Friday, January 28, 2011

Thoughts on Being an A.D.

I mentioned that I would share a few stray thoughts here and there about how my adventures as an AD would be going. A week from opening night I thought would be a good time to offer a few thoughts.

It has gone well, for the most part. I have had to run two rehearsals and part of a third myself. When not doing so I am paying particular attention to the needs and questions of actors as best as I can.

And I think that is the big thing here. There are those who would conclude that the actor and the director are two different beasts, and never the twain shall meet. But I have never agreed with this, and I still don't. I am on stage far more often than I am off for a show, but every time I step into a directorial type of situation I learn more about myself as an actor. I observe how actors respond to notes or instruction. I think about what I would like to hear in their situation and how I would like to hear it. And it causes me to ask myself what it is about the nature of my acting that would make me more responsive to that type of approach.

And I would certainly hope that my experience as an actor informs me as to how to better approach the situations and difficulties the actors in this, and any cast I oversee are going through. I believe honestly that it has. It is not as easy to asses one's effectiveness as a director as it is as an actor. But if I had to guess, my instinct tells me that I have been able to offer thoughts and approaches that otherwise not be able to offer, had it not been for my on stage experience.

Directing also requires one to delve into a scene from a different angle. A broader, more thematic conception of a scene or a play is necessary than it would be in cases wherein I am responsible for just one character. Yet every time I direct I become, I dare say, better at that sort of broader conception. And while that sort of conception is too broad to be utilized when I act, there is no doubt in my mind that being able to do so assists me in script analysis as an actor.

In other words, when directing, there is a great deal of observation. Observation, observation, observation. And if you read this blog regularly you know that it is observation, paying attention, that remains my number one piece of advice for the performer.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Latest ShowBizRadio Column

This week over at ShowBizRadio, I talk about the importance of finally making a decision about your performance.

Having questions, both for your self, and for your director, and fellow actors is good. It's healthy. It opens the mind to new possibilities. But there comes a point in time where you have to buckle down and decide on how to proceed. Whether its a specific motivation for your character, a line reading, or something else.

In other words, you won't always get an "answer" which is a definitive solution to a question. You therefore must make the conscious choice, after thinking, researching, pondering, talking and experimenting to decide on something, and remain committed to that decision for the rest of the process.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Work on

A few months ago I lent my voice to a recording of Shakespeare's Henry V. The completed product is here. It has been up for a few weeks, but being the holidays those were a busy few weeks, and I am only just now getting around to posting about it.

I mention it here because it was voluntary, and most of the people involved with Librivox projects are amateurs, though not all are actors. I of course am, and I thought my loyal blog readers would enjoy hearing me perform as Michael Williams. You can find me in Act 4 starting at about the 7:30 mark. It's actually an interesting though short scene. A very key moment that I think often gets overlooked in productions of the play. But in it Henry is, in a sense, laying by his royalty, (the "idle ceremony" as he cause it in a subsequent scene) in order to get a sense of how the common man feels not only about him, but about his actions, and the current campaign in France.

Michael Williams is one such common solider, and he has an interesting speech about the men who do not "die well" in a battle, and the consequences of same. I actually think I'd find this to be an interesting smaller role to play on stage as well.

I do make a reappearance as the character late in Act IV, when the king reveals the joke he has played on Williams, by setting him, falsely against another man, whom Williams mistakes to be the hooded figured with whom he fault earlier. I am less fond of that scene, but the Bard wrote it nonetheless, so it is in the recording.

As for technical aspects, in some cases those who read for the recording had access to the lines of the others, but generally we recorded out own lines on our own computers, without anyone else to feed us cues. Later someone else edited everything together. At time you can tell that this is the case if you listen to an entire scene. But LibroVox doesn't claim to be a theatrical production. Just an archive of many public domain works.

I also appeared in King Henry VI Part 2, but those parts were all so minor I didn't bother digging up the links for them. A handful of servants and nameless captains with a few lines here and there. Nothing to write home about, though fun to do.

My plan is to do more for LibriVox in the future. I have done a few poems for them. I hope to do longer things in the future, along with more poems and hopefully more Shakespeare.

Check them out, and not just because I am on there. Maybe you can be a volunteer reader as well!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

More Than a Hobby

To many people out there, including those who perform in it, community theatre is considered a hobby. And I suppose that depending on how serious one takes it, it could be merely a hobby.

Yet acting in a stage production is more than a hobby to me, and while in general I don't like to label any given approach as incorrect, I have plenty of reasons to declare that if you are involved in community theatre, you should treat it as more than a hobby.

In most dictionaries, "hobby" is defined thusly:

"An activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation."

On the surface being in community theatre would appear top fall into this definition. Because few people make money doing it. Those that do do not make a living from it. Not as actors at least.

But let's look again. "Pursued for pleasure or relaxation." I can agree there is a certain amount of pleasure involved, though I think "satisfaction" is more applicable in my case most of the time.

I think we get into tricky territory when we include "relaxation", not only because theatre is not, by definition, a relaxing exercise for the actor, (at least it shouldn't be!) but because that cuts out just about all of the sports, and dare devil activities that people no doubt consider hobbies.

But even ignoring that, doing community theatre requires several things which place it outside of the category of the hobby.

