Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Keeping It Fresh

Professional actors argue the merits of stage work versus film work. For my money, the former is a greater thrill because the actor wields a power denied on a film set.

In the theatre, no one is going to call "Cut!" Once that curtain has gone up there's no stopping a theatre actor unless, of course, a gunshot rings out and the President is suddenly dead.

In film the real power is in the hands of the director, cinematographer and editor. These three can shape, shoot and cut a performance to their liking.

The actor's benefit in film work is the afforded intimacy. What a luxury to speak softly or simply think one's way through a performance.

An excellent example is in the Kenneth Branagh-directed film of "Much Ado About Nothing." Branagh played Benedict to Emma Thompson's Beatrice and the twosome was able to whisper their quibbles in a manner impossible in the theatre without body microphones.

However, the power of a stage actor carries a price. Working in front of a live audience requires a trained voice, a healthy body and the ability to keep a performance fresh over weeks, months and sometimes years, as in the case of a successful Broadway show.

Keeping it fresh is a hard discipline. The ability to hear words as if for the first time and to react as if for the first time is a tricky business.

I've coached child actors on film sets, and when there are multiple takes for a series of angles the boredom can set in darn fast.

"Why do we have to do that again?"

The mournful plea of a small actor meant I would have to find an answer that made sense while steering them away from the craft service table laden with sweets.

By the time the Shakespeare Club actors were at their third performance, I could see a few were not only tired, but already working by rote.

"So, here's the thing to keep in mind," I said to the gathered group. "An actor has to always, always remember that someone in every audience is seeing a play for the very first time, and if we don't give them our best they may never, never come back."

They listened and they did give it their all, but were stymied by another reality.

The three o'clock performance was attended by some family members and also by a large group of after-school children, who had already seen the show earlier in the day.


No other way to put it.

All reasonable audience conduct disappeared and the gang of mop-tops gave a pretty good example of Elizabethan groundling-type behavior. They seemed to think, away from their teachers and in the hands of after-school personnel, they were free to shout at the actors and chat to each other in loud voices.


I felt terrible for the kids onstage, but they didn't stop. Oh no, they carried on with their work and any boredom on their parts disappeared as they fought to keep the show intact.


No other way to put it.

I want revenge when I always get in trouble and it someone else fault. And also when I have to risist the names that they call me in class.
Amaya, 5th grade

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