Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Thoughts On Watching Theatre With Someone Else

Actors do in fact sometimes sit in the audience. Granted, I haven't done much of that over the last several years, and when I have done it, it's usually in the exact same venues in which I perform. (Which can be a distraction sometimes, if you get to a pivotal moment in a performance and find yourself wondering if they've fixed that wobbly part of the stage as a friend of mine makes his entrance.)

But whether in my local playhouse or in major professional venues, I enjoy being in the audience, when I can shut out my inner actor and just watch. When I do, and it's a quality performance, I remember why I choose to act in the first place; the imprint a show leaves on those in the seats.

I came across this piece last week, in which the author asks about the ideal date to take to see a show. I hadn't thought much about it. I have been since I read it though. My natural inclination is to see theatre by myself, to be frank. That way I can absorb the experience and interpret what is going on, letting it wash over or pour into me without impediment, in whatever fashion I choose. I can even get up and leave if it comes to that. (It hasn't yet.) The author of the piece is of a similar mind, as she points out in a previous article she wrote years ago about seeing shows alone. That piece is linked within this one, so I'd suggest reading both.

But for the sake of the subject, and the question posed by the article, I'll speculate on what my ideal theatre date would be like. For the purposes of this question, let's suppose this isn't limited to a romantic date, per se. (The author placed no such limitation on her question.)

First and foremost, somebody who would be talking the whole time, or even at key moments is out. The rudeness factor aside, I can't connect with what I'm watching as fully as I'd like if I have to allocate energy to responding to my companion's question or observation. It's too rude for me not to, but I'm there to see a play and I can't do that if I'm diverting energy to what a companion is saying. If there must be commentary, it needs to be brief, declarative as opposed to interrogatory, and should happen during some break in the action. Sustained applause or laughter, or during a scene change black out.

I also prefer to be with someone who either already does, or is willing to enjoy the show for its own sake. I think that friendships and certainly romances are built upon sacrifice and accommodation of the other's needs and desires from time to time, but I don't want the theatre involved in all of that. I don't want someone I am with to come with me to a show just to make me happy, or to do me a favor. Nor do I want them doing, as so many parents on Christmas Morning, getting most of their joy out of seeing my joy. I feel like I have to be "on" when a companion feels that way, and if the production isn't good, I don't feel as free to respond accordingly.

That doesn't mean I'll only go to a show with someone who is as much into theatre as I am. I'd go with a novice, or someone that rarely goes. So long as on that day, for that show in that place they are excited about being there.

I also don't enjoy seeing theatre with someone who has already seen the show, or at least that production of the show. If someone has already seen Hamlet, that's fine, but if they've seen this production already, I won't enjoy seeing it with them. True, live theatre is a little different every night, but not different enough to feel as though both I and my companion are discovering the show at the same time. I'm the same with movies; if I haven't seen a movie yet, I dislike going to see it with someone that already has. It takes away from the experience. Especially if it's a lesser known play or a new play.

Finally, as much as I want quiet during the show, I want to be able to converse about the play afterward with a companion. There are so many things that go into seeing a show with someone else that if I do so, and they have nothing to say about the show on the way home, or at drinks after the fact, I feel I would be better off having seen it alone. This isn't to say they have to like the play, but if they aren't willing to talk about why they didn't like it, or why they did like it, or who they thought was the strongest performance, that sort of thing, it's quite the let down for me. "I liked it," or "I didn't like it," don't work for me as a post mortem. Be eager to talk about the show, or let me see it alone.

There are a few minor characteristic of the ideal theatre date that i won't mention here, because I think those mentioned above are most important. The other things are preferences at best. If not met, i could still enjoy the experience. But if any of the above concepts are lacking it will take away from my theatre experience. I'd rather see shows alone than with people who don't meet these qualifications.

What about you? What makes a good audience companion at the theatre?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Book Launch! Some Theater Fiction.

Hello, loyal blog readers. On this, my theater blog, I wanted to that I launched an ebook today. It's called, Thank You for Ten; Short Fiction About a Little Theater. It's a collection of ten stories, all of which take place in the same community theater. You can by it for 99 cents, either for the kindle or for other devices. Check out my main blog at to find out how to get it.