To begin with, it is a collaborative effort. Even if one is doing a one-person show, there are at least several other people involved in making it possible. Director. Stage manager. Prop people. Ticket booth. The board of directors that gave the show the green light at their venue. None of those things are present when one collects baseball cards, or takes up knitting. The latter two examples are mostly solitary undertakings. A community theatre production, while not a source of income, does require accountability to other people. 

Not to mention other actors in any show that has more than one person. Other people are giving up their time to participate in a community production, and each for their own reasons. While your reasons cannot be forced to be exactly the same as those of the others, a lackadaisical approach to rehearsing and performing, wherein you justify half-assed attitudes by claiming "this is just a hobby for me" shows a lack of respect for other people. If you want to do things only for your own benefit, take up one of the hobbies I have already mentioned. Nobody will care how dedicated you are.

Then time itself is as issue. I don't mean to suggest that serious hobbyists don't put lots of time into their passions, because they certainly do. But unless they are entering a specific contest, or have entered into some kind of merchant's contract to sell their wares, their time is their own. I would argue in fact that the whole purpose of a traditional hobby is to take part in the activity in the time you have left after you fulfill all of your obligations. But when you are in a play, even at the community level, it is in and of itself an obligation on your time. At least it certainly should be. 

There are amateur actors who will blow off a rehearsal or two or three because "it's just a hobby". But as I have already mentioned, if you are going to show respect to all of those other people involved, you need to be present when you say you are going to be present. Your other actual hobbies may in fact have to take a bit of a back seat to your theatrical endeavors during the life of the production. It's not a sacrifice everybody is willing to make. But if one is not willing, one shouldn't audition.

And setting aside respect for other people for a moment, theatre, and all that it requires, has a lot to do with respecting yourself, in my humble opinion. Can you keep your word, without having to sign a contract? Does doing a good job at something, and producing a quality product with no pay something in which you can take pride? When your name is on that playbill, and you are there in front of public audience, what do you want attached to your identity? The mark of someone who tried hard to produce a visual art, or someone who screwed around in front of dozens or even hundreds of people just to get a chuckle out of it for himself? Being on stage when it is not the way you make your living is about stepping up and believing it is worth being there in more ways than one.

But if it is not worth it for you, consider that is should be worth it to the audience. The time, and certainly the money of people who come to see the show is being doled out. You may not be getting paid, but those people out in the seats, (no matter how few seats there are in the house), have paid money to be there. And for some of the community theatres I have been associated with, the ticket price is not always an easy one for working class people to cough up. 

But they come. They come because they want to laugh. To hear music. To think. To be moved. To be put into the Christmas spirit. To be scared. To escape. Any of those reasons, and more. But they come, and they give the theatre company money for the privilege. You may never pocket that money yourself, but that doesn't change the fact that people are handing over their own incomes for the chance to watch you do what you do on any given weekend night. I can't speak for every actor, but for me, that makes what I am doing in the rehearsal process a lot more important than simply, "it's just a hobby." 

Finally, I'll comment on the big picture for a moment. The importance of the arts to not just a society, but to a community. The arts as an institution play a vital role in society as a whole. They reflect where we are now, where we came from, and where we are going. Whether it be painting, dance, music, or of course theatre, the arts are a way for civilization to write a love letter to itself. 

I am frightened at how each year fewer and fewer people in power seem to understand this.  They write off the arts in schools as "flippant luxuries", and slash public funding for same right and left. This battle is a serious one that cannot be ignored, in my view. But until such a time as arts erosion on the societal level is addressed and reversed, each individual community can contribute to the overall health of the arts, by supporting them, and displaying them, and making them available to the public. 

There are many ways individual communities can do this. Amateur theatre is one of them. And even if your town's tiny little community playhouse is doing nothing more than its upteenth, unoriginal and boring rendition of "The Pirates of Penzance", it is at least weaving itself into the tapestry of arts patronage. And if you happen to be in that tired old production in your town, you should be able to take at least a bit of pride in the fact that you are playing not just a part in a musical, but playing a part in keeping the arts alive, even if only a bit, in your own community. When you look at it like that, it is far more than a hobby.

Remember, it isn't about how much talent you have, or how good your voice is, or how pretty you look under the lights. It is about how much of yourself you are willing to commit to a community production. How present you choose to be. How driven you are to do the best possible job that is inside of you, regardless of the company, the cast, the script, or the lack of pay. If you choose to view it this way, you are already the sort of actor with whom I love to work.

In the end, the standards I have set here are not going to be realistic for many people. And that's fine. People who don't want to approach it like I do are not bad people. Theatre isn't for everyone. But then again nobody makes you do it. It is voluntary. However, once you make that decision to volunteer your time and efforts to a community theatre production, upholding the standards I have outlined here to the best of your ability is, to me, the least you should be doing.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

My Showbiz Radio Column for January 5, 2011

Head on over to Showbiz Radio to check out my latest actor's advice column. This time, I talk about playing as many different ages on stage as you can. Especially those that are far removed from you own.

Many directors will of course not give you the chance, but as an actor you should snap up any opportunity you can to play interesting characters that are far older or far younger than yourself. It expands you range and deepens your understanding of the human condition, something all actors should spend a lifetime observing. (Though you won't ever quite master it, of course.)