Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fatigued with Fatigue

We all get tired at some point in time. Depending on our jobs, sleeping habits, and the kind of day we have, some of us get more tired than others.
Being in a play can be tiring as well. Particularly at the community level. Volunteer actors at the end of what may have already been a tiring day for them gather in the mid to late evening to either perform or rehearse a show for 2 hours. (More during tech week of course.)
It’s not for the faint of heart, or the weak of constitution.
That is not to say you should not do theatre if you feel tired in the evening. As I mentioned, most people would be. Beyond a certain point if you are always tired, perhaps you should skip auditioning for a show. However, what I am really suggesting here is that once you are in a play, keep whatever level of fatigue you are feeling to yourself.
It is a common experience in the theatre’s I have performed in, to hear at least one’s colleague complain of being tired in any number of creative ways. Obviously enhanced yawns. Slapping of faces. The simple yet direct approach of uttering the words, “I am so tired” with as much frequency as possible backstage to anyone who will listen.
Indeed, if some actors I have worked with were half as creative on stage as they were back stage in expressing how tired they were, they’d be superstars by now.
Not only is it clear that most people are probably not running on a full tank by 7:00PM, (thereby making it an unnecessary declaration), but it can actually make the situation worse than it needs to be.
We tend to reflect and enhance that to which we draw attention. If we take every chance to mention to someone how tired we are, we bring out fatigue to the forefront of our minds during a play. That is where our performance skills ought to be. If the most significant thing you can think about 4 nights before you open a show is how tired you are, your performance will be a tired performance.
Worse that that, you start to exude an aura of fatigue wherever you go. Your dragging, yawning, moaning and complaining can be contagious, and lend an overall deflated atmosphere to an entire production, depending on how obvious you are about doing it.
You do yourself, your director, and all your cast mates a huge favor when you come to the theatre by accepting the fact that you are fatigued, and assuming that everyone else, to varying degrees, is fatigued as well. That way you can instead put at the front of your mind, “Tonight I am going to perfect that scene I am having trouble”, or “I am excited about how the show is starting to come together.” With affirmations such as these, you will be able to find performance energy in spite of being tired.
And you will not run the risk of everyone else, especially me, growing tired of you.
(Originally appeared on showbizradio.net on April 8, 2009.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Roles Off Stage

It requires no specific expertise to understand that even when we are not on stage, we do a fair share of acting throughout our daily lives. If you never set foot on a stage in your life, you will at some point be acting in some fashion. Playing a part, in order to bring about something you wish to bring about.
In other words, acting is a part of everyone’s life, even if performing is not.
However, sometimes that everyday acting can become more like performing. And if you are a performer, I highly recommend taking the chance to play a character, even when you are not on the stage.
Decide you are going to spend one evening out at a restaurant being someone else. Dress up and behave as though you are rich. If you are a contractor, act like a lawyer. Or the other way around. Invoke a character behaviors, speech, reactions, around a character that is clearly not you. BE that character throughout the determined period of time. Either a character you make up yourself, or one that you have read someplace. What role you are taking on is not as important as the level of commitment you bring to this act of make-believe.
Even most actors will find doing this in “real life” to be far more difficult than it is to do on stage. That is because there is an obvious expectation we have of ourselves to be able to perform when we are on stage. That, in fact, is what the “old boards” were built for.
Yet when we choose to take part in this artistic exercise, we have no such platform, neither literally nor figuratively. Our “performance” of whatever character we are creating is not known to even be a performance to anyone but ourselves in such times. (How does the waiter know you are not the Banker visiting from New England?) And yet, we feel less able, and in fact, less free to engage in our acting skills when we are in a non-theatrical venue.
That may be natural, but, I encourage all of you to say, at least once in a while, “forget the venue, I am going to perform this part.” Right there in the line at the grocery store. Or at the ballgame. Or at dinner. All of your skills are still there. Improvisation. Adaptability. Creativity. Use of costume. Even use of dialect, if you like. Though the possibilities are not as unlimited as they would be in an actual show, the benefits to the actor are undeniable; honing skills away from the stage liberates us even more when on the stage.
The point is not to be obnoxious, or disruptive in a public setting. It then just becomes a stunt instead of an exercise. The point is to release your inhibitions, and prove to yourself that you can play a role at any time, anywhere. The liberation of that fact may not only make you a deeper actor, it may make otherwise dull errands quite exciting.
A little extra excitement never hurt anyone, after all.
(Originally published on showbizradio.net on May 6, 2009 )

