Lessons learned- theatre


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Lessons learned in Theatre.

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Lessons learned- theatre

  1. 1. Lessons Learned in Theatre<br />I have worked many years doing theatre, ever since I was 5 years old. Even though this has not been an "official" career, I have been so involved in it for 19 years of my life that I have a wealth of information and experience that I've gained as an actor, director, techie, marketer, etc. My theatre experience involves the following:-Acting in school plays in elementary school- Joining a theatre club and acting in several productions in high school- Acting in college plays, farces, and musicals (including shows like Charlie Brown and Hair)- Being a drama teacher- Writing and directing plays for community theatre- Paid gig writing and directing plays for a company- Tech work and backstage help for several shows- PR and marketing for shows and plays for fundraising and awareness events (The Vagina Monologues for Breast Cancer, etc.)<br />1. Stage Fright never goes away. <br />You know that feeling you get when you go up to speak publicly in front of a group of people? Doesn't matter if it's 3 people or 300. Your stomach starts to feel queasy, your palms get sweaty, and you start to sift through every possible thing that can go wrong with your presentation.Well not only does that happen to actors, but it happens to actors all the time. No matter how many shows you do, how much you've rehearsed and practiced and full-proofed the show, actors are petrified before going on stage. Granted, it's not all fear. A lot of those jitters come from the excitement and exhiliration of peforming in front of so many people. But experience does not make stage anxiety go away.All it does is help you find new ways to cope with it and expect it. You learn to work around your anxiety, sometimes even using it to your advantage if your character on stage requires it. Us actors use stage fright to force us to do our best. The only time I've observed stage fright not being an issue is around closing night after about 4-6 times doing the same show. At that point, you've done it, you've shined, you've messed up, you just want it to be over.However, unless you constantly push yourself, you won't give your best if it all becomes second-nature. In a sense, stage fright keeps you on your toes, and striving to do your best at all times. It's a gift and a curse, I suppose.<br />2. Directors will be a pain 9 times out of 10. <br />I've been in several shows. I haven't counted them, but it's been well over 50. In just about all of these shows, the directors have been pains in our rears about everything. And it's not like the directors are just naturally aggresively tyrannical people. I've known some of these directors before being in a show and they're the sweetest people ever.The pressures of directing shows can be so great and time consuming, that most directors crack under the pressure and their fuses get cut down the the last inch. Actors, techies, backstage help, and everyone else involved have to be careful what they say and what they do at all times or they will be yelled at. This grows exponentially the closer the show arrives. There is a reason tech week is also known as hell week. It doesn't help that everyone else is already tired too, and God help that one actor that decides to add lip to some director's critical feedback. I've had directors just kick us all out halfway through a rehearsal because they are too stressed out about having to deal with us. One director in particular just went "**** you, go home!" and left the theatre.It's pretty intense, but it happens. Just something you have to deal with when being an actor.<br />3. Auditions can vary, you may have gotten the part the moment you walk into the room.Just like in the movies, auditions can be hit or miss when it comes to your acting ability. Even if you are a wonderful actor, that sometimes isn't enough if you don't fit the character the director wants you to play. Case in point, I've tried out for shows for many years in my life, doing my best at auditions to get the best part possible.However, the only times I've gotten lead roles was at two points in my life, and coincidentally enough, I got a whole string of lead roles in a short period of time. The first time was in elementary school. I happened to get a lead role in some show about the Navy (I forget what it's called), and the next 3 years, I got lead roles for everything I auditioned for. Sometimes, I didn't even audition for the lead role!This happened again in college. I got the lead role in the play "Love, Sex, and the IRS", then continued to get lead roles the next 4 shows. The reason for this is typecasting. Potential directors saw the shows I was in and thought I would be perfect for a particular play they wanted to direct. No matter how many people auditioned for that role, they already had me in mind for it, so I kinda got an unfair advantage. As long as I met their expectations when it was my turn to audition, then the part was mine.In elementary school, I was typecast as the angry, short-temper greedy guy, so I was put in roles such as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol." In college, I was typecast as the depressed, pushover guy, so I got roles such as Charlie Brown in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" and the lead guy with a weird sex fetish in "Psychopathia Sexualis".The moral of the story is that looks can be just as if not more important than your acting ability in theatre. Granted, this isn't always true, but many actors can agree that directors tend to have their "favorites" when it comes to casting leads and even supporting roles for shows. Just look at Hollywood.