Tuesday, March 27, 2012

World Theatre Day.

I wanted to simply wish all of my readers, especially those involved in theatre in some way, whether as actors, crew, patrons, directors, or all of the above, a Happy World Theatre Day! I hope you took some time to think about the importance and wonder of acting today. I did. (Mainly by doing some editing on my novel, which takes place in a theatre.) It would be wild if the book got published on that very day someday.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Enter Left: Spring. Cross Down/Center

Every time of the year is good for theatre as far as I am concerned. I have been in plays during every season, and each has both its advantageous and disadvantages when it comes to mounting a production. Yet there may be something a bit extra about being in a production as spring is blossoming outside.

Though the winter in this area was the most mild in my lifetime, in general winter can be a cold, dark, unpleasant thing. (Unless you are in a play, but I digress.) Once the green and the warmth and the birds and such begin to emerge again, even the sourest of people begin to feel a little better. Since the dawn of time spring has been venerated as a time of rebirth. Of life. Of creation.

In theatre we bring things to live. Characters are born, or reborn. Cast and crew are busy with the act of creation. And, God willing, that creation will spread pleasantness throughout everyone who comes into contact with it. Much like spring. Perhaps that is why spring time seems to be such an appropriate time to be in a play, or to just see a play.

Many companies have a perennial "spring musical." I can't help but think that this is due to the relief that comes with the thawing of winter and the melting of the crust that has fallen over the word, and over our own spirits in the time between the many holidays and the end of cold weather. We often like to sing when we are feeling better, and perhaps the tradition of a spring musical is somehow attached to that. Everybody wants to sing, or at least listen to people sing. (You will note that a spring musical is usually an upbeat, comic musical, though of course, not always.)

Even the fragrances of the theatre seem enhanced to me at springtime. Most people don't believe me about this one, but I find that the latent smell of any location seems enhanced in temperate weather. The heat of the summer time can scorch it, and the depth of winter can deaden it, but the delicate spring balance seems to just bring out the smell of paint, saw dust, cloth and overheated lighting instruments more so than any other time of year. I realize this could be just a personal quirk, but even so, I don't fail to notice it.

Sadly I am not in a show this spring. And though I love being in a good show any time of year, even a bad show is more tolerable Between March and June, I dare say.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Over the Hill?

Just today I was talking to one of my local theatre associated about how one of the local theatres in this area has been skewing towards the older generation in regards to plays they produce. This entire season, in fact, every audition call they send out mentions characters no younger than 60 in most cases. I found it problematic and so did my associate.

I don't mean any disrespect to this company, as I have done things here and there for them. I like the venue and I like the people there. It's just that I think both they, and the community as a whole, would be served better if they broadened their offerings a bit.

I'm not picking on them, though. Other companies in other places make similar decisions in regards to material, and not just in the age department. This type of selectivity can be hurtful to a company's brand appeal.

A company may always do shows that have 90% women casts. Or perhaps their shows by definition require white casts most of the time. Or the opposite of the problem I mentioned when I started; a company may never produce plays with people older than 22. Whatever the demographic being catered to may be, and whatever the impetus is for doing so, (usually an effort to sell more tickets), a theatre is better off with an eclectic mix of material. At least more eclectic than 6 or so shows in a row of "nobody under 60".

I think there are ways to do this and be more appealing. The first would be to give younger people a chance to play older people. Find a reliable make-up artist, and give it a try. Acting is acting, after all, and I never did like the near-ubiquitous notion that the young need not apply when the character ages are older.

A second possibility. Some theatres exist specifically to cater to one demographic. Entire playhouses exist to exhibit say, the work of  Jewish playwrights, actors, and stories. And I think that's fantastic. In fact, we may need more such places. To connect this with my original thoughts, what if some community theatres that tend to cater to a certain demographic anyway, reshape their mission statement to be congruent with that? I think having a local, non-profit theatre dedicated to exploring issues of the older generation would serve quite an interesting purpose. But for the sake of fairness, that should be in their company name somewhere, as well as their mission statement. So long as a company claims to be a community theatre, all sections of the community in which the theatre appears ought to be represented in the material produced.

This may mean that some shows are not full houses. But to me, an effort to produce plays that appeal to different segments of the local population, even though they be a minority, shows great artistic courage and altruism. What a company may lose in ticket sales this year, it may gain back in years to come once word spreads that they are an eclectic destination. On the other side of the coin, going all in and dedicating everything you do to one demographic in an official capacity may have the same effect, once word got out.

Some may call that a pipe dream. I don't. But say what you will, it's a perspective I thought worth sharing and discussing. Any thoughts on this?

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Pride is Pride

I am not in an actor's union. Most of the performing I do is for non-profit theatres. Once in a while one will pay a tiny stipend. Most of the time, they do not. In both cases, however, they are community organizations committed to bringing live theatre to people who otherwise might not have access to it.

There are all kinds of community theatres, just as there are all kinds of professional theatres. And with community and/or non-profit theatre comes certain limitations. I am not fond of all of those givens. (One reason I am trying to start my own community acting company.) I'd love for community playhouses to be bolder sometimes. (At least around here.) But there are aspects of "professional" theatre, Union or not, of which I don't approve. Things about it which, quite frankly, I can't stand. That's one reason I never pursued the Equity, move to New York route.

So, both types of theatre have their disadvantages. I have in essence no control over that. I do however have control over what I do while a part of any given production. I can decide how seriously I take a play. How hard I work at producing a character. How much of myself I put into a role. How much extra effort I put into a show outside of my own immediate responsibilities. I can't make anybody else do it, but nobody else can prevent me from doing so, either.

It is my name on the playbill, whenever I perform. I'm not at all willing to write that off if I happen to not be getting paid. I may not show up and do as many things in this life as others, but when I do show up, you can be sure I am going to give it what I have. For all of the time I spend in a theatre, rehearsing, performing, or directing, I'd have to have little pride in myself to do otherwise. I make damn sure that when a program says, "Ty Unglebower", there is nothing to be ashamed of.

There are actors I've worked with who blow off this responsibility. They don't get paid, and they don't care about how stupid they look. They just screw around. And you know what? There are plenty of people who do the same thing in professional theatres, because they can't get fired very easily. Or they are in it for the money, and don't have to do so much as one thing beyond what their contract stipulates. Again, it's the actor, not the venue.

Truth be told, I've been in more than one community production that rivaled anything I've seen performed on a "professional" stage. That's because again, it's what any one actor chooses to give to what he is doing. When you care, and when you work hard, quality follows. Magic can happen. And those that dismiss this possibility simply because those on stage are volunteering their time as opposed to getting paid for it are about as shallow a bunch of dullards as you are likely to encounter.

The same sort of people who have been tricked into paying 5,000 dollars for a painting because "Famous Artist" painted it, only to find out later that "Famous Artist" was a hoax, and nobody by that name paints. Yet they could just "feel" the mastery of the work. (Because they were told a master painted it.) A work at which they would not have given a second glance had they known entering the gallery than an amateur painted it. Such people are in love with pedigree, not product. And they are quite the boneheads.

I value what I value. If I like a painting, I like like it, regardless of who painted it. I listen to songs that move me, and I applaud plays that are well done. And I certainly value my name. More so than those who dismiss non-profit theatre, without ever attending it value their own names, that is for sure.

I'm proud to be an actor who cares, in every venue, every time. I hope you are one as well.