If You Need an Earpiece, You Don't Belong on Stage

Anthony J. Piccione

The other day, I came across an article over at the New York Post entitled Pacino’s not alone: Willis needs an earpiece to remember his lines too. The article is quite self-explanatory. It goes into extensive detail about something that is becoming notoriously recurrent in professional theatre. A couple of years ago, in the Broadway show Misery, Bruce Willis apparently had needed an earpiece throughout the production in order to remember his lines while performing. It went on to say how he wasn’t alone among Hollywood actors who went from the screen to the stage, as Al Pacino– in a production of China Doll – also needed a similar earpiece so he would be capable of performing in the show.

Naturally, I was appalled to hear this when I read it. This isn’t something that you would expect any other performers – whether they are on Broadway or not – to be allowed to do. Instead, they are expected to learn their lines on their own and without any help, or else risk the possibility of never finding work again as an actor. So why should there be any special treatment given to Hollywood stars who are only there because of their success in the film industry, rather than any notable talent they may have as a stage performer? Is there any excuse for them other than the fact that they cannot do what all other stage actors are expected to do, and just memorize their lines?

Indeed, this is yet another example of how special treatment is given to certain actors over others. There is no doubt that both Willis and Pacino are Hollywood legends, with Pacino certainly ranking as one of the greatest film actors of all time. However, the fact of the matter is that being a talented film actor does automatically make you a talented stage actor, or at least not one that is capable of returning to the stage after such a long period of time. This is evident in the fact that both of them needed this earpiece just to get through the show, despite the fact that neither of them – at the time of their casting in the production – was particularly old, and therefore, could have memorized those lines if they were as capable as any other Broadway actor.

For this reason, I think it is worth asking: Should actors be forced to accept the reality that special treatment will inevitably be given to people with less experience in theatre because of their careers working in another industry, while actors with far more experience on stage will continue to be expected to be off-book and without an earpiece? For that matter, should theatergoers be willing to accept shows that cater to this sort of laziness among actors who only get Broadway roles despite their lack of ability as a stage performer?

I think many people in the theatre community would agree with me when I say that this is not something that we should be willing to accept, either as people who work in theatre or who just love watching theatre. There are several other capable performers who could have done just as good – if not better – in the roles that were given to actors like Willis and Pacino, and could have nailed it while also fully memorizing their lines.

In fact, anyone who has worked in theatre before – whether it be Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional or community theatre – knows that when actors are fully off-book, they are far more capable of becoming the character that they portray on stage than they otherwise would.

Actors who can do this should not be denied the opportunity to perform on Broadway for this reason, and theatergoers should not be denied the experience of watching stage actors with more genuine talent in theatre – as opposed to film – on Broadway.

This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook(www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).