I've already written about my very first Unrehearsed workshop experience that totally blew my mindgrapes. When you've been doing Shakespeare for over a decade, and someone comes to you with a new way to do it that's effective, and fun, and tests your ability to improvise with text printed in 1623, it becomes your new favorite thing.
I also wrote about the questionable efficacy of doing full Unrehearsed plays. I find the workshops and the theory helpful for actors who have fallen into habits that make Shakespeare boring: standing and speaking rather than moving, relying entirely on poetry and never on their bodies, letting fear inhibit sharing the characters' experience with the audience, etc. I also find the Unrehearsed rules incredibly applicable to a classroom of people who have never done Shakespeare before... I used it this year and the students LOVED it. However, when it comes to a fully staged Unrehearsed production, it's hard to tell if the audience is following the play because we're telling the story well, or if the audience is having fun following the actors because they already know the story. Two of my students showed up last night and admitted to me afterward that they were only sort-of "getting it", but they enjoyed themselves anyway. The rest of the audience seemed to be having fun the whole time, which aligned with the comments I received afterward. It's just hard to tell from the inside perspective - because nobody on the inside is going to tell you anything about your acting choices. I'll explain.
A few things I'm learning about the Unrehearsed theory have made me ask some important questions about the actor's process.
Actors who get cast in traditionally rehearsed and fully produced plays are used to obeying one person's vision. The director tells you what to make better and what to leave out by watching your rehearsal and giving you pages of notes. You must put your ego aside and obey, no matter what you think of the director's choices. If you're lucky, the director is way smarter than you anyway, so this is a good system. An outside eye making sure your choices are "reading" to an audience is incredibly helpful. This is also a wildly important barrier between the actor and the play, because an immense ego is a requirement for the acting profession: actors get offered about two roles for every one hundred auditions they go to, so actors must walk around believing they are the best and most brilliant choice for every play. "Ego" isn't always a bad thing - confidence, and even over-confidence, breeds some really interesting and fearless choices. Directors must harness their cast into one cohesive vision, otherwise it's a tangled mess of people fighting each other for the audience's attention - for THEIR version of the story to be heard. Comedy doesn't work if everyone is trying to be funny at the same time. So goes drama, for that matter. Your character's story, their discoveries, their feelings, has to give way for other characters to tell theirs, and a director tells you when to pull back, cut it out, or "no, you can't wear your Harley Quinn cosplay for the role."
That tangled mess is kind of the charm of Unrehearsed Shakespeare, where we are encouraged to upstage each other and take our cues - emphasis on TAKE. We stand directly in front of people while we're speaking, we enter from wherever we want, we sit in the audience's lap. And when we're not speaking, we simply stand and listen - we HAVE to stand and listen or we won't hear our cue! Those are the rules. Be Acting, Be Listening, or be both at the same time if you can manage it.
You'd think that this is incredibly freeing for an egotistical actor such as myself, but last night I couldn't help but feel totally unsure of myself. No one is telling me if my choices are good enough or not. No one is giving me feedback after I try my best, asking me for more (or, more importantly, LESS!)... and no one had any nit-picky notes about the clarity of my text, or the use of my voice, which I most definitely blew out by the last scene. (Bad actor! Bad!)
Apparently, actors need to know if they're good enough or not. This is an ego thing, but it's also just something we've been conditioned to expect. There are ways to know if you are "good" at Unrehearsed Theory, but it is all a self-assessment. The "good or bad" feedback in Unrehearsed is not the traditional way we expect it, which makes our confidence shake. Unrehearsed has a very specific metric: Did you follow the rules? If you followed the rules, you are a good actor. If you got in your own way and you were trying to "act" the play without listening, you did not do well. If you keep doing Unrehearsed plays, and each time you get cast you get more words to speak, you must be following the rules well by the standards of people who have been doing it longer than you, and who are casting the next performance. If you do ten Unrehearsed shows in a row and they keep casting you as a servant, you need to re-acquaint yourself with the rules more often.
That's it. That's acting in an Unrehearsed show.
All previous standards of "good" have to be re-programmed, which is a challenge not because the new rules are difficult to learn, but because the old system is nearly impossible to un-learn. And I find new habits of the old system buried deep in my psyche every time I do another Unrehearsed show. It's starting to really shed some light on what about the traditional acting process is helpful to hold on to for the next acting project I do, and what's been ingrained in the artistic process that isn't actually helpful.
Also, I get to put on a clown nose and get away with anything.