<br />4. Depending on the size of your drama department/club, you learn to get very comfortable with your cast members.This is from my experiences in my high school drama club and my college drama department. They were both small and poorly funded. For this reason, sometimes you don't get the right amenities that is needed for a "proper" theatre production. For example, our college didn't even have an auditorium with a stage. For our productions, we had to use the university's only lecture hall. And our group was so small that everyone, including the actors, had to work together to build all the sets, costumes, promotion materials, and balance this all out with rehearsals. You get to see a lot of your castmembers for the duration of the entire show. And in more ways than one.For example, in high school when we would travel for district and state competitions, we would often do whatever we could to save money. To save money on hotels, we would usually reserve only one room, or crash in the house of one of the cast's families. So we would usually share one room. This meant that any shyness between cast members would go away very fast. Cast would change in front of each other often, as the bathroom would always be occupied. Some girls just took away all shame and just stayed in T-shirts and underwear. They didn't care. Granted, just about every guy of the 4 guys there was gay except for me, but still. Not something you see everyday.The same thing happened in college. Due to limited space, we had one co-ed dressing room where both guys and girls got ready. If you were in the show, you either had to suck it up and change in front of everyone in the dressing room, or run all the way down the hall to the other side of the building to change in the bathroom. That was just impractical. As a result, guys and girls just changed right in the room. I got to see a lot more of my castmates than I cared to for some, and that I dreamed of for others. After a while, though, you just learn to not care about all the girls' boobs and guys' junk shown around.And then there's the actual shows. Many of my shows have intimate scenes where you're in your underwear making out with other cast members. One show in particular had a full nude scene where the cast was standing fully naked together on stage. As an actor, you really have to learn to get comfortable with other cast members when you do scenes like this. No giddiness for seeing them naked or blushing or shying away, as that will show. The bright side is that for these scenes, you get plenty of rehearsals to get rid of that initial "ooh, I'm seeing you in your underwear/naked" shock and learn to be indifferent.Theatre definitely desensitizes you to nudity.<br />5. Children's theatre is both rediculously challenging and rewarding.I taught as an elementary school drama teacher for a year, and that was quite the experience. Students are naturally very eager to play drama games and get into the drama spirit, especially if it gets them out of doing regular classwork. There are just three major problems I had to deal with when getting my students to do a play. Problem number one is the troublemakers. Those rebellious students that will cause ou problems regardless of what you put them to do. They don't follow directions, don't be quiet when you tell them to, and refuse to work with others. They test your patience every step of the way.The second is repetition. One big part of theatre is repetition. To learn your lines and your blocking you have to rehearse over and over again, to the point where you get sick of it. Older students understand this, and will pull through for a great performance. Younger kids, however, get impatient and easily distracted. Once they get tired, it's almost impossible to gain that spark again for rehearsals. It's usually more productive to just quit for the day and start again another day.The last problem is children who can't read. Even if you give them small roles, you have a problem when one of the kids in your class can't read at all. Not only do they have to worry about memorizing lines, but they have to learn what the lines say to begin with!It is a really difficult road to get to, but once your show plays for the community, it's well worth it. The students have a great time, and they act much less like Divas than typical actors would.Plus, you also have the benefit that mistakes in a show with kids is much more adorable than mistakes in a show with adults.<br />6. Playwriting is tricky if you want to get it published.I love to write on my free time. I write novels, poems, and songs. I have also written a couple of plays in my life. In an effort to publish them and create scripts, I've done a lot of research on how to get a play published. It's a very difficult thing to do, sometimes even more than the other forms of written media.Looking at the major play websites (like Samuel French, for example), will not carry your play or even consider publishing it until you have successfully produced the play in a couple of reputable venues. However, reputable venues do not want to risk producing your play until you are published. That's the catch 22 of script-writing. I've managed to produce 2 of my plays, one for my class at the school I taught drama in, and another in my university's drama department. They chose my show since I didn't charge royaltees and they were hurting for money. Still though, they weren't exactly big venues, and I have to keep shopping around to get my plays out there. And if you're into writing scripts, be ready for constant editing. As long as you're not published, you will always see yourself editing and tweaking your plays. Especially