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Ask Questions

By • Jun 20th, 2012 • Category: An Actor's Advice

Arguably the most famous question in all of theatre is “To be or not to be.” At least within the realm of questions from a script.

Not all questions an actor may have will be as profound as this one, of course. Nonetheless the actor should have questions. Many questions, at least at the start of a production.

Having questions about one’s role, a scene, and a production as a whole is indicative of several things. It indicates first and foremost that you care about what you are doing. When you are getting nothing out of being in a production, or in the very least or neutral about it, you are not likely to wonder many things. And when an actor ceases to wonder, half of his battle is lost right from the start.

Having lots of questions also reminds the actor that he is dealing with a creative medium. Flexibility and adaptability are crucial components to the success of theatrical endeavors. There are rules, naturally, but we should even have questions about those, if only to better understand why they are rules. (And sometimes in order to break them, but don’t tell anyone I said that to you.)

Finally, having a treasure trunk of question early in the process, when answering them is productive, opens up conversations that otherwise may not have occurred. Conversations that can lead the scene of the whole show in a whole new direction. I recall just a few years ago a simple question I was asking about a specific job I had opened the door to an hour long conversation that inspired the director to change part of her vision of the entire play. I do not take credit for this. I will however take credit for being willing to ask questions.

Not all questions require answers, or even have answers. These can be the best type of questions for an actor to have. A question unanswered, even if kept to oneself, opens the door to unlimited, undefined potential. What a marvelous thing to access while building a character!

Then of course there are question you can ask your cast mates. Or tech crew members. The more you ask, the more you learn; a lesson from your childhood applicable even today.

You can’t control how others feel about your questions. They may not like you asking them. (Though if your director dislikes questions, they are poor at what they do.) However, any director of any value should welcome and encourage the forming and asking of many questions in their actors. (So long as they are asked at the appropriate time of course.) And you should open your mind to as many questions as possible when you join a play. You, as well as the show, will deepen as a result.

What questions do you like to ask when you are in a show?

This article can be linked to as: http://showbizradio.com/go/8452.

is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs offbook.blogspot.com (for theatre related thoughts) and TyUnglebower.com (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

4 Responses »

  1. I agree and disagree. If you dont understand what you are doing on stage or why you are doing it by all means ask a question. But a lot of the questions actors have they should be able to answer themselves. I tell actors all the time dont ask me if you can try something, just do it. If I dont like it I will tell you. That gives that actor and the other actors on stage a chance to discover their honest actions and reaction to a scene. The only limits I put on that is where it involves stage violence and intimacy. Those have to be talked about before hand.

  2. I must say Ty, this particular column is one that hits home for me the most out of all others I have read of yours. One of the biggest drawbacks of community theater is the lack of time to spend table talking and digging deep into the authors subtext. Now I wish to say the talent I have worked with is fully capable of deeper discovery. It is just time restrictive because of jobs and other priorities. I have been very fortunate to have worked with a few community theaters which block out 6 to 8 weeks before rehearsal to do such exploration. To the point, too many questions during a 3 maybe 4 hour rehearsal time can really hold up production readiness. What Bill says about just trying something with out asking only works if the director and other actors are aware of the allowance to do so. I think that any director that wishes to get the most out of his cast and crew owes them the understanding of how he wishes to conduct his rehearsals. A good director is only as good as his ability to cast, meaning you were cast because of something he saw in you and he wishes to see more of it. If you are an actor like myself who flourishes most when allowed to ask questions,and there is not any official rehearsal time to do so, do not be afraid to let your director know of your acting process. I have found to my very pleasant surprise how professional and committed our community theater folk are. The directors I have worked with are tickled to work with an actor who wishes to explore his character with questions. There just needs to be an understanding and balance so the production as a whole moves forward and smooth as possible. Again Ty, thank you for your insight and expertise. Mr. Aitken you are right on the money, no actor or director likes surprises that are dangerous or shocking. Even when on stage, common sense does not take a back seat to an actors choice.
    David James

  3. I make it clear at the very beginning to the actors that’s how I work. The other thing I like to do is make sure that they and te crew know that the only person who sto

  4. Well that got cut off.

    What I was going to finish saying is that that i make sure they and crew know that the only one who stops rehearsal is me. Ive been in two many shows where in the middle of a scene an actor stops it becuase someone did something different or a prop or set piece was out of place . If is something is done differently or in a different place the actor should adjust and adapt to it. You never know what you may discover in a rehearsal by doing that.