Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before?

When you are in community theatre, you run into many of the same people over and over. Whether you are on stage working with them or out in the house watching them, you encounter certain staple individuals, depending on the size of the market. Naturally the smaller the market and the small the company, the more likely you are to get repeat business as it were. I'd love it if this were true less often. In some ways it would behoove community companies to go out of there way to find totally new people on a regular basis. But that's another entry.

So recurring personalities in community theatre are a given, for purposes of my thoughts today. This situation has advantages as well as disadvantages.

Now there are certain companies that have season auditions, and once cast, the same group of people appear in each play for the year. But people know that going in with such places. Now, I mean those that hold open auditions for each play. 

To begin with, you tend to make many like minded friends. Those with whom you appear in several shows over the years tend to be more open to you personally after a time. And not only is a good to make new friends, it makes performing with them better in most cases. You establish trust with the other person, because you know their tendencies and style. What to expect from them backstage. When to joke and not joke with them. As my loyal blog readers no, trust is probably the number one advantage to working within someone in a play.

But on the other side of it, sometimes working with the same people can lead to a performance feeling stale if those involved are not careful. It becomes easier to be complacent, or to rely on tricks and such when we perform. People we have known personally for a while are less likely to keep us on our toes, should we begin to slack a bit. Working with new people regularly can keep things fresh for both the performers and the audience.

Not to mention that sometimes you can know somebody quite well, and loath them. Sad, but true. I have not gone to plays if I know that certain people I detest will appear in them. It may not be fair, but it is one of the side effects of working with the same difficult people over and over again, and then finding yourself in the audience.

And on the subject of audiences, familiar faces have pluses and minuses in their eyes as well. On the one hand, members of the community may find it comforting and entertaining to be able to see their local lawyer, or doctor, or their cousin in the plays a lot. It makes them feel connected to what is going on. That they are some how part of the larger community that the company is trying to reach. But then again, it may be harder to attract and keep new customers if they feel they are only going to see the same actors show after show after show.

And there is also the slightest chance of type casting. Some people don't mind it, but if say they always call on Jane to try out for the goofy romantic comedies because she is "always so good in them", and Jane always gets in, nobody, including Jane, may feel confident that she can play something other than that. True, sometimes recurring personalities at a company play a variety of roles and can escape this problem, but then we get back into the previous disadvantage of seeing the same people over and over no matter what the role.

And of course, no matter how good anybody is, when you have known them, worked with them, and seen them several times, there is always the danger of just seeing "George" up there on stage, without really letting yourself enjoy their performance. It doesn't have to be that way to be sure, but if George has been to your daughters wedding, the last 12 parties you have been to, and been in a play with you the last four times, you may have to work extra hard to forget that it is George. Whereas if you have no idea who the people are, it may be easier to set aside your knowledge of them being an actor. Suspension of disbelief tends to decrease somewhat.

So there you have it. Just a few of the ups and downs of having a list of "usual suspects" within a theatre. At least the theatres around here. I imagine it is similar anywhere. They can all be overcome, however, with a little bit of determination, open mindedness and pride in what you are doing. (If you are in the show yourself.)

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