Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Milking is for Cows: Earning Applause

Like everything else in both the theatrical world and our daily lives, balance is the key. Extremes don’t sustain satisfaction for very long, and yes, that includes the idea of getting applause.
Applause, and in particular an actor’s embrace of applause, gets a bad rap. It’s true that few things are more obnoxious to cast mates, directors, and some audiences than a performer who is clearly “milking” the crowd for more laughs. More applause. More reaction. One who wrings that sponge with such a vengeance that they end up tearing it in half. Sure it may work sometimes, but overall this is a sign of an attention starved hack, and not a consummate performer. You can see these people coming from a mile away. Don’t be one, no matter how much you love the crowd.
The enjoyment of applause is not, however, a sin in and of itself. Applause and other positive audience reaction is significant. Don’t be afraid to embrace it, enjoy it, to be empowered by it. It is even acceptable to try to cultivate more of it, if it is done in a very skilled, subtle fashion. Despite what some may tell you, this does not make you a smaller person or a smaller actor.
There is no getting around it; performances are designed to be seen. Period. Acting, in the very end, is nothing in a vacuum. Ergo, hoping for, and enjoying applause, laughter, or crying from an audience that is moved by the show you are in is a wholesome thing. It proves that people are being touched in someway by your craft. It can also sharpen your senses, deepen your investment, and help you stay steady during a show. It may not be everything, but never ignore the synergism between the audience and the cast.
I have always said that the audience is the last character to be cast in a production. It’s a different character every night. Like characters on stage, one shouldn’t rely 100% on what they are doing to get through the night. But neither should this character be ignored totally. You don’t have to play directly to the audience to respect them, and sense they are there.
Which is why it is crucial to be aware of reactions from the house. Any actor who tells you they don’t care if the audience laughs or applauds I venture to say is either lying to you, or to himself. If such people really mean what they say, it is to their detriment. For if you do not care about audience reaction, then you are refusing to acknowledge them. If you do that, you are not respecting them. And you can believe this if you believe nothing else I have ever written about stagecraft; audiences as a whole know when you do not respect them. They can sense when you are up there just for yourself, or worse, simply killing time until you get to be in something better. That shows, and the audience responds to it.
Balance. Middle ground. Yin and Yang. Call it what you like, but the key is to love and respect applause enough to avoid stealing it, but also to try your hardest to earn it.
(Originally appeared on showbizradio.net on August 5th, 2009.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pre-Show Rituals: Yours and Everyone Else's.

I have never yet met an actor who sacrifices a live chicken before a show. Thank heaven for that. Nonetheless I make it a point to ask fellow actors, with whom I am not familiar, if this, or anything else more realistic, is part of their opening night, or pre-curtain ritual. That way I know not to interrupt it by accident.
Because you see not all rituals are going to be obvious to you. A person kneeling in a corner with their head down makes what they are up to pretty clear. But what about the person that is merely standing in the doorway on tip-toe, trying to touch the top of the door frame? Or the person bouncing on the balls of their feet in the middle of the room? Or the man walking around with a single penny in his hand? (All three are examples from actual life, and the man with the penny is me.)
It is easy for those of us without such rituals, or for whom rituals are only small informal affairs, to pay little to no attention to those rites that others have developed over the course of a career. After all, which should they stand in a door way like that, or what’s it to us if we are blocking their view of the parking lot from where we are standing? Acting is acting, right? Well, yes and no.
The fact of the matter is, every single human being, no matter how cynical or secular, succumbs to ritual at some point in time. It just does not always pertain to performing. But whether it be for mental, spiritual or superstitious purposes, all of us have parts of our day and our lives wherein we are very particular about how we proceed; in ways that otherwise would not appear to affect the outcome of the action we are taking, but are, nonetheless, important to us as we do them. For some, acting is one of those activities before which a ritual must be conducted.
I do my best to not be inaccessible when I am in a pre-show routine. And in fact, the nature of the venue and the shows I have been in over the last few years has made some of my previous rituals a bit less practical. One should be able to adapt. Yet that will not be the case for everyone. Some people are just very particular about their rituals. As a cast mate, you need to respect them. And even if you do not care much for the actor, an overall sense of duty to the show should dictate that you stay out of the way of someone’s ceremonies.
Which is why it is always good idea to ask. It will prevent you from interrupting anything, (which I have done once, sadly), but it will also show the other person that you respect them enough as at least a performer to ask the question…even if they have no rituals they need to be allowed to perform. And that sense of respect will also go a long way towards unity and synergism within a cast.
(Originally appeared on showbizradio.net on July 15, 2009 )

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Workshop, Take II

Almost a year ago to the day, I taught a one day workshop at a local theatre about making and correcting mistakes on stage. As the post I linked to reveals, it was quite the success. Yesterday I gave that same presentation again, with minor tweaks. Though the group was not as old, as large, or as responsive as the group from a year ago, I'm still willing to declare the experience a success.

Particularly because there were several good questions from them at the end of it. That was one area where this group probably exceeded the last group, actually. They asked some more questions about certain scenarios. A few questions that I'm happy to say made me think for a moment or two before answering. Hopefully the answers I came up with were satisfactory.

It's that sort of interaction and consideration of different perspective and approaches that deepens the acting and theatre experience. Everyone has an opinion, and after you've been doing theatre for a while like me, you come up with specific answers and approaches to things that come up often on and around the stage. That's natural and acceptable. But when you have someone like a few of the students last evening asked you something you hadn't thought of before, or addressed an old issue in a way you've not considered previously, you're forced to look at things anew. To slow down and take something as familiar to you as making lunch, and see it from a different set of eyes. Or at least, from a more discriminating one.

This is true for any topic of course. Even science or history. Yet if I may be so bold, I'll opine that the arts in general particularly benefit from this concept of making the familiar a bit less familiar from time to time. What are they arts, after all, if not a means by which we distill the world into various beauties most people didn't realize were there?

Being a teacher, even for a single day, truly does make one a student as well.