Death of the Actor’s High

Last Friday I took part in a modern dance production entitled “An Awakening”, which outlined the biblical story of creation and redemption through recitation, song, and interpretive dance. As I have mentioned before, I don’t dance; the only reason I was part of this production was that I can sing, and the director needed an extra strong singer. So although I was really just there for the finale song, I was also in a couple of scenes as a dancer.

The most striking part of the experience for me was standing with a (good) microphone in my hand, alone on a lit stage, singing to a 1300-seat auditorium (the auditorium was empty at the time, but you get the picture). The moment I’m thinking of was not even part of the actual performance, it was in a rehearsal earlier the same day, but there’s something unique about hearing your voice fill up a huge auditorium. I’ve performed a lot; I’ve sang in front of several hundred people at a time, I’ve been the sole focal point of a scene, I’ve even performed on this particular stage before. But there is something different about standing on a huge, empty, brightly lit stage and singing out into a cavernous auditorium.

After seven years of performing, I have largely gotten over the novelty, excitement, and fear of being on stage. I’m not afraid to mess up and am not embarrassed when I do. Of the five auditions I have done in the last three months, I was not nervous for a single one of them. The fear-and-excitement-induced addiction to performance which many people feel when they first start performing- whether it be dance, music, or theater- no longer effects me much. The allure of the stage for so many is the buzz, the high, the bursting nervous energy felt before going on stage and the exultant euphoria felt after a successful performance. I don’t know if this happens to most people, but the more I performed, the less excited about being on stage and the less interested in it I became.

But six minutes alone with a microphone in an immense theater changed that. I felt something different, new, and exciting that I hadn’t ever felt in performance. There was a feeling of immensity (yes, while singing to an empty auditorium) that I had never felt before. Although I am little effected by the “actor’s high” anymore, I have found a new reason why performance is so darn exciting. It’s not nervous excitement that makes me enjoy being on stage; I enjoy it like I enjoy anything else: just because it’s cool.

Ensemble:

En·sem·ble (änˈsämbəl/). Noun. a group of musicians, actors, or dancers who perform together.” By definition, an ensemble is a group that performs together, and usually it is assumed that most or all or the members of the ensemble are no more distinguished than any other member. In a musical, to be part of the ‘ensemble’ is often synonymous with ‘background character’. To be assigned to the ensemble is like a death sentence to an aspiring performer who wants to distinguish themselves as an actor, singer, or dancer. The ensemble is not where most people want to end up.

But as many people know, ensembles are important, and can in fact accomplish things which a solo performer would never be able to do. An example of an ensemble that does something that a soloist could not is the a cappella group Pentatonix (I am sure there are better examples I could use, but this is the one that has affected me the most). Pentatonix would mostly be labelled as a pop group, but technically they are an ensemble. They do not have a specific “frontman”, or someone who is considerably more famous than the rest of the group. I chose Pentatonix as an example of why an ensemble can be so great because the five-member group creates affects and feelings from their arrangements that could never be achieved by a single singer. To go even further, I argue that if one of them was the frontman of the group, if they were organized more like a band and less like an ensemble, it would draw attention away from their music. Any time the frontman sang, the attention would be solely on him; but when there is no person as a focal point, the music is able to speak for itself, creating a choral effect where every note plays its part and no single part is blown out of proportion, diminishing the effect of the other parts and the effect of the music as a whole. If you want to know what I mean when I say this, go listen to practically any song by Pentatonix, and you’ll see what I am talking about.

Most performers have a natural tendency to desire attention and recognition on stage. This can be a good thing. A soloist can captivate an audience in a brilliant and unique way. But something every performer should learn is to move out of the spotlight. You are not the art; you are a vessel of the art. If you are not careful, you can get in the way of what you are trying to express. An ensemble is not a lesser plane of existence for a performer. Be okay with performing without being the center of attention; sometimes, that makes the performance come alive in a way it never could otherwise.

I Don’t Dance… But Apparently It Doesn’t Matter

If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s that if you perform it may be likely to lead you into another opportunity to perform you weren’t looking for. In the past few months I’ve been almost dragged into (not particularly unwillingly, but I would say dragged nonetheless) into several things that I did not expect to be a part of.

The most recent example of this happened yesterday. Two days ago was the final performance of the musical that I was in, “Strays”, and though I greatly enjoyed being in the show, I was elated to finally have some extra time in my busy schedule.

But it was not to be. The very next day after the show closed, a woman who I go to church with and who had seen “Strays” spied me at church and and asked me if I wanted to be in a production of The Nutcracker. She is a dance teacher and needed one more guy to dance in it, and, having seen me perform the night before, decided I would be a good fit. I’m not entirely sure how she came to this conclusion, because I did little to no dancing in “Strays”, really just singing and acting. I told her as much. “I don’t dance,” I whispered, but she replied with, “That is okay, you can do it. Rehearsals start today at one today, if you can make it. It is okay if you are late.”

Before I knew it I had agreed to come to that day’s rehearsal, and before the day was over I had entirely committed myself to the production, despite my lack of expertise in anything remotely related to ballet. The moral of the story is, as a performer you need to be versatile, or at least be able to fake it well, and be able to learn quickly, because you never know when someone might ask you to do something they think you can do that you don’t know if you can.