For this collection, I've minded my experiences and perceptions over the course of 15 years or so as an actor. This blog has been here for more than half of that time, and those who read my posts here will find, at least I hope, many parallels. A lot of what I feel as an actor has been expressed here in the blog, and it informed my creative decisions as I wrote each of the stories in this collection.

And of course if you are a theater person yourself, (and chances are that if you come here, you are), I'm confident you will find something familiar with in many if not all of these stories. The excitement, the worry, the planning, the artistic vision, the wide cast of characters both on and off stage at a community theater. I know many of you can relate.

So if you enjoy fiction set in your favorite place, the theater, click the link above, and get yourself a copy today, please. I would be very grateful, and it would be particularly satisfying if theater types like myself discovered and enjoyed this small collection.

If you do read it, please, please let me know if you like it!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Career Lessons From the Theatre? Maybe...

I came across this short piece by Robbie Hyman. Ostensibly it's about lessons we can take into our jobs that the author learned from watching so much live theatre. While I agree with his larger applications, I find his observations about theatre itself more interesting.

His first observation, "Perform at every a talent scout is watching," rings true to me for the most part, though I don't but so much work into honing my craft thinking of a talent scout. (Not that one is ever likely to show up where I do most of my plays anyway.) I do however put my best foot forward with every role thinking that a great audience is watching every time. As this blog has mentioned many times over the years, sometimes an audience isn't good, and sometimes it's almost non-existent. But if my advice over 8 years on this blog can be distilled into one or two things, one of them would certainly be to give of yourself as much as you can to whatever role you are playing in any given production.

I almost never use the cliche' for this truth, "There are no small parts...," though there is of course truth behind the statement. I confess being in small roles in poorly directed productions that are not well attended is difficult, on a good day. Laborious and tedious on the worst of days. But if my name is going to be attached to something, that something had better be worthy of my name.

Also the experience of a show is far more rewarding for each person, if all the other people are putting in maximum effort each night. I'd add that this is especially important in amateur productions when one isn't getting paid. I've often written about people who blow off rehearsals, or phone in their performances in amateur productions, and I do so with disdain each time. As the author of this article says, "...that's what you do when you're an actor. You act." That's what I strive to live up to.

Next, Hyman advises the read to "find something to love about your job." While I think one should of course do this, the examples he gives in the article to me point to something other than finding an aspect of your job to love.  

He mentions a highly paid, well-renowned television writer sweeping up the lobby of the tiny theatre that was performing his latest play. Even I was impressed by this fact, though not shocked. True dedication to the theatre means a desire for every aspect of a production to succeed. One of my favorite take-aways from my early days in theater back in college was this work ethic to serve the entire show. Almost always, minutes before a rehearsal would start, some one from the cast without being asked to do so was running the giant broom across the stage. Even on dress rehearsal nights you'd find people in costume undertaking this task. Not the best way to keep a costume clean, but it speaks to the ethic I picked up from college. 

Hyman points to this as an example of lousy things people do in order to have a chance to do the things they love about their job. Again, I agree with that sentiment, but the famous writer sweeping the floor to me speaks more to this notion that nobody should be too important to take on the necessary tasks of keeping a theatre ready for a show. Some things are going to be beyond any given person, of course, (I, for example, cannot now, nor have I ever been of much service to theatrical lighting issues.) But anyone can pick up a broom, throw away trash, keep the house clean, and so on. That's not what we are there for per se, but it should be a part of what we are all there for when in a show; making things easier and better for everyone involved.

Hyman's last point about theatre as it related to the workplace is, "Remember, there are lots of talented people out there." He goes on to marvel at the high caliber of acting he found in most "hole-in-the-wall" theaters his visited, and determines that it must be due to the actors (some of whom are famous) wanting to stay sharp, and keep the up and comers from replacing them.

This lesson I think misses the mark the most in Hyman's article. I very much agree that to remain good at acting, as with any craft, one must continue to work and practice said craft. And I can't deny that acting, like many field can be cut throat on the professional level, with younger, fresher faces literally waiting in the wings to replace the currently famous. But I don't think these are the main reasons Hyman and other can find terrific acting in tiny, obscure, poorly attending places. I think for most actors, the true reason the turn in great performances in such places is the same reason that writer swept the lobby floor; they are committed. Again, Hyman had it when he said, "...that's what you do when you're an actor. You act." 

