Hot Topic Plays - An Actor's Take

  • Liz Lydic

It's 2019, and we have a lot of issues. Theatre and art are rightfully being accepted and respected as part of the conversation about our feelings and the problems themselves, as well as changing policy and, well, the way we live.

In reaction to the news and national events, we open up our computers, and we create; we gather our friends, and we create; we get on stage, expose our guts, and we create. We create plays and work that responds to this new world we're in, the very one we attempt to change through art and creation.

That's awesome. Really, it's awesome. But it also could potentially create some issues.

With full support of the concept of originating/presenting/producing them, I offer my observations about 'Hot Topic-based plays'*, from an actor point-of-view (from my own experience only):

CONCERN: The subject matter is more important than the overall or final performance.

CONCERN: The style of 'issue plays' can feel heavy-handed.

CONCERN: Characters can come across as one-dimensional.

CONCERN: It's not clear for whom we are doing it. (the 'other side' isn't necessarily coming to the show and changing their opinions)

CONCERN: As an actor, you perform as you normally would, but the audience is more concerned with the message and what to do about the problem than with the actual performances.

My personal experience in a hot-topic play as follows. Just the truth here:

Not activism-y like I thought/had hoped ---> Not sure what difference I made ---> My acting skills were not necessarily needed.

How do I make this not about me? I don't know. Acting is so usually about me. How do I participate in a larger goal based more on message-spreading and less on storytelling? How do I get on board with my role on stage being more about activism and less about the character?

The changing landscape of performing to help push forward a message is new to me, maybe not to you. Sometimes it feels like the whole world is either “This Way or That Way” and perhaps theatre (writing, production, casting, etc.) is not immune.

Is this the result of a brand-new dynamic, and is it inevitable to focus on the Why instead of the How? Where is the balance between this new focus and quality storytelling? Help me understand.