You’ve probably heard the wonderful little earworm, “It’s a Small World.” By the mere mention of it, I guarantee you’ll have it stuck in your head. Sorry. It’s true. I’ve even heard New York City described as an overgrown small town. Living here, I’d have to say that is also true; in a city of millions, you run into the darndest people.
When we work together, and sometimes don’t always work together, it’s tempting to think “I am never going to work with _______ again.” I love hearing declarative statements like that, realizing that as much as people want to say that, or believe it, it’s not really true. We will all work together again, on the next project. We need to continually figure out how to be diplomatic and coexist with each other, artistically and otherwise.
We are emotional beings, and particularly in the performing arts, emotions run deep, shallow, and everywhere in between. When we think or say ‘never,’ the chances are that’s never going to happen. We bump into people we ‘never’ thought we’d see at auditions, or on the subway, or just in life. We can hope to avoid people we aren’t terribly fond of, but the fact is, it’s a small world after all.
How do you know if you love what you do? Do you spend your time complaining about it, or boasting about how wonderful your life is? Perhaps either are too extreme. Maybe we don’t want to whine and drag our friends and family down in woeful monologues about the work we don’t enjoy, but neither do you want to hear from others just how positively everything they do is wonderful and life is bliss. Exaggerations all around.
We talk ourselves to the truth. Often the more we talk about something, our lives, our dislikes or desires, the more telling that is of what we truly want to be doing. How often do we talk about that “dream job” or “what I’d rather be doing”? When we talk about “someday” it’s easy to feel like it’s some far off place in time, not today or tomorrow. But then it’s good to check in with where you were six moths or a year ago, to remind yourself of the progress you’ve made in your profession, and skills.
Bottom line: you gotta love what you do. There comes a point of realization that for most of life, we are working. And hopefully that work is something to be enjoyed. As many have said about the performing arts, it’s the field you enter when there are no other options. When you cannot see yourself in any other professional field. And hopefully whatever career path is chosen, it’s one that is fulfilling and enjoyable.
When we talk about ourselves as performers, artists, entertainers, we need to know our strengths as well as our weaknesses. We talk about our strengths, styles, likes, but hopefully try not to expand upon or highlight the parts of our abilities that might appear weaker than others. Whether in an audition or interview for a gig, we are advertising ourselves as the commodity.
When we talk about “selling ourselves” it can quickly sound uncouth, or tacky. But in reality as performers, we are the product. Singing, dancing, acting, musical abilities, etc. are all in the package that is you as an individual. There is a fine line between undercutting ourselves, and overselling or boasting about our own talents. Where that line is for each of us, is an individual one.
I’ve experienced, as many colleagues have, of saying something to get the job, then realizing it is not the perfect fit we thought it to be. When we say we can do the job, or say it’s in our wheelhouse, there should be the self-awareness to know whether the gig is truly in the wheelhouse or not.
What makes a good leader? Is it stomping feet and yelling, instilling the fear of God, hoping beyond hope that the followers will be scared into success? When you imagine a director, music director or choreographer, someone in a leadership position in the performing arts, do you imagine the uncompromising focus of a visionary leader? Is it someone who demands their way or the highway? Do you gain respect if they scream and insult, or do you lose it?
This is all too common the topic of method for leaders. I’ve been both a leader and a follower. I’ve felt the moment as a leader and follower, when the wrong thing has been said, or emotions have taken over, losing the focus of the ensemble; that instantaneous moment when the confidence of the room, and the people in it, is lost. Live and learn. I’ve personally never had much luck with throwing chairs or insults at a choir or a company of theatre performers. Yet it does happen.
And the most interesting aspect of the power to lead is this: those that don’t have power, or the confidence of their followers resort to loud, aggressive tactics. Those few who are well established and confident in their own abilities, lead with that confidence. They exude the qualities they want in their group; and in turn their company of performers are inspired by the example. If something is not working, then a different approach is needed. But as the tried and true statement shows, you’ll get more flies with honey, than with vinegar.
Chances are if you’re performing in school or in professional settings, you will have to consider how to program your performance. I find this more common with classical recitals than perhaps musical theatre; but if you find yourself performing outside a usual musical production, you might have to consider the repertoire and the order.
Anyone who has programmed will most likely have an opinion about it. Some performers prefer alternating from fast and slow songs, a set of comic and a set of dramatic songs, and so on. If you’re planning a theme, that usually helps the audience know what to expect from the evening. If it’s your solo cabaret club act, there’s consideration given to the pacing and timing of the material. It doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion from a director.
