Sunday, February 11, 2007

Acting Singers, Singing Actors

If you would like to start a lively discussion (at best) or a semi-heated argument (at worst) amongst a group of theatre people, ask them the following question;

“Given the choice in a musical production, is it best to cast singers who can’t really act, or actors who cannot really sing?”

If both views are represented in the group, you need only sit down nearby and watch a whole different type of drama unfold.

On the whole, actors I have talked to fall approximately 55% in favor of singing non-actors, and 45% in favor of acting non-singers.

I am in the slight minority this time.

I have watched a musical come to a screeching halt after numbers are finished due to barely passable acting more times than I care to remember. You can enjoy each song, and each dance, thanks to the great voices the actors are gifted with. But as soon as they have to interact with other characters, or relate to the audience, they are lost. As though without music they have no sense of communication.

It is an awkward and painful thing to watch.

Some could the opposite as what I have said. They have seen shows where the acting was great, but when it came to the music, they could not stand tcaterwaulinging that broke their eardrums, and every window in the vicinity. Granted, that unpleasant. My.My argument, however, is not based on the worst cast scenario. It is based on the average situation, and on average, the plot and characters must be maintained by at least passable acting.

All and all, a show, even a musical, is about telling a story. A musical simply tells it with music. But to abandon the sense of character or story, (no matter how thin) in favor of total concentration on the music, is not drama. It is a concert. If that is what you are most interested in directing, that is fine. You need to be open about calling a spade a spade, however, if your attitude about a musical can be summed up by saying, “the scenes are weak, but screw it, the numbers are spectacular”.

With the assistance of the band, extra time with a qualified musical director, and altered pitches, most actors who are not singers by trade can, when dedicated, get through a musical relatively unscathed. Not to mention a good actor has to be quick on his feet enough to improvise if something goes awry. Those with beautiful voices that lack this ability, as well as the ability to relate to other characters, and touch the audience when speaking, or convey emotion without words, betray the conviction of the stThey mightmight as well wear signs that read “Hey folks, I’m a fake.”

And when talking, there is nothing in the world the band can do to save them.

None of this is to imply that if you sing well, you must be a poor actor. Nor is the reverse implied here. However, with the metaphorical gun to my head, I have no problem making the choice for actors over singers every time.

There will always be those who come to a musical just for the music, and do not care about the plot. So there will always be writers that write them just for the music, directors that pick them and have minimal involvement, and singers who flock to them for a chance to be on stage, without having to worry so much about the fact they canÂ’t act. It will always be this way, it that does not make it correct.


Anonymous said...

Many people make the mistake: If you're a great singer...then you are a great performer. NO! If you have a good voice, then you have a good voice. This does NOT mean that said person can command attention well on a stage. Sometimes, it is better to close your eyes when watching someone with a great voice but is awkward on stage--I feel bad for those people. I normally go for the actor, for personal reasons. But between someone who can't act but can sing, and can sing but can't act...I would pick the person who is most workable.

Susan Abraham said...

You coloured the simple scenes you described with vivid images, Ty. I felt I had stepped onto the stage, really. :-)
Perhaps too, because these are specialist subjects, not always written about. The topic can only be conquered by someone knowledgable.
Good post!