Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Show Must NOT Go On...

“The show must go on,” is the most tired adage connected with theatre. If one is only ever in one play, and by some miracle only one problem crops up during the show, I can promise somebody will say this.
Admirable. I agree with this notion of “playing through it.” I have done this myself. Money, time and energy have been spent in pursuit of a quality production, and nobody truly wants to allow obstacles to ruin all of that.
Yet there ought to be a limit to this notion. Even for the dedicated actor.
How do we draw this line?
The key is to do what many actors I know have not done. You must determine if more individual pain or damage will be caused to you, (or someone else) by doing a show, than would by caused by not doing it. Respect for one’s self dictates that if it is the former, it is not worth it. We are all only human, after all.
Medical reasons, for instance. I don’t refer to a cold opening night. But if a doctor says you should not be performing in a show, you should not be doing so. Whether it be out of an extreme sense of duty, or a warped desire to be a martyr of some sort, no show is worth risking your health or even your life. Yet sadly I do know of those who play through serious injury and illness, usually to the detriment of the show, and always to the detriment of themselves.
Same for mental injuries and “outside” drama. If you cannot think of anything but your private issue anytime you are off stage, (and certainly if while you are ON stage) you should step aside.
Finally, circumstances that are neither medical nor mental should sometimes call for a halt to the production. One recent example from my life involved a friend of mine who’s classmate had been murdered. Literally murdered a week before the show opened. The victim was not in the production, but the production was unfortunately a murder mystery.
This show proceeded, and though I had no connection to it or the victim, I remember thinking how much in poor taste it was to continue with a show within a community suffering something as devastating as that. Particularly given the subject matter of the play. Sometimes the damage to an individual, or group, that a production causes, is not done to anybody in the show, but simply to those who share the community.
It’s a fine line between pressing on and being obstinate. It varies of course from show to show, actor to actor. But the line should in fact exist. There should be a limit beyond which you opt out of a show.
And few people are as dedicated to the show going on as I am.

(This post originally appeared on Showbizradio.com on January 21, 2009.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Perform as Though It's Ancient Greece

On my wall is a framed print of the theatre of Dionysus in Ancient Athens. Little is known about its exact dimensions and appearances so the depiction is educated speculation.
One thing that is known about it, and about ancient Greek drama in general, is that sets, scenery, props, and of course electricity, were not concepts the Greeks made use of during the infancy of the stage.
Indeed, the nature and size of the arenas meant that the performers were on their own when it came to moving the audience.
And they had better do it well. Drama was, after all, originally intended as a way to honor the god Dionysus.
Today, actors are not usually in such a position. We have lights. Sets. Moveable stages. Sound cues. Techies. Fancy costumes. All of which can add to not only the overall spectacle of the production, but also depth to an individual performance.
Yet when I am in a show, I remember the actors of Ancient Greece, and proceed as they did. This is my advice to all actors.
I don’t mean we should wear robes, turn off all the lights, or convert to a new religion. What I mean is that too often we tend to use the accoutrements of the theatre as a crutch. We get hung up on precise light cues. We think we can skimp on our voice projection if we know where the microphone is. If I wear the scarf a certain way, they will not have to see me face in the audience.
Nine times out of ten, actors can get away with that.
What do you suppose happens to actors like that when lights go on the fritz during a performance? Or a last minute costume problem arises? Or the stage floods and the show is moved to another venue during tech week?
I shall tell you what happens; they do not recover. And their performances suffer.
Of course I prefer to have all of the amenities working in my favor. We are not in Ancient Greece, and I do not wish to be so. Yet I always make sure that I call upon that power within myself to shape a performance. Instead of external factors, I latch myself onto what is within me. I make sure that I create a performance which would still wow an audience if the lights, sound, and props were taken away from me right before I went on.
This is not easy. It requires a great deal of work and sacrifice. But the theatre is no place for the weak, the careless, or the lazy.
Just ask Dionysus.
(Originally published on Showbizradio.net on December 3, 2008)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Learning From Failures on Stage

When things are going poorly, or worse, in a show, there is a very powerful temptation to go numb, and shut out everything except your own responsibilities.
This is natural. You are with a cast who mostly does not care, the technical aspects have not gone the same way two nights in a row. Somebody has quit, and their replacement is even worse. Certain lines have been forgotten every single time. Everything is terrible. You do not want to bail out on the production, but you want to feel no pain either. Quite understandable. I have been there.
But a serious actor must resist this temptation as much as possible. Not merely because it is the “right thing to do.” It is the smart thing to do, if you are at all concerned with improving your craft and learning anything. (Which of course you are concerned with, right?)
As is the case with many other endeavors, failures on stage can teach us more than successes. Granted, because it is a performance, having your name attached to a failure can be embarrassing. I am not suggesting you spread the word far and wide that the show you are starring in is a disaster. That is just being silly.
Yet while you must be in it, take it all in. Examine what is not working. Without losing your temper too much, determine what every shortcoming is, large and small, and then try to deduce what it is that is causing them.
Did the actor not prepare enough for the role? Were they miscast? Were the responsibilities of everyone involved in the show not made clear enough? Did the director not do enough/too much? What is the overall attitude of people involved in this show that prevents them from wanting to do better?
Many other questions, and answers thereto, can come about, from show to show. Even if you are never certain what exactly went wrong in every aspect of a flop, the simple act of trying to determine why your show did not succeed will open your mind and stretch you imagination. In so doing, you can take what you determine with you to future experiences, thus helping you avoid the same missteps, assumptions, and overall failures that you witnessed others commit.
I have done this, and I cannot tell you how valuable it sometimes is. The information I have garnered while being in an occasional flop has allowed me to offer advice to pull later shows up into acceptability that might have otherwise gone down in a small amount of flames.
Even in failure, there is a chance to learn.
(originally published on Showbizradio.net)