Actors are sometimes hard to convince about playing a part. I had one example as I was directing Fiddler on the Roof. The actor who played Tevye had to be loose and free in his personality and his actions. Robert was picked for the part because he had a great audition. We were progressing through the musical and I noticed that Robert was a little stiff. It was very hard to convince him to be loose and free. One of the songs required an over-the-top personality and required fluid movements. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get him to loosen up. The only way I could think to get the type of actions I wanted was to show him. I almost wish someone had a camera that day. I am sure that it must have been hilarious. I get up and start into “If I Were a Rich Man” and sing it all very well. As I approach the chorus, hilarity ensued. I started to shimmy and the cast was just standing there with their collective jaws hanging on the floor. I thought I did an excellent shimmy but I may have been alone in that belief. Then I start hearing the laughing. The loudest laughter came from the stage manager. I thought she was trapped between laughing and being completely embarrassed. The stage manager, of course, was Kaila, my daughter. I tried the shimmy for our Poms and dance teacher and she said I was pretty good. It finally hit him and he started to shimmy much better. I think it was because he didn’t want a repeat of the demonstration.
The second problem that I had with Tevye was that he couldn’t remember to look up into the rafters as he did his speeches with God. He had been trained to look at the back of the theatre to get across looking to the distance. He was holding onto this technique no matter how hard I tried to get him to focus on the rafters. For the final dress rehearsal, I was going to get him to look up no matter what I had to do. I mentioned it to him before he headed out onstage but I could see that he was struggling with it still. I went out and sat in the front row and waited for his song. The most I could get was a quick glance but as I sat there, I knew I had a secret weapon. When he started the song he still isn’t looking up. I gesture to him to look up from the front row. He looks up and started laughing so hard we had to start the song again. As a rule, you never want to make any changes during the dress rehearsal but I did make an exception and restarted the song. What he had seen in the rafters was a picture of my face blown up to the size of a poster and hung from the catwalk. I told him from then on to have a conversation with God or me, it didn’t matter as long as he looked up.