Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bored with Boards

There are several large and well known online gathering places for community theatre enthusiasts such as myself. Message boards. Blogs. But I confess that I am not a part of any of them.

I have tried to be more than once at various points over the years. I may even try to be so again in the future, but I might now. I just cannot "get into" such online communities, even though I know that I should.

I am uncertain why it never seems to take. You'd think with all of the potential benefits of connecting with other actors like myself in other theatres around the country I would jump at the chance. And as I mentioned a few times before, I have. But after a short time it loses its appeal.

Maybe it is just the nature of message boards in general, but I tend to find the same situation in any theatre board I visit. The politics. The less than warm welcome new people receive. The dead threads that leave an open ended question unanswered for months sitting on the same forum right next to a post about something frivolous and irrelevant getting 156 responses and counting. A need to sell one's presence or one's concern before the tribe before any amount of attention is paid to what you say. It's maddening and deflating. If I wanted to bring up a subject and have nobody take an interest in it, I would just hang out in person with 80% of the people I know.

Perhaps such boards tend to attract mostly mainstream thinking. A "hotbed for the conventional" to coin a phrase. And while I am not one to push envelopes or challenge the status quo just for the sake of doing it, my ideas for acting, directing, publicizing and any number of other theatre related topics trend towards unconventional. You would think that artists, performers, and directors would be excited by such a challenge to the norm. And perhaps some are. Yet when I do express an opinion contrary to the standard acting or theatre practice, message board users have tended to respond with silence or with indignation.

Or perhaps I have just not found the right message board for community theatre.

In the end, I know that I need a fresh set of ears for some of my experiences. My theories. My ideas. I work with some talented, wonderful people in my local community theatre circle, but they are the same people over and over most times. The experiences are usually good ones around here, but at the same time I long for a different view from different people. Others who do love theatre, and know what they are talking about, but wouldn't have the slightest notion as to the politics of Theatre A in this town, or the nature of the casting preferences that are obvious in Theatre B. People who can talk of the nature of the craft and enjoyment of same, instead of gravitating towards local personality conflicts and specific tendencies of any given board of directors. I think we all benefit from new perspectives like that.

Any suggestions for such places for discussion online would be appreciated, though keep in mind I have visited the biggest three message boards already so far. Though not for years. Maybe I need to give them a try again.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Creating "Life"

Last night I finished up the first set of revisions for the novel I am writing. As I have mentioned here on the blog here and there over the last two years, this novel takes place in a theatre during a community theatre production. The product of a writer/actor that is writing about theatre. (Is there some kind of metaphysical implosion risk in there somewhere? I think not, because I have the ancient axiom of "write what you know" covered from many angles in this one.)

As I have been writing this novel, something that I always knew to be true came into even greater focus; that writing fiction and acting are cousins. Not siblings, but certainly cousins. Not that one need be an author to be a fine actor, nor vice-versa. In fact you don't find many that are a legitimate success in both. However both creative activities have similar aspects.

There is the need to create a back story in your mind, even if that is not shared with the world, before a character can be three dimensional. There is putting a little bit of yourself into the characters you create both on the page and on the stage. The sheer amount of mental work and practice it takes to become good and then great is high for both art forms. And they are both enhanced by a keen observation of the world around you, and the people in it. ("People watching" is a pastime of many a writer and actor.)

The people watching leads to perhaps the most important knowledge that both great writers and great actors require, in my opinion. That is an understanding of human nature. Motivations. Reactions. Social trends. Personalities. By no means do I suggest that eithe the actor nor the writer has any chance of understanding all of human nature, and they sure as hell cannot solve it, if we look at it as a conundrum to be deciphered. What I mean is that to understand most motivations for most people most of the time, based on reading, observing, and just plain living as much as one can will give both the actor and the writer a believable foundation upon which they can begin to build a character.

Yes, in both cases short cuts could be taken. Stereotypes utilized. Details skimmed over. Those that do such second rate work do in fact sometimes become acclaimed and rich doing so, both in the writing world and the acting world. It can be infuriating to a lot of people, myself included. But take comfort, loyal blog readers, in the notion that to be a true master of either art form is to touch at the very heart of humanity, regardless of the genre of story. To make people see themselves, or at least some aspect of themselves, in the lives represented. Yes, even the darker sides of human nature must be made familiar to theatre goers and reader alike. Second rate cookie cutter actors and writers will never actually attain this, no matter how many millions they rake in. But those like me, who care about such things will, hopefully after practice and commitment as both a writer and an actor, are able to do so.

I will always strive to be a master of writing as well as acting, kissing cousins that they are.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Latest ShowBizRadio Post

Last week my actor's advice column over on Showbiz Radio dealt with the need to keep our individual characters as I main focus, as opposed to the overall arc or presentation of the play in which we appear.

It's easy to get caught up in the bigger picture, and of course we want our shows to do well for everyone involved. But that end is actually best served by taking care of our individual responsibilities as best we can. Check out the column.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

More From the Ground Floor

Last night I took part in the private reading with some fellow actors and a playwright, as I mentioned I would in a previous entry.While the details still must remain confidential, I will say that I enjoyed the experience, for all of the reasons I predicted I would.

The playwright said that the reading was very helpful to him, and that is gratifying to me. I didn't have much to say in person, even when I was asked, because I wanted a chance to let things sink in a bit. I promised the playwright I would email additional comments, which I plan to do today.

Even though I have met the playwright several times over the last two years, I was still slightly nervous during the read. Not petrified by any means, but as a writer myself, (though not of plays just yet) I know how important the process of reviewing drafts can be. So I wanted to be sure to deliver each line exactly as presented, so that the playwright could truly hear how it sounded. Don't get me wrong, I always try to deliver a line as written of course, but it is one thing to flip a line or have to paraphrase in the heat of a moment on stage if the play is by, say Ibsen, as opposed to the guy sitting four feet from you.

The good news is the playwright was pleased with the reading, and was satisfied that each of the actors had honed in on the characters in the way he had hoped we would. Meaning that they are written in such a way as to convey that to an actor without having the entire background story.

Later in the summer this same script, in tighter form, is to be given a public reading at another theatre. When that happens, though I will be unable to attend it, I hope that some small improvement to the script was possible because of the reading and the comments I have offered as an outsider to the work.

I'd be happy to take part in a reading like this again for any playwright that would have me.