Commentary

Eric Goldin | Theater in the ‘Me Too’ Era

One of the greatest acting performances of all time was Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of the monstrous Nazi SS officer Amon Goth in Stephen Spielberg’s masterpiece “Schindler’s List.”  

Amon Goth was the commandant of the Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp, where he tortured and killed countless people. Goth was given the nickname “The Butcher of Plaszow” because of his ruthless disregard for human life. The man was a brutally sick individual. 

Fiennes’ performance was so real and chilling that even the Holocaust survivors who were brought onto the set to help Spielberg make the most authentic film possible were spooked. For a brief moment they believed Goth had come back to life. Fiennes went all in for his part to help tell the real story about what happened during this dark time in history. He didn’t hold himself back and he didn’t change the part to make it lighter – Fiennes faithfully immersed himself as the character. 

No matter how difficult it may have been to play this horrible individual, Ralph Fiennes did it. This performance helped people realize how truly evil the Nazis were, and it made the modern audience understand how their actions caused some of the most suffering in the history of the world.

But what if Fiennes had been too skittish to play the role? What would’ve happened if Ralph Fiennes didn’t want to fully commit to the character? What if Fiennes went up to Spielberg and said he felt very uncomfortable playing the part of a racist, violent sociopath? 

What if Fiennes said he didn’t want to utter the antisemitic slurs in the script? What if Fiennes said he didn’t want to portray the violence? 

And what if Spielberg agreed? 

If any of this happened, it would’ve turned one of the greatest films ever made into dreck. It wouldn’t have told the real story of what happened during the Holocaust. An actor can’t hold himself back for a role like this, and a good director wouldn’t let him. “Schindler’s List” wouldn’t be known as a masterpiece if Fiennes was afraid of diving into the deep end or if he became self-conscious. At best, it would be known as just a mediocre film.

I’m taking a theater appreciation class taught by Susan Hinshaw (College of the Canyons). She’s an excellent acting teacher who is beloved by the students. A few weeks ago, we got to see the final dress rehearsal of a play she’s directing. 

The following class session we discussed it. There’s one sequence in the play where a guy sexually forces himself onto a girl. 

Hinshaw explained that this part was difficult to do because they had to bring in an “intimacy coach” to help choregraph it because they didn’t want any of the actors to feel uncomfortable. When I watched it live, I felt that the male actor, who gave an otherwise overall very good performance, felt hesitant and self-conscious. 

For me, this put a stop to the play. The illusion of his character was broken and all that was left was an anxious performer being afraid of doing the scene. His feebleness in the moment undid that particular section of the play. 

Hinshaw explained that the “Me Too” movement has made the public more conscientious of the numerous sexual assaults that take place, and according to activists, even in a performance, consisting of fictional characters, the actors might feel like they are literally being sexually assaulted/committing sexual assault if they go all in. 

I feel this is a tragedy! If we continue to accept this mindset, there won’t be any great plays or films. Cinema and theatrical shows will lose the realism that makes people want to view them and appreciate them as works of art. The “Me Too” movement has done a ton of good in exposing many real-life sexual assaults, and a lot of rapists have been exposed and brought to justice. The “Me Too” movement has had a great positive impact on our society. 

However, this is an example of the unintended negative consequences that the “Me Too” movement has had when it has been allowed to overstep its bounds. In my opinion, this one scene almost made the whole play fail.  

Actors shouldn’t be put on a leash, and they definitely shouldn’t self-restrict themselves during performances. If a play has a scene where sexual assault takes place, they should go all in. If one of the performers feels uncomfortable doing it, and they can’t get over it, the director should  bring in somebody who is willing to do it. If a script calls for an actor to do X, Y and Z, they have an obligation to follow it, or otherwise not participate in the production. 

A great play or film can be ruined if actors are scared of being authentic. Even just one scene or one instance of an actor hesitating to do their job can be disastrous. 

I understand that these performers were college students, not professionals, but nevertheless they were still adults and they shouldn’t be handled with kid gloves. 

A performance can never be great if actors are confined because of arbitrary and unnecessary constraints. 

Eric Goldin is a Santa Clarita resident.

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