Bonding in Musicals – Theatre Thursday

wicked

Here’s a fun picture of the time I did Popular for a talent show thing in high school. In my defense, it was 2003-2004 and incredibly timely and not overdone at that point. Musicals!

I feel like sometimes when I write about theatre topics (especially some of the more serious ones like fear in theatre or auditioning for shows), the most important thing about why we do theatre doesn’t come across. Creating something is fun. It’s scary and exhausting and hard work, but it’s also fun. I find theatre especially remarkable because it is a collaborative creative experience, when so much creation is very solitary. Recently, someone commented to me they enjoyed doing musicals more than straight plays because they found that the cast bonded better during musicals.

Well, huh. That stopped me in my tracks. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a musical – I love them, but this girl does not sing, like to the point that when I have auditions that require singing, I sing Sing from A Chorus Line… wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, it’s been a long time since I did a musical but, in my experience, that actually is a pretty true statement. But why?

Is it because the rehearsal period for a musical is typically longer? (There’s so much more to learn – not just lines, blocking and motivations but choreography and songs as well!?)

Is it because choreography so often leads to touching each other? (Okay, that sounds creepy… I just mean that you need to get comfortable with each other pretty quickly because trust is important and… okay, you get it. I think.)

You know, I actually do think it has to do with the choreography and the songs. Not the touching or the time it takes, but the process of learning something together. Theatre is so collaborative but when you really think about it – only the actor learning the lines actually learns those lines. You can run your lines with your co-stars, they can help you, but at the end of the day it’s all on you. The way that we learn the things that are specific to musicals – song and dance? Those things happen together and they can’t be performed without each other.

But damn, what is out there for those of us who sing Buffy the Vampire Slayer songs because Sarah Michelle Gellar isn’t a singer either and they wrote the songs for her?

I’ve figured it out. Collective creation. Write a play together. Completely create something from the ground up. This is what my theatre company does and it’s amazing.

We may have a little project in store for the 2018-2019 theatre season and I’ll track the journey here. Watch this space.

Fear In Theatre – Theatre Thursday

First Theatre Thursday of 2018, ya’ll, and I’m treading onto some probably already well tread ground… fear. And Theatre.

You Mean Stage Fright?

Now, I don’t mean stage fright – I think most peoples’ minds immediately pop to stage fright when they think of acting, but it’s a totally different fear. “Oh my gosh, I could never do that, I’m so afraid to talk in front of groups!” you say. I hear it all the time.

Like a jerk (or like most actors), I’ve never suffered from that fear, though. At my day job, I take literally any opportunity to talk to the class… you need someone to give exam instructions? I’m your girl. And I’ll probably think I’m hilarious while doing it. That being said, I’m not going to pretend that I’m not nervous before I go on stage. Of course I am, even when I feel confident – I want to do a good job and I think when you stop feeling a little bit nervous about a big project, that’s when you stop caring about what you do.

Acting In a Play Isn’t Like Delivering an Exam Spiel Though, Is It?

You’re right, it’s not. I free-style my exam instructions like crazy, when I’m in a play we spent approximately 1-2 hours rehearsing for every minute that takes place on stage. Combine that with a lack of fear of public speaking, and you get nerves, but not fear… because all the big risks happened during rehearsal!

For instance, I’m in a show right now. (When am I ever not in a show, am I right?) Tonight was the first night that I put my script down and delivered my lines completely from memory. My script is my security blanket, I will hold it until the last possible second even if I’m not actually reading from the book in my hand. It’s a real crutch.

So, tonight I put the book down. And it was terrifying. I was anxious all day. Even though there was a support system – our stage manager had the script in front of her and I could say the word “Line” at any time, at which time she would tell me what line I had forgotten – I still didn’t want to do poorly. I didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of my well prepared colleagues who didn’t make the mistakes I made.

Obviously, I love to overthink things.

But I took the risk, I swallowed the fear and I did it. And it was fine.

So, What DO You Mean By Fear?

I may have tipped my hand by talking about taking risks in the previous section… but the fear in theatre is wrapped up in the vulnerability actors need to experience to be successful in theatre.

When you see an actor sobbing, screaming or laughing on stage, they truly go somewhere inside themselves that allows them to experience that emotion.

When you see a ridiculous piece of physical humour, the actor had to test out that physicality in rehearsal. They had to try something out, make a big offer and know that maybe this huge thing they were trying wouldn’t work. The thought might have crossed their mind that if it didn’t work, they would be embarrassed – or something deeper – in front of their colleagues.

No wonder actors drink right? J/k, j/k. (Maybe not j/k…)

In a good rehearsal hall, you take the risk. You make the big offer and if it doesn’t work, you make another big offer and keep trying until something works. It doesn’t matter because you know your colleagues are right there with you – you will just all keep working together to make the show amazing.

