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.

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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.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Tonight I saw a production of the drama “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. Having recently read the book, I was interested in seeing how the play would compare. Not surprisingly, the plot varied greatly from that of the book, going so far as to introduce new main characters, including a love interest for the detestable Hyde (the book does not have a single female main character). Several of the scenes are reinvented to, I suppose, make them more interesting, tense, and exciting. But in my opinion, most of things in the play that were redone were redone to their detriment, and did not have the same impact as the book. The relationship between Hyde and his love interest, Elizabeth, seemed strange, almost nonsensical. Elizabeth, an attractive young lady, falls madly in love with the deranged, violent Hyde, despite the fact that at their first meeting he threatens to kill her. The “girls like bad boys” argument seems to fall flat; the only reason a woman would fall in love with a man, knowing he was dangerous, violent, and possibly murderous, would be that she too is crazy. Elizabeth is not crazy, so her obsession with the perverted and vicious Hyde seems illogical. After watching the play, though I did enjoy it, I could not help but thinking that some written stories should not be translated into different mediums. Whoever wrote the script to the play apparently deemed the original story too bland for production on the stage, and perhaps he was right, but his solution, to ‘enhance it’, obscures the simple elegance of the original story and makes for a stilted and confusing stage production.

“STRAYS”, an Original Musical

Although not technically an official college student yet, I’m taking more college credit hours than some of my friends who actually are in college, and I find myself seemingly busier and busier every week. So like any rational person, I decided to cut some things from my schedule.
Did I say cut? Sorry, I meant add. Add things to my schedule.
This past Tuesday there were auditions for a local musical called “Strays”, an original musical written by a couple of locals here in Sherman. The show focuses on the plight of stray pets that have been lost or abandoned. It is told from the animals’ points of views, so most of the characters are cats and dogs. It is written as a ‘dramedy’, with a serious message couched in comic songs and dialogue.
So, feeling as if I had nothing better to do, I decided to try out for it. I was cast in three roles: a Puppy, a Show Dog, and a Begging Dog. As the Puppy I sing a song which is basically about being a hormonal little dog, and as the Begging Dog I sing a verse in a song entitled “Least of These” about ownerless pets desiring to have a home. The songs are good, and I am excited to get to sing them, but that is not what excites me most about being in this production of “Strays”. What excites me the most is that I get to originate the characters, or ‘create’ them, if you will. Since it is an original production that has never been performed, the characters are completely and wholly mine, I have a thrilling amount of freedom as to what I can do with my characters. Obviously the directors/writers do have some say in the characters, but in this play more than others I have freedom to invent. Theater is about creating and being, and in this production I will have the most freedom I have ever had to create and be my character.

Playwriting

In the last year or so I have written or co-written several short scripts. Two of them, one that I wrote by myself and one that I helped write, were produced by a teen theater group I am involved in. The one I wrote by myself was about a news reporter who mysteriously went missing, and a loony detective who was hired to find her; the play ended unresolved, with nearly everyone in the play other than the detective mysteriously disappearing by the end. The other play, which I co-wrote, was about a burglar who accidentally stumbled into some play auditions, is duped into trying out, is cast, and then goes on to be a famous actor. Another I helped write was a re-telling of the nursery tale The Three Billy Goats Gruff. In our