EDIT, WEEKS LATER: I would like to point out that I have great respect/affection for the director, assistant director, and stage manager of the show discussed here, and my complaints in this post were made in context of a time, place and mindset that blah blah blah disclaimer disclaimer DISCLAIMER ETC.
Is there any value in making actors endure rude or abusive treatment in order to coax more genuine performances out of them? In my current production I play an inmate at an abusive mental hospital, and the various authorities in this production (director, assistant director, stage manager) have exercised a level of hostility that I have not previously experienced in the theatre. It's impossible to tell the extent to which they are being clinical or to which they are merely displacing frustrations onto us. For example, we weren't making our entrances and exits quickly enough, so the assistant director, in the midst of our rehearsal warmups, told us "I'm sick of you people. Get out." And we FLED out the exits. Ever since then we've made our entrances and exits with all the panicked speed our director wishes.
But the assistant director shouldn't be surprised if none of us comes to his birthday party.
It's evident that the hostility is being used to coax us to a deeper level of understanding, to guide us from our relatively pampered and cozy lives into the blinkered and paranoiac reality of the inmates. We sure as hell don't appreciate it, but I suppose we may as well make use of it.
In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (what, that again? Bear with me, it ties in) the cast suffered a pretty fierce level of discomfort, and director Tobe Hooper did play mind games with the actors to increase their mistrust and anxiety. He spread rumors that made the actors dislike one another. Not all of the blows and cuts on the film were faked... some were quite real. The meat that recurs throughout the film was real, and rotting in the Texas heat. It's a cruel way to work and I don't approve of it. And yet the results speak for themselves. The pain and terror is all there on the screen. Unlike most horror movies the film doesn't seem like pure artifice; it seems like a documentation of real terror. It has a shamanistic power that's like nothing else I've seen. We've endured little more than rudeness compared to that, but a little rudeness seems to go a long way towards making us fearful and resentful. I'm not sure what that reveals about us.