As a casting director, workshop teacher, and audition coach, I firmly believe that actors must respect the text and not deviate from it. Any role begins with the written word, and, although it may seem more laborious than not to be “word-perfect,” actors can actually free themselves up to deliver full and rich performances if they take the time to learn a role exactly as written. Even without full memorization of a scene (or scenes) for an audition, actors can train their eyes to read the precise words on the page, and not add, delete, or transpose words.
I’ve just returned from auditions in London, and while there, I taught two workshops. There were many talented actors in each group, and yet my urgings regarding sticking to the text exactly as written seemed, to them, to be revelatory. One can compare a script to a musical score: Just as a musician wouldn’t deviate from the notes, actors shouldn’t change words to suit their own way of saying things.
When actors change words in a scene, they alter the rhythm of not just their lines, but of the entire scene. Adding words, removing them, or switching the order of them will disrupt the flow, and can sometimes change the writer’s intent for the characters.
In auditions, I’ve witnessed actors adding obscenities to already gritty scenes, as if improving the material! That’s a definite no. Also, diction tends to be less precise now, so actors frequently drop consonants and say “gonna” instead of “going to” or “doin’ ” instead of “doing.” Again, it’s vital to speak the words exactly as written.
Neil LaBute is an example of a writer who, if he wants a character to say “gonna,” will write it exactly that way. Generally, in a script, every “uh,” every pause, every syllable is there for a reason. The writing has been thought out and crafted, whether in a drama, a sitcom, or Shakespeare. There are all levels of writing, from brilliant to less so, but every single writer has put tremendous effort and thought into his/her dialogue.
Perhaps, once you have booked a role, if you have any ideas or suggestions for your character, and if you genuinely believe that you wouldn’t offend the writer by suggesting them, then that might be the time to proffer them respectfully and gently. But don’t do this in an audition situation. And, in theater auditions, the text tends to be sacrosanct and certainly one should not alter it. If the playwright is alive and present, he/she wants to hear the text as written, as do writers of films and television projects.
Once an actor has learned lines incorrectly, it becomes much harder to get back to square one and learn them as written. Make it easier on yourself by giving yourself the time—even in pressured situations (I know that sounds oxymoronic!)—to learn lines as they appear on the page. If you see an obvious typo, ask before correcting it. Read the text through, silently or aloud, without pressuring yourself to memorize it at that point.
Train your eye to fully absorb what you see on the page, and not transform it into your own preferred speech pattern. Trusting the text and yourself will make you a better actor, and free you to give stronger performances in auditions so that you can book the job.