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)