How actors interpret their characters is not only interesting in itself, but also worth taking note of if a playwright is trying to get a solid grip on the play. In one draft of "Shakespeare in the Dark," I had written a scene in which Shakespeare is home in Stratford, retired, etc., and he's staying up late, waiting for the arrival of two of his friends who will be visiting from London. He's excited and happy, anxious for some conversation and theater gossip. Anne is exhausted and wants to go to bed. So, she tells Will she'll just go to bed quietly and leave him to his Boys' Night In. However, she starts to FUSS over what he'll serve the guests: is there enough ale? There's one loaf that was fresh that morning, some cheese, etc. Will that do?
When the scene was first read, it got one big laugh, as the actor who read Shakespeare's lines did NOT say, "They are players. They will eat anything." He said, "They are players. They will eat everything." Even the actor who said it joined in the genial laughter. But, afterwards, Katie Sparer, playing Will's wife Anne, said to me, not in these exact words, "This scene doesn't work. You're making Anne for the first time in the play all pink and wifey. That's not her character. That's not what Will married her for." She was ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! Out went that scene. Just, out with it, and I wrote something else.
At a different reading, this time of "Judith Shakespeare Has Her Say," we tried having Katie read The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, Emilia Lanyer. Of course, she was wonderful. But Katie also got to sit there and hear another actress doing Anne Shakespeare, Nadine Willig. Nadine brought an earthiness to the role that was strong and interesting. She gave Anne a real edge. And Katie realized, and brought to my attention, that in this play Anne was presented as a different person, a different character, from the one she was in the first play, one that was not very kind to her younger daughter and, in fact, seemed to hate her younger daughter. Katie was right. It was there. When she was doing the role, she instinctively smoothed that over. But when she heard Nadine's frank, honest reading, she saw what I had done IN THE WRITING. So, I combed that script and adjusted lines, even whole speeches, so that Anne is still shown to be edgy and prone to rashness when emotional, but, also, a loving mother who actually means well. Much better. Thank you to both Katie and Nadine!