I won't be naive and deny there is ever a career consideration when big-wigs enter the small venues, and I of course am not a par of the professional movie or theatre scene in Los Angeles. But I can say that good acting is no accident. People don't roll out of bed turning out a great performance. It does indeed take practice, and it may be aided by keeping one's self relevant. But in my estimation neither of those things alone can motivate the best art from a performer. Only a sincere love for the material and the work can produce that kind of awe-inspiring result night after night in the tiniest of forgotten venues. If Hyman finds actors of all fame-levels turning in such performances so often, it's probably because, like me and many of my colleagues, they love what they are doing, and respect it, and their reputation enough to not phone anything in.

By and large, though, Hyman's conclusions about live theatre, or in this case small live theatre are valid and affirming to someone who has been an actor for a while. If those lessons can be applied to one's non-theatre career, that's great, though only one of many facets of life that can be enhanced by taking in a show. Yet even if there were no career lessons to be taken from his attending the plays, I congratulate Hyman for bringing so much out of his experiences as an audience member in so many holes-in-the-wall over the years.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Progress Report: My Scripts.

As of last night, I've committed all Shakespeare monologues from the first half of my one man show to memory. I still have to add in my own line between them, which are half-improvised much of the time anyway.

For those of you who need reminding, I'm developing a one-man show based on the history plays of Shakespeare. I've always admired those plays, and regret that they are performed so rarely. I figured that if I ever wanted to perform some of the great speeches from the histories, I'd have to create my own show around them, and perform it. So that is exactly what I've done. I've been working on it for most of this year so far.

It takes places in sections that are dedicated to the specific history plays. The first section, about Richard II, is by far the longest, because it establishes the premise of the show, introduces the audience to who I am playing, and sets up the plots of the histories. I've been running that to myself at regular performance speed for about a month or so now, and it regularly takes about 40 minutes. Now that I've for the most part committed the Shakespeare in section 2 (Henry IV) to memory, I'll be adding my own lines in throughout the next week or so. My hope is that the second section takes no more than 20  minutes to perform. With blocking and pauses and audience reaction added in, my goal is for the first half of the show to last no more than one hour, ten minutes. It will be a while before I know how long section 2 will take, however.

There's still a lot of work to do, to be sure. But now that I have all of the Shakespeare for the first  half memorized, and it will be only a matter of a week or so before I can perform both of the first sections with all of my own lines added, this is a milestone. Being off book for the first half of a show that I've created and studied for most of the year will go a long way in establishing momentum for the rest of this process. Just something about being "halfway done," even though some of the longest speeches await me in the second half.

At this rate of progress, and considering other projects I'm working on, I'm guessing it will be ready for performance by mid-autumn of this year. It's designed to be easily transported to just about any venue, but in all likelihood it will make its debut at the Black Box Arts Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. (Of which I am one of the managers.) Eventually, though, a traveling affair. Or something I can due annually for a weekend or so. That's the beauty of it being a show that easily travels and has a cast of one. There's more work for me but I'm also only responsible to myself, and that has its advantages.

May seems to have been a month of first halves, as I also completed act one of my standard play, "All the Admirals." That has a cast of five, and is related to some short stories I've written here and there. Takes place in a television studio. It's mostly a character study, and I look forward to finishing that, which I plan to do before the end of this calendar year. (I doubt it will require the rest of the year, if I truly apply myself to it.) I hope to gather some actor friends for a test reading of it once it is done and I've completed the first round of edits. But that's quite a ways into the future for now.

So my theater writing had proceeded at a steady clip in 2014. Except for this blog, of course. I continue to collect articles and other theater miscellany about which to write here, but with everything else going on, (plus my actual paying writing work), I tend to fall behind. Don't give up on me though. You know I always get back eventually, loyal blog readers.

In the mean time, I'll go work on acr one of my one-man show, (which I hope to name by the next time I talk to you about it.) Until then, loyal blog readers.

Anyone out there write their own plays? I'd love to hear about that.