I’ve been lucky enough to always be in good rehearsal halls.

Ophelia in Shakespeare's Heroines

I’m In a Play – Secondary Cause of Death – Theatre Thursday

secondary cause
(Caption: This is the face of a girl who slept for four hours during the daytime on Tuesday because she was sent home from work, and went on to kill it at the theatre that night. This is the magic that theatre does.)

I’m in a play!

Let me be real here – this is not a review for the play that I am in. Mostly because I think the show is pretty great but it is nigh impossible to be objective about a play that you are in. This also isn’t really an advertisement or promotion for the show that I’m in – I’ve been doing a ton of that on social media, even including a “tech week selfie” game with Claire since we always seem to manage to be in tech week at the same time. So, what is this? I guess it’s really more of an ode.

I can’t remember the last time I was so thrilled to be in a play – maybe when I did Scorpio Theatre’s world premiere of Blood of the Red Queen, had a role rewritten for me and knew that I was a part of something that was going to just take off? I don’t know… I’m always pleased to be in a play and I always love it (otherwise I wouldn’t do it), but this time I’m just thrilled.

Part of it may be that I was asked to step into this show to fill a role once they lost an actress after rehearsals began – I hadn’t met the director before so I did do a bit of an audition, though nothing like the ones I’ve written about before – and it’s always nice to be needed/wanted.

Another part of it may be that I’m really getting to stretch myself as an actress. I am playing the type of role that I often get cast in (lovely and graceful) but the process hasn’t been “easy” by any means, and I appreciate that. I swing towards bubbly when I act and I’m playing a character who is on the older end of my age range so there is absolutely no room for bubbly. The show also takes place in England in 1939 (and is very British murder mystery in feel) so accents are imperative. I went to U of C, I haven’t learned accents! But I can do one now…

I think the biggest part of it, though, is that I just feel like such a part of things doing this show. I am a shy person by nature (which people always seem to mistake for my being a bit of a bitch and not just rampantly socially awkward) but everyone in this show has just made such an effort to make me not feel like the “new girl” since Day One. There is a camaraderie in the dressing room that I haven’t actually felt since university (other than during Full Circle Theatre shows, but that’s really just me gathering my friends together and going “let’s make a play!”) and I love it, even when I just sit quietly and listen to everyone else. I absolutely trust every person on that stage to pick me up and save me if I forget a line. (Oh gosh, that better not happen… knock on wood!)

I’m in a play. And even though I am going on vacation the day after it closes, I’m going to miss it when it’s done.

If you would like to see the play that has inspired such gushing from me (and hear my sparkling dulcet tones), Simply Theatre’s “Secondary Cause of Death” runs until October 1 and tickets can be purchased by calling 587-575-656 or by visiting http://www.simplytheatre.ca Come see it. It’s worth it. (This is not a promotion, I’m just happy.)

Yep, I’m an Actor – Theatre Thursday

You know when you have to introduce yourself to new people and find a clever way to sum yourself up so they understand what you’re all about? No? Just me? There’s a very real tendency when we meet someone new to immediately ask “What do you do?” as if that defines them as a person. And I know for some people it does – some people have jobs that they’ve been working towards for their entire lives or where they do something they absolutely love. But I know that for myself, even though I love my day job, it gives very little insight into who I am or what I love… there are so many different personalities and types of people who work my position.

So? When people ask, I generally tell them that I am an actor. (Or occasionally a theatre artist, but you’ve really got to read the room on that one because it can sound a little snooty-patooty if you don’t nail the tone.) Being an actor is such a part of my identity and knowing that I am going to keep theatre in my life even while everything else fluctuates and changes has been such a touchstone for me. However, I struggle with this because 9 times out of 10, people don’t actually know what being an actor is all about and they immediately jump to questions that they mean to show genuine interest like “Oh, what movies have I seen you in lately?” But if I don’t identify as an actor, I find that people don’t appreciate how big a part of my life acting is and how much it defines me… I once had an ex-boyfriend say to one of his friends “Oh no, she’s not actually an actor. She doesn’t do it for a job, it’s just her favourite hobby”. (By the way, ouch. And when you are dating someone who doesn’t get you on a really core level, you should probably get out way earlier than I did.)

Anyway, I know that the “What movies have I seen you in?” question comes from a place of kindness and also from a lack of knowing. Everyone knows Hollywood, not everyone knows about all the other levels of acting that are out there. I figure it’s time to put my fancy education degree to use instead of just complaining when people ask totally logical questions because they just don’t know any better. So, my newest series in “Theatre Thursdays” is going to be a casual exploration of what all is involved in being a non-professional actor in Calgary – at least what’s involved in it for this girl.

What Pushes Are We Wenches Driven To?

I’m going to kick off this whole series by talking about four different shows I’ve seen in 2016 that I can use to demonstrate the different types of theatre companies that make up our diverse and exciting theatre scene in Calgary.

