrymore



Replies:
Posted By: edh915
Date Posted: 3/04/13 at 6:44pm
Is it his physical mannerisms? Or vocal?

If vocal, there's not much I can recommend.

If physical, pick a couple of stances, attitudes, poses, gestures - whatever you think will help - and tell him that you'd like him to incorporate them into his performance. Tell him that the others are dominating their scenes and that these few physical actions you're asking from him will help level the playing field and give him a stronger stage persona.

You can even solicit his thoughts about possible physical movements. Remember, too, that he may be holding back a little because some physical actions don't "feel" right to the actor making him reluctant to try things. He needs to know that some things that don't "feel" right actually "look" right from the audience and he shouldn't be afraid to try anything once.

In any event, don't make it about "him" - make it about the play and how to make his performance stronger in relationship to the others in the cast.

Whether he's gay or not, I'm sure he's aware that he's not really holding his own on stage; so he should willingly accept whatever you have to offer - particularly if you ask for his input as well. A collaborative effort will always work best.

A secondary approach you might use is to tell your actor you'd like him to act a little more like Al Pacino, or John Wayne, or whoever - and see if he can "channel" that actor's characteristics into his own performance.

I had a Petruchio once who needed some help, and both these approaches worked really well for us.

Needless to say, this conversation should take place in private - except when something works, then praise him publicly: "I really liked the way you sat on the edge of the desk, pounded the table with your fist, leaned in and got nose-to-nose with so-and-so during the cross examination, etc., etc., etc."


Posted By: SamD
Date Posted: 3/11/13 at 7:16pm
Wow. How old is this person? If he's over 21, just tell him to man up! It is acting, after all.


Posted By: directorjm
Date Posted: 3/13/13 at 3:34pm
I was in a somewhat similar situation as a director a few years ago and didn't handle it well. The main thing I learned was to give all directions in the positive. If you want a different mode of speech, a different interaction with another actor, a different way of moving or sitting, tell them that in as much detail as you think the actor needs. I made the mistake of characterizing the action I was getting rather than describing what I wanted.


Posted By: falstaff29
Date Posted: 3/16/13 at 9:18pm
Originally posted by directorjm

I was in a somewhat similar situation as a director a few years ago and didn't handle it well. The main thing I learned was to give all directions in the positive. If you want a different mode of speech, a different interaction with another actor, a different way of moving or sitting, tell them that in as much detail as you think the actor needs. I made the mistake of characterizing the action I was getting rather than describing what I wanted.


Agreed.  Some directors have been taught that actually telling an actor what to do is wrong, so they beat around the bush and try to get the actor to organically realize that they need to play angrier, more vulnerable, etc.  If an actor wants to know "why" a direction is being given, that's fine, but, at the end of the day, it's about what the actor projects to the audience, and the audience's immediate reaction to that, not about what's in the actor's head.

Directors sometimes also have this idea in their heads that giving examples (line readings, walking through a piece of blocking, etc.) is wrong.  I find modeling to be very useful in certain situations if communicating a direction using merely words isn't working. 



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