Putting a Face on Theatre
I started out as an actor -- and I'm willing to bet that most people in theatre do, if just because you get onstage and sing or perform long before anyone wants to trust you around electricity or circular saws.
But after a certain point that changes (maybe). You realize there are more things happening around you and start to gravitate to them. Your world opens up to more possibilities, and you start learning about them. Sometimes that happens more than once -- I'm having to read about non-profit board structure and formation now, which is something I never thought I'd have to learn before.
When did that happen for you? At what point did you stop doing one thing in theatre, and start doing another? What happened? What made you want to try something new?
I'll start ...
Not only did I start out as an actor, I was convinced I wanted to be one. I wrote, too, I was always writing -- but I was convinced that acting was my calling and so I quit college and moved to New York City to live the dream. After about a year in New York City taking classes, I got a critique from an acting teacher at the school I was attending. He said I should stick with it, he could see a spark in me.
Looking back at it, I suppose I should have been grateful, he was giving me a compliment, right? But at the time I was indignant. A spark? A SPARK!?!?!?? I had been taking acting lessons pretty much my whole life, and had quit school to be an actor. There had damn well better be more than a SPARK if I wanted to get anywhere. I got that critique just before a term break, and I decided to take some time off from classes. So I stopped acting. I kept my internship at a theatre company, and started working more with computers and writers.
During this break from acting, I decided to do some independent study, so I read Uta Hagen's "Respect for Acting." And I was bored. I was bored by the book, and I was bored by the exercises she suggested. They seemed so tedious, so nonsensical. And I had enough wisdom in my brain to think: Huh. Either one of the greatest actresses of the century is *completely* wrong about what acting is, or I am. It's probably me. So maybe I shouldn't be acting?
Meanwhile I kept writing. And writing. And writing. And I imagine I will no matter what else I end up doing, I probably will keep writing. In fact, it was my writing that led me to have to learn about board formation.
So that's me! What about you? When have you taken a left turn in your theatre path? When did you decide there was something other than acting? Or something other than lighting? When did you change course in theatre, and what brought it about?
Great piece Jacob -- I have a similar story on a much smaller level ... in high school, out of the box I got the lead comic role in a big music as a freshman beating out the senior star who would go on to be a professional. I killed in the part, but that was it ... from then on out it was "Bald Guy No. 3" type parts save for one last good speaking role in the wonderful Jabberwock.
Meanwhile I drifted backstage where for reasons beyond me, I was really good with putting sets together. From there it was writing, all kinds of writing, though I'm always drawn back to writing ... hearing stories of my aspiring New York bound acting friends I could never do what they do/did -- so I'll always first see plays as a written work and as a piece of technical theater before I ever say, "I could have done that part better!"
I too started off an actor. I was acting in Shakespeare Camps in the Kansas City Area. When I got into High School, I got my first call back for "The Nerd". However, I did not get a part in the show. I started building sets not knowing how to use a drill. As my High School Career continued I became more and more involved in the technical side. First by building sets, then in painting, finally by my Sophomore year I was into lighting shows. Junior year I Stage Managed my first show, "Mousetrap" by Agatha Christie. I fell in love with the position and fell in love more with lighting as I was able to work on dance shows.
Currently, I am at William Jewell College studying Tech Theatre and History. Last semester I played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. The first time I have acted since early High school. I love the technical side of theatre more than acting. Though my start did come acting and not getting casted in a show.
Thanks for the reply, Taylor! I hope you had a good time as Juliet, and glad you like the SM position! It's a hard thing to do well, but very rewarding. Do you know about the SM mentorship program through USITT? Check it out here: http://www.usitt.org/content.asp?pl=515&sl=515&contentid=545
Wow, I haven't been on in a while, but this is an interesting discussion.
Theatre for me is constantly changing - demands, priorities, exactly how much or little I'm interested in doing, etc.
I was a would-be musician, primarily. Not a good one, but I sang and played in a band, up until my senior year in college, really. But as a Freshman at a small college, away from home in a dorm room with very little to do, I followed my roommates over to an audition for "The Front Page". Obviously that's a show that can use as many men as come out, so I got a part.
I think they cast me as Earl Williams because I was small and skinny and I could fit in the roll-top desk.
At any rate I was hooked, and I think I spent probably more time at the theatre than I did at my dorm room and all my classes combined. Although I did act in a lot of the shows, I was more comfortable doing tech and administrative work, (which is essentially what a producer of a college play does.) I was tech director for two years and Vice-President of the club for a semester before graduation. Junior year I tried my hand at Directing and loved the challenge to create and communicate what I was thinking, and Senior year I ended up directing my own short play, which I refer to as a "philosophical fantasy fever-dream" called "Not Insane". (My very unprolific writing tends toward the poetry-monologue style.)
As that heads toward 40 years ago I've realized that I've really only had a couple of short periods when I wasn't doing theatre, and those brief times were because the outside pressures of life, career and health got the better of me. Burn-out, in other words.
Each time I took a break, I attributed some of the burnout to the stress of responsibilities such as sitting on a theatre Board of Directors, Producing, (much more complex and demanding in community theatre than in college,) and Directing, which is a huge time commitment. Every time I swear I'm just not going to produce anymore, or sit on any more boards, but I always end up doing those things again.
I'm sitting here at my desk, working from home, but taking a short reprise to try to catch up socially, and for the last 8 months or so I've had almost no desire to even see a show, much less do one. When will I decide to venture back? What will I decide I'm willing and not willing to take on? I have a weekend of committee meeting next week, and I'm going because I made the commitment to be there, and because it's a really good excuse to drop work for a few days. I'm questioning now if I should stay out my term until June? The answer to all of these questions is: "I don't know."
An interesting topic I think of often. If you start young it's rare to go directly to tech. Kids know acting, they've never heard of all of the other stuff. I was that way too, acting through junior high school and into high school. I was in the cast of a local children's theatre production and really doing quite awful, the only time I had ever had this struggle. My heart just wasn't into it. Well, I missed a rehearsal that I swear to this day I never knew was scheduled. I was kicked off the cast and put on running a spotlight. I loved it. I was hooked that day and wanted to become a lighting designer and I have never looked back. Everything came together for me that week and I'm grateful for it. Lighting design has fed my family and put a roof over our heads.