You might want to consider how each song feels both in mood and your own stamina. However a concert, cabaret or recital is programmed, it should feel good and comfortable to the performer(s), which will make it a success in performance with an audience.
Everyone working at creating theater is looking for that undiscovered story. That piece of narrative, whether it’s a play, book, movie, that can be retold, adapted into a musical. This works on various levels, with various degrees of success. ‘What’ the story is matters, but what I find interesting is the ‘how’ of the story.
How is the story told? What elements are used, and what framing devices are employed? Recently I had a conversation with a colleague, discussing a musical; although the subject matter was somewhat engaging on its own, it was how the story was being told that was intriguing.
The director has sway in the how. If it’s a revival, or an older work, say Shakespeare, how is the play being presented? Is the play told in a different time period, or in a unique setting. Is that effective? This question of ‘how’ can be applied to any performer from an audition to a full production. How are you playing the role? How are you telling the story?
If you are able to put off procrastinating even when it seems like the best course of in-action, I applaud you. It seems we all have the desire at one point or another to put off that which we need to accomplish. The music to learn, the script to read, the homework that needs to be done.
What can make the procrastination even easier, is having an excuse. I’ll get it done when I know what I need to do. I’ll finish that project once I hear back from the other person. I had this very situation: waiting for someone else to follow through before I did anything. Sound familiar? It made perfect sense to me at the time; I cannot move forward until I hear from someone else.
Waiting for permission can be deadly to forward momentum. When you’re looking for a reason not to follow through, there are many readily available. And it’s easy to come up with excuses. Rather, avoid the avoiding, and get to work. A little bit everyday, on whatever passion or project you find yourself devoted to, can put off the procrastination.
Students want the chance to prove they know what they’ve learned. When we study performance in voice or acting, in music or dance, taking the audition, taking the competition is the opportunity to test our goods. Having a teacher is helpful, particularly in deciding which auditions and competitions to go after.
There comes a time when students must go on their own, not always with the teacher by their side; it’s a step in the process of becoming your own artist. We never out grow learning, or seeking a teacher’s advice, but we often feel like we can audition and perform without the teacher’s blessing.
This seems to be a grey area for many performers, particularly young performers. When they go for the audition without first discussing it with their teacher, it may cause tension; teachers often want to guide the young performers by making sure they are well prepared for the auditions. And it shows respect and consideration by having the conversation with the teacher, before going out on your own. And teachers can help make the audition a success by giving their wisdom and experience, as well as their support and encouragement.
Everyone has a story to tell. And like the cop in one of the countless TV police shows, who gets taken off the case, we can sometimes lose perspective because we “get too close.” When the stories are personal and our own, we can identify with them, no matter what. More often than not it’s that ‘closeness’ that inhibits the storyteller from inviting the audience in.
I’ve had the good fortune to work on new musicals in their various stages. From readings, to full productions, they are like growing children. Some new musicals are so specific, and at times dependent upon the author’s experience, they can become unrelateable. It becomes difficult understand the importance or relevance of the story, unless you are the author, or someone with a similar background.
That is perhaps why we are told to make the stories simultaneously specific and universal. I think about musicals like Fiddler On The Roof. It’s incredible, go see it. I was reminded of it’s importance and relevance, because the story transcends the specific characters, time and place. It’s not just a Jewish story, although for many it can be that. It is about Tradition, as the opening describes. It’s about a way of life, a change in life; it can mean so many things to a vast audience all at the same time.
I often wonder about musicals that turn to teaching its audience about their message, instead of allowing them to feel the message. When we connect to the characters, we are impacted by their journey. It seems when an author puts their agenda before the story, audiences are quick to feel like they are being told how to feel about the story.
If you’re flipping through channels, or deciding what to watch on Netflix, you get to decide to watch whatever you want. And if it doesn’t hold your interest, you can change the channel. If we don’t understand what we are watching, or want to take a break, we simply pause the program.
That’s not how live theatre works. And unfortunately, it seems, many theatre-goers feel the same rules apply as at home: talking, texting, eating, drinking, and in one instance an audience member got up demanding that they “change the channel.” Crazy as that sounds, there it is.
What does it say about the state of the arts, culture and performance, when we cannot sit quietly and experience a performance? We should laugh, cry, and have an emotionally changed response to performance. I’ve sat in the seat, anxious because the person next to me won’t stop humming, or a couple is talking, giving their play-by-play comments like sports announcers.
I wonder if we are becoming more disconnected and unable to engage, without distractions, or if this is business as usual. Can we silence our cell phones, and our thoughts to really pay attention to a performance?