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Opening Night Zone

Despite how clich├ęd it sounds, there is a lot of truth to the old adage that the small things matter most.
When I went to a private high school I had to wear a very specific uniform. As did everyone. Yet when the basketball team had a game any given night, they were permitted to wear suits throughout the day. I asked one of them one time why that was. They explained it was just a simple way of standing out, and mentally setting themselves, and the day of the game apart from everything else. “It helps with the mindset,” he told me.
I am not a basketball player, but that notion of getting into a specific mindset via clothing has always stuck with me. And it carried into my theatre experiences.
Every opening night, I dress up a little bit fancier than I otherwise might. I don’t own a suit, so I do not do that, but I do wear nicer shoes, my good slacks, button up shirt. A tie once in a while. Even if I am just going straight to the theatre. Why? The exact same reason those ballers did back in school. To stand out. A sort of metaphorical string around the finger of my mind, to remind me about where my day was going.
It seems like a really small, and to some a really silly thing. Perhaps it is. But anything that can help build energy, anticipation and focus leading into a show can be of benefit. And while I do not do this for every single performance, I find that getting a mental head start into the first night of a show can often have positive consequences for the rest of the run.
Though I do not believe anyone would be hurt by trying this opening night dress up, my main point is to make opening night stand out for you somehow. If you really don’t like dressing up, give yourself something else. Something extra, that can be noticed in some way. Wax the car the night before. Eat fancy that night. (If you can stomach food at that point. I never could.) Anything you can think of that will give the day leading into opening night a bit of polish. When you treat the day as something special in some demonstrative way, the day is more likely to bring extraordinary things.
It’s not about showing off, and it’s not about being more important than other people. It’s about being willing to take extra pride in yourself that day, and by extension, extra pride in the performance you are about to turn in.
Being proud of what you are doing will fend off apathy and even help with fatigue. It shows you are serious, committed, and ready to go.
An audience can always tell which members of a cast feel that way. Wouldn’t you want to make sure they noticed you as much during the show, as everyone else did during the day before it?
(Originally published on Showbizradio.net on April 22, 2009)

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

"This Isn't Broadway." Nor Should It Be.

There seems to be this notion among many people in amateur productions that “This isn’t Broadway,” so corners can be cut, and efforts can be reduced. Almost as though community theatre is merely a way to spend time while wishing to be on Broadway.
Hogwash, is the nicest response I have to that.
In general, it is true. A community theatre, being a non-profit organization, will not have the budget of a professional playhouse. This means that props, costumes, sets, advertising, and all of the things that money can by will not be as abundant as they may be in say, Broadway. (Though if you think Broadway theatres never have budget problems, I advise you to rethink.)
But one thing that should not require money is an actor’s commitment to excellence. The intangible fire within a performer that drives them to take the role they have and do every possible thing they can with it. You carry your spirit with you, no matter what theatre you are in. It should be used to its fullest if you bother showing up for rehearsal at all.
The idea that your dedication to a project should slip because you are not getting paid is an insult not only to your fellow actors and crew, but a smack in the face to the concept of theatre itself.
If you are not motivated to do your best simply because you have opted to take the time to do something, and attach your name to it, it is unlikely that a paycheck would make that any different. Those who think otherwise are looking for money, and not for a chance to be actors. (And if it’s money you seek, Broadway is not the place to find it, by and large.)
Dedication is dedication, and I think that is in fact why many of the amateur productions I have both been in and seen have equaled or surpassed the work of a professional company. By and large, professionals are “every man for himself” affairs, with everyone building a career, as opposed to everyone getting together to build a show. Not that dedicated people cannot also be professionals. I know many who are both. However, community productions, if you are lucky, consist of people who do it solely because they wish to pursue excellence, without a paycheck. The human factor is enhanced, despite the budget being meager.
In other words, this notion that somehow being a professional is the magic door through which one must pass in order to offer up the best that they have to a show is patently absurd. People still lay down their own money to see you, even if you do not get the money yourself. That should be enough to eliminate your laziness, if nothing else.
It may be sacrilege to many theatre types for me to say this, but I have always found it to be true. In the end, Broadway is a street in New York City. At it’s core, it is nothing more. But each individual actor is much more than the street on which his theatre appears. Each person chooses to pursue the highest level of excellence of which they are capable.
So the next time you find yourself, or a cast mate stating the obvious that where you are performing “isn’t Broadway,” remind them that Broadway isn’t a community theatre either. The sword cuts both ways. You might as well be proud of whichever side of it you, as an actor, find yourself on.
(Originally published on Showbizradio.net on May 20, 2009)