A performer once remarked that performing a show every night is like taking a boat out on a lake: it’s the same boat and the same lake, but the wind will take it in a different path every time.
It’s the same show, with the same group of actors, but every night there will be slight variations. As shows progress over long periods of time, it’s hard to notice the slight variations that can change a scene: a line is dropped, the staging might shift, the vocal harmonies might adjust. All of the variables can and will happen.
The maintenance of a show is important; once a show is set, the lights always hit where the staging is set. The music is set with the harmonies. Every line of dialogue is important to cue the music the lights or sound. Consistency keeps the show at a level of excellence, and even within the consistency there is room to create a unique path for every performance.
Audience members watching a show, often don’t know what goes on backstage. For every actor on sage there are murk ripe people working the set, lights and sound. And for every actor on stage there are understudies; and there are swings who know multiple roles.
It’s important for shows to have swings; these are the individuals who are responsible when not only a performer calls in sick or is unavailable. They cover when even the understudies are away. They know every line of dialogue, every armory of music for each character they know. Sometimes they cover up to 10 to 12 roles.
Imagine knowing 12 different storylines within one show. There are several differences and nuances to each role. To swing is to have a focus and a mindset that is nothing short of amazing. At a moment’s notice the swing gets called to go on for a role, and they need to perform it as if they do it every night.
Showing emotion on cue, as actors often have to do, is not always easy. Can you cry on cue? Or laugh, convincingly? How about reserving the emotion? The opposite is also true for performers: sometimes not showing emotion is more powerful than showing it.
I’ve often thought that sometimes performers who over-emote, or shows that embellish the emotional state of a character, can lead to indulgent performing. When a performance is about the performer and their feelings, it sometimes leaves the audience out of the experience. An example might be similar to an inside joke you hear, that you are not in on; The emotions have to land and make sense just like a punchline.
When the material becomes weepy, or self-reflective in a way that allows the performer to walk on stage, already in tears, what makes us care? What makes the audience want to hear this particular story. Every time the performer walks on stage, they need to entice the audience to feel, allowing them to have the emotional reactions.
It’s easy to get comfortable with day-to-day routine: go to the same places, do the same things. For performers, playing the same role in the same show, eight times a week for years can get comfortable. Which is why we need to brush up the material.
I’ve had he experiences in the past of working with performers who have lived with the material of a show for quite a while, some can feel a bit restless when we have had review sessions. I likened it to a wrinkled shirt: you live this shirt and wear it often. It gets wrinkled, so it needs to be ironed.
We walk the same track in a show, night after night. And like our favorite shirt, the edges can get wrinkled, we might forget the exactness with which we first learned the role. Better to iron out the wrinkles and keep it fresh in our minds.
Making eye contact is crucial to good communication. Where we focus projects our thoughts, our moods. It’s a fine balance; if we stare at someone for too long, it becomes uncomfortable. If we never make eye contact in a conversation it’s equally unnerving.
When working with performers, often we talk about where the focus lies; where are they looking? We have often heard, “the eyes are the window to the soul.” They convey our intentions. For performers who do not know where to look, or inadvertently dart their eyes from place to place, it leaves us confused.
Whether in real life or in a scene, keeping good eye contact helps create the moment. It’s like saying, “I’m here, I’m listening.”
It only takes one injury to take us out of our work. For dancers, a sprained ankle is enough to force them to stop dancing; likewise a bruised wrist leaves a pianist unable to play.
There is a difficult decision for performers when dealing with injuries: do you fight through the pain and continue, or do you remove yourself from the situation and recover? There are singers who, with vocal nodes or a sore throat, would rather sing through the injury, knowing they’ll need to see a doctor. If the performances are big enough and well-paying, it’s hard to turn down the work.
The question really becomes: how do you see yourself in your career over time? If you’re looking at the longevity of a career, dancing on an injury or singing through vocal damage is not a good idea; it’s hard to admit it when we need to take a step back.
Performers work so hard to get work, that once we have it, it’s nearly impossible to back away from it. But there has to be perspective to realize the big picture; is the risk of permanent injury worth performing through the temporary injury?
Conflict management is a theme that appears often when we talk about professional careers. In the performing arts, it’s often a matter of dealing with a variety of gigs, schedules, different bosses or managers; we’re working to get all the work done. The challenge is being able to go on stage and perform, even if the last thing you want to do is smile in front of an audience.
I heard an interview recently, in which a performer spoke on this topic; as performers, we are working toward an emotional response from our audiences. The music, the words, the dancing, all are directed at soliciting that response from the viewers. Often the performers have a variety of other feelings, and not necessarily the ones on display.
Being able to compartmentalize a bad day, or a frustrating situation, and go on stage with a smile and a song is a mark of professional performers. Hopefully the audience is unaware; and they should be. They’ve paid to see the performance, not see a performer who is having a bad day.
In any profession you’ll see those who are hired on merit, and those who, for some reason or another seem to always get the job, regardless of merit. We can blame it on nepotism, good looks, inside deals, office politics, actual politics. Whatever the case may be, it’s unfair. That’s real life, unfortunately. Anyone telling you otherwise is selling something, or looking to be elected.
I’ve noticed in the performing arts, a great deal of the hiring goes toward the outward appearance. Actors who are gorgeous and appeasing to the eye generally grace the screen and stage. We want to look at beautiful people. There’s no mention or attention to their talent as a performer; in fact they don’t even have to go to acting school.
But what happens if and when the looks fade? And what kind of career does an actor want: one based on their merits and work ethic, or one based on their looks. Granted, most hard-working actors and performers also are attractive. As performers look at their careers, they need to assess their training and diligence in their field; otherwise they rely too heavily on their looks, which as we all experience, are fleeting.
You’re so talented. You must be so talented to be able to perform. It’s all because of talent.
I’ve heard these statements before, and I appreciate the complement, like many performers have. And while flattery will get you everywhere, the talent portion of success is small. I venture to say, talent is about five percent, and perspiration is the other 95 percent.
Lots of people have talent, and lots of people have drive. It is a rare combo when the two coincide an individual. Talent can only serve you as far as you are willing to cultivate it and work toward your goals.
I should enjoy going to theatre more; lately I’ve been in situations where I’m surrounded by audience members who do not know how to view theatre. There are conversations, loud candy wrappers, and most noticeably applauding through a performance. Not after; during.
Friends don’t let friends interrupt a performer’s performance. I sat in a theatre where the performer sang her heart out. It was moving, it was gripping; it was interrupted several times by loud audience members cheering during the performance. I get it, it’s moving.
But when a singer has yet to reach the end of a phrase why are we applauding? Applause is to show thanks and praise. So are we saying: “thank you for singing half a phrase”? I recall when I was a child, watching a classical performance in which the pianist played a very complicated run. The audience applauded right through the middle of it. I was given the good advice from my father, also a musician, to wait, and allow the performer to finish the performance.
Unless you are watching American Idol (and I think we should wait until the end of the performances there, too), it’s polite to wait until the performer is done. The equivalent would be trying to complete a sentence, or give a presentation at work, only to be constantly interrupted. As performers we want the praise, we live for it; but please let us finish our work before you give it.