So you want to be a performer, right? You eat, sleep and breathe it, right?
Let me ask you a question. How many of the following statements could you apply to yourself?
I mean c’mon… at least a couple of those apply to you, right? Let’s be real- in high school this is
so many of us. We get bitten by the theater bug and it infects us with this incredible sensation
that we have never felt before.
So what do we do? Like Alice on her way to Wonderland, we fall deep down the rabbit hole. We
become OBSESSED. And that obsession is partly what makes us good at this. Our passion
drives us and fulfills us in a way that nothing ever has before. It is why we choose this career
But being obsessed with all things theatre/film/musical theater can only take us so far. Sure, it
gives us the ground work to be solid actors, singers and dancers. We learn from, and try to
emulate our heroes and it in turn makes us better. But it doesn’t take us to that next step.
So, what does get us to that next step? What helps us add that extra layer to our work that
makes people want to watch us on stage? Being interested in EVERYTHING. Science,
directing, history, stage design, math, art, arts management, politics… you name it!
Now I know you are probably scratching your head at this one. “How the heck does an interest
in any of those things make me a better performer?” Think for a second- if our job is to honestly portray a person in imaginary circumstances, it helps if we can put ourselves in their shoes. How do we do that? By being INTERESTED. By being curious in the classroom and in the rehearsal hall.
IN THE CLASSROOM
I know what some of you are thinking. “Joe- I got into theater so I could get out of the
classroom.” Believe me, I hear you. But stay with me. While you may not go on to be a
physicist or lawyer or writer, what you learn in class influences your art. Treat it all like
dramaturgy, like research for a play you haven’t been cast in yet. Because it will come in handy
some day. Tony Award Winning director Tommy Kail was an American History major. Think that helped him when he was working on “Hamilton”? Natalie Portman was a psychology major, giving her huge amounts of insight into how and why people act the way they do. TV’s Mayim Bialik has a PhD in neuroscience which proved to be useful when she landed on “The Big Bang Theory.” Edward Norton was a history major, John Krasinski was an English major… and the list goes on.
Now I am not saying you shouldn’t pursue an Acting or MT degree. What I am saying is be open to learning about as many different things as possible. That Art Appreciation class you are forced to take will bring new understanding to works like “Red” or “Sunday In The Park With George.” Your math class can bring new depths to your portrayal of Claire in “Proof.” The possibilities are endless.
Every person you learn about in school is another character in their own play. There are insights about who they are, how they operate, and why they created/discovered/did the things they did. I guarantee you that they will inspire your work in the future.
IN THE REHEARSAL HALL
“Collaboration is the biggest word in the theatre. It is the most important element in theatrical
success… if any man could write and produce and direct and act and play the music, shift the
scenery, design the costumes and in short, do everything that could be done on stage and come
up with what was literally a one-man show, he would still need one more thing: an audience.
You cannot get away from collaboration.”- Oscar Hammerstein II
Sometimes, the easiest trap that actors can fall into is just focusing on themselves. Which is, to
a degree, understandable. There is a lot to think about. You have lines to learn, choreography to master, songs to practice. It is A LOT. However we must always remember- the performer is
only 1% of a production. There are directors, stage managers, designers, crew members,
administrators, marketing members, and so many others that make a production successful.
You are only one piece of the puzzle. So learn about the other pieces.
Instead of sitting and chatting with your friends when you aren’t being used in a scene, sit and
watch how the director is putting the show together. Why are they staging something in such a
specific way? What themes or messages are they bringing across in these scenes? What
questions are they asking your fellow actors to think about? Or go talk to a designer. Learn how
and why the lighting was laid out, how the sound and light boards work, how a costume
influences an audience’s feelings about a character- learn all of it!
When you are interested in each language of the stage, and have even a basic level of
understanding of how and why each is working the way it does, your ability to collaborate will
grow exponentially. Which in turn, will cause your performance to deepen and reach audiences
in new ways.
So be interested in EVERYTHING. Take that super hyper nerd focus that we all share and
spread it out over more topics! The more interested you are in the world around you, the more
interesting your work becomes!
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