Theatre Calgary – The Little Prince
Little-Prince-poster-17th-Feb
The most recent show I saw at Theatre Calgary was actually Bad Jews, their currently running production, but for fairness to the other companies I want to talk exclusively about shows that are already closed. Little Prince had a huge cast. It had high production values with bikes on stage, a lamplighter performing a “ballet” in a giant wheel and more actors playing roses onstage than you could fill a bouquet with. I don’t know if you remember The Little Prince the book, but it was super weird and this world premiere musical stage adaptation was equally weird. But it was kind of awesome to see Theatre Calgary do something new, even if it didn’t quite land for everyone. (I personally had some difficulty understanding everything that the Little Prince sang in her lyric soprano and the plot was a little thin… but the great thing about theatre is not everyone needs to like everything about everything they see.) Professional theatre companies often have to walk a fine line between putting on shows that will appeal to their subscriber base, shows that will bring in a wider and newer audience and shows that will challenge their team to do something different artistically. Sometimes all these shows come together in one!

Other major professional theatre companies include: Vertigo Theatre, Alberta Theatre Projects, Theatre Junction, One Yellow Rabbit

Ground Zero Theatre – The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook
Boy's Own Jedi Handbook Poster
Ground Zero Theatre is actually also a professional theatre company, but it is smaller than those in the first category. The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook is a contemporary script, written by Canadian actor and playwright, Stephen Massicotte and the production starred a small and rampantly talented cast of four actors (most of who played more than one role). The set was minimal but innovative, relying on projections, acting and many neutral but easily transformable boxes to set each scene.

Budgets may be smaller for these smaller, newer professional companies but like we were fond of saying in university “constraints facilitate creativity”. The smaller professional companies also often do not have their own performance spaces, instead renting various spaces around town for their shows. They also may have shorter runs. For example, The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook was performed in the Vertigo Studio Space and only ran over two weekends… the end of the run actually snuck up on me and I ended up seeing the closing “night”, a Sunday matinee. Most of these companies do have their own rehearsal spaces, though.

Other examples of smaller professional theatre companies include: Downstage Theatre, Sage Theatre, Verb Theatre

Simply Theatre – She Kills Monsters
She Kills Monsters Poster
She Kills Monsters was truly community theatre at its best. A group of talented people were brought together and put on a show – some with post-secondary training in theatre, some fresh out of high school, some who just love the stage. There were incredible performances and earnest performances and both shone. There is a stereotype floating around out there that community theatre is a lot like “Waiting for Guffman” or full of wannabes who “couldn’t hack it”… this stereotype could not be more untrue. The people who do community theatre are passionate about what they are doing, work hard and put out some solid productions. Calgary even has its own awards ceremony for community theatre, the CAT Awards.

Oh, and if you follow that link to the Simply Theatre site for “She Kills Monsters”, for set design it says “hehehe… yeah right!!”. That’s not inaccurate… sometimes you run into budget constraints and you have to focus your resources on building a Beholder and some crazy awesome dragon heads. It’s all good.

Other examples of community theatre companies (specifically ones that I’ve worked with) include: Morpheus Theatre, Scorpio Theatre, Workshop Theatre

Theatre Transit – Basically Twins
Basically Twins Poster
There a bit of a nebulous area between community theatre and professional theatre that I’ve been proudly referring to as “Indie” theatre ever since that was the term Scott Roberts used while we held auditions for Full Circle Theatre’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream back in 2012. Young and upcoming theatre artists band together to create their own work and opportunities while they work to “make it” professionally. Theatre Transit is a great example of “indie” theatre – Basically Twins was a one-night only improvised show created by sisters and artists Carly and Anyssa McKee and last year they put on the show that put Mindy Kaling on the map, Matt & Ben – rad, right!?

Generally speaking, actors/artists doing indie theatre don’t get paid (though that is always the end goal once the bills get paid) and they do new or little known shows – often collective creations – or they may take a classic script from the public domain and put their own twist on it. It’s a ton of fun. Also, lots of the smaller professional companies in category two started as indie companies so…. You do the math. 😉

Other indie theatre companies include: Chromatic Theatre, Major Matt Mason Collective

A couple notes: This is not a remotely comprehensive list of theatre companies in Calgary, you can check out Theatre Alberta for that. Also, this is a pretty opinion-heavy list and your mileage may vary – you may stick a company that I put in one category in a completely different one. No judgement intended for any of the examples I spoke about, I am just so thrilled that there is so much theatre in the city I live in. I blatantly stole poster images from the official theatre company websites so please do follow the links for more information and to see some awesome upcoming shows. And I pretty much exclusively do shows that fit into the third and fourth category right now, but we’ll talk about that more on a future Theatre Thursdays.