Repeat after me
There are few things actors hate more than when someone tells them exactly how to say a line of dialog. It’s a big part of a performer’s job to figure out how to do a line reading—what tone and volume to use, which words to stress and what emotion to convey. The way an actor delivers a line can completely change its meaning, so performers like to feel free to experiment and then make the final decision. But sometimes, if a director or playwright thinks an actor just isn’t getting it right, there’s a strong temptation to say the line and then tell the performer to just do it that way.
Generally, giving an actor a line reading is frowned upon, and yet it still occurs. In fact, you’ll find many heated message board discussions about this controversial practice. Since directors are responsible for the overall vision of a show, some believe that if an actor isn’t giving them what they want, they have a right to tell the performer what to do, including giving specific line readings. Other directors think it’s best to help the actor get there on his own by offering helpful suggestions rather than demand, “Say it like this.”
Of course, one of the most famous and successful theatre directors of the 20th century, George Abbott, was known for giving his actors line readings. In a fascinating New York Times article about Abbott’s directing style, late playwright Wendy Wasserstein observed that “a line reading from a director at most rehearsals could provoke a mutiny or at least a wail about the actor’s ‘journey.’ But… every gesture, every line reading, seems to clarify the play and the performances… No wonder these actors take his line readings.”
So as with most “rules” in theatre (or anything, really), the one about line readings was made to be broken at times. Or rather, made to be broken at times.
— Raven Snook
This video was created by TDF and New York Neo-Futurists.