if you ever seen them produced. You will cringe when you watch certain lines that you thought were genious when you wrote them and don't sound as good on stage.But it's a great feeling to see something you wrote produced on stage.7. Like Las Vegas, what happens on stage, stays on stage.Similar to point #5, there is a certain level of comfort you have to have to be an actor on stage. You will do things that may not be in your comfort zone. You'll have to sometime be rude, be crude, be outgoing, or even promiscuous. In my case, I never use swear words, but I've had parts where I've had to use them. I have to remind myself that it's not me on stage but another character.This also refers to more intimate scenes. I've been in about 3 plays where I've had to kiss a girl on the lips during the play. The problem with the first two times was the awkwardness of kissing a girl on stage. I would become self-conscious. Would I enjoy it too much? Would I not enjoy it enough? What does she think of me? Will she get grossed out? You get over it fast, though, when you just suck it up and do it.The third time, though, was more awkward, since I had a girlfriend at the time. If you ever go into theatre and have a girlfriend, make sure you two are secure enough in your relationship before you do an intimate scene on stage. I've seen relationships end from couples who could not get over one of them kissing the other on stage. My gf is also a theatre nut, so she didn't really care. Though she did find it a bit awkward that the female lead who had to kiss me wanted to practice offstage since she didn't want our first time kissing to be in front of an audience.The point is, on stage, you will often be doing things that you don't typically do. Not only do you have to have the guts to do them, but you have to make sure that it stays on that stage. Any romantic feelings you develop for your co-star from all those romantic scenes you've practice together must stay on the stage. That hot girl you saw naked during a scene needs to never be mentioned again when not on the stage. Any feelings of disdain or uneasiness you've developed with certain actors should not show after the show is over. It makes you seem weaker as an actor and just makes life unecessarily more difficult and awkward.<br />8. Pursuing a career in theatre.Personally, I would never want to be a professional actor, stage or film. While I love the concept of doing something I love and getting paid for it, the acting world isn't as ideal as college theater is. The people you work with are sharks, you get no job security, looks are ridiculously important, lots of travel is required, and you usually end up being on stage with a bunch of drama queens and druggies.Regardless, if you do want to be an actor on Theatre, contrary to popular belief, getting a degree in theatre does help. Sure, people can name you tons of actors that were just picked off the street and never took an acting class in there lives, but there are just as many that have taken intense theatre training and have earned their degree.The benefit of going to a university, or at the very least a liberal arts college, is that the staff and faculty of the theatre department usually have many resources and contacts. If they really care about their program, they make the effort to cast you in roles where your talents will shine during performances, bring agents to see your show, find you appropriate internship opportunites, and get you good conacts for when you graduate. You get a lot of support this way, and directors are often retired theatre people to begin with (or at the very least failed ones who know the business).Some people also attempt to get masters in theatre. I have mixed opinions about this. Usually a bachelors in theatre is enough. A masters is more theory, and honestly, that really won't help you in the real world. The only way I see it being worth your while is if there is a program in your school that offers a hands-on MFA. This type of theatres masters program gives you much hands on practice directing, working on lighting, backstage, PR, and other types of experience that are crucial to getting you in the door.Experience is a pretty big thing in theatre. Do the best you can to get lead roles in a variety of shows if you want to make your resume look good. Also, get an agent. Directors won't bother wasting their time with you if you aren't represented. Keep in mind that this is for big companies like Broadway and such. None of this applies as much if you simply want to be a local community theatre actor.Invest some money in a good profile picture from a great photographer. In addition to getting the traditional headshot, try to get an action shot, and if you can afford it, a variety of poses that reflect your different sides. Looks are a very important aspect of getting an acting gig. However, unlike theatre, being able to act is just as important. In film, bad acting is usually padded with music, lighting, and special effects. When you are live on stage, it's all you. There's no hiding that. This is where the 4 years of acting classes in college come in handy.And if you want to pursue a career doing musicals, then singing and dancing classes are a MUST. From my experiences, directors place higher priority on the singing rather than the acting in musicals. I have seen casts in musicals where more than half the cast are music majors instead of theatre majors. And a couple of others are dance majors. So while musicals are tons of fun to be in, making sure your program gives you plenty of opportunities for singing and dancing classes. Any reputable program should have those included as an option for those who want to pursue musicals. I'd recommend taking tap.<br />