Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It's About Respect.

When you get down to it, performing theatre, like so many other things, is about respect. The best productions are small, short lived communities, and communities are founded upon respect. That isn't always to say you must love everyone else, and enjoy the company of all theatre people. That's silly, of course. But if we remain honest to why we're in a show, and give respect where it is due, the theatre can be a crucible for not only culture and art, but dignity and perhaps for a special few, spiritual enlightenment.

So where does your respect lie, and how is it shown in a production?

-We need to respect our responsibilities in a production. Cast, crew, director. It doesn't matter what your job is. Respect it. Be dependable. Do your work. Show enthusiasm for what you are creating. Be on time. Go beyond your obligations. This is respecting your position in a production.

-Respect the others in the production. That should be obvious. Yet we often fail in this one. Not by intentionally showing specific disrespect for others, but by forgetting that there are others. By believing that we are the only aspect of the production to which we owe anything. If you come in late for rehearsals, leave your props all over the place, make yourself unavailable to help others out when needed, and other such things, you are being just as disrespectful. It doesn't matter how good you believe yourself to be, you are never the only concern, or even the most important concern in a production. So don't act like it. There are others involved in making this show possible. Help them do their job when you can, and treat them as they deserve.

-Respect the venue. Theatre is anywhere people invoke characters to tell a story. You may never find yourself performing in a large, posh, high capacity theatre. It may be a small black box, a school auditorium, or a converted storefront. How easy to conclude that a venue is unworthy of your respect as an actor. Track mud into the green room, (if there even is a green room). Leave your trash laying around. The place is just a little dump, right? Someone will come along and pick it up, and after all, you can't be bothered. You have your own problems, and this isn't Broadway.

Yet you are here. And others are here. Nobody put a gun to you head and forced you to be in a show. So if being in one is that important to you, consider the fact that performing is an art, as well as a responsibility. To some, a sacred responsibility. Not because anybody involved is superior to the world, but because decent human beings have opted to give of their time and energy so that others can lay down money to be transported somewhere else by your efforts. And it's been that way for for a few thousand years. Perhaps that alone makes any theatre venue worthy of your respect.

You don't have to feel this way about theatre, but if you don't, you are free to go do something else. While you are there, show respect for the craft itself by treating the any venue with respect.

-Respect the audience. I often say that the audience is the unseen character in any production. They come in all types. And sometimes there are cold audiences, and audiences that are asleep. Sometimes the cast will be barely bigger than the audience. Some audiences will never laugh at the comedy, and barely clap at the end of the show. And that can be obnoxious, I won't lie to you. But still, they are an audience, and in most cases a paying audience, and they deserve your best any given night. Unless they are heckling, (which no actor should tolerate), we mustn't pick and choose which audiences will get our best and which will not.

Nor should we try to trick them, or milk them for more. They will give what they feel moved to give. That isn't always as much as we, the actors, want, but it is beyond our control. Don't mug, or overact to try to get them to respond more than they are. Just perform, and receive what they offer.

-Respect the script. As a writer myself, I understand somewhat how testy playwrights can get about every aspect of their scripts. They want them performed exactly a certain way, down to every teardrop shed. Yet as an actor, I feel playwrights sometimes get too testy about their scripts. I like scripts that allow for broad interpretations of a play, instead of those who try to direct the production from the page. Most playwrights disagree.

Yet following lock-step every nuance that a playwright is demanding of the actor still does not show de facto respect for the script. Respect for a script, rather, has to do with internalizing it, and making every effort to understand the intentions of the piece. That means viewing the entire arc of the story, and not just your lines. That means seeking to understand the bits you don't follow. Don't try to blow it over, or hide it as you perform, but actually dig into the material to find what you can find. In a good script the answer is usually there somewhere. Contrary to popular playwright belief you are not a mindless drone on stage. But you do at least need to read a map. The script is your map. Don't rewrite the show. (Which is much different than interpreting.)

-Respect the director. This can be one of the most difficult, because directors often come down with a God complex. You don't have to look far in this blog to realize I am very much against autocratic theatre direction. Leave that to the movies where it belongs. Taken too far, someone barking orders and rude comments at performers doesn't deserve respect. No more than people in other positions that treat colleagues poorly deserve it.

And a good director is your colleague. You work together to put on a good show. You have your scenes and your lines to worry about, but they have the entire show, on stage and off, to tend to. They have to gather things together in a coherent whole. This doesn't afford them the right to establish a dictatorship, but it does mean their job is difficult in a different way than yours is, and you should remember that. If you have a problem, approach them in private, like a civilized human being. Avoid the temptation to confront them while rehearsing. It's a challenge sometimes, but you'll be better off for it, and most directors will appreciate it.

-Respect props and costumes. Yes, there are so many fun objects in a theatre. But it isn't your stuff, and quite often, it takes a long time and/or a lot of money to secure such things for a collection. Don't eat in your costume, and don't play around with props. If you ruin something, the whole theatre suffers. Don't be that person.

-Most importantly, respect yourself. Whatever your skill level, whatever show you are in, whether you make any money or not, respect yourself. When you are in a show you are involved in a tradition that is in some ways part of the bedrock foundation of Western culture. That isn't to say you ought to feel self-important, or ponder the complexities of this statement every time you are in a show. But if you stop and think about it once in a while, it's at least kind of cool, isn't it?

Think of all the others that have done it before you, just on the stage you are on today. Then multiply that by all the stages over time. Lots of people have done what you are doing in this show. Don't let people tell you it's pathetic, a waste of time, or simply, "playing dress up". It's none of those things, if you don't want it to be. It's art, and when you do it, you're an artist, worthy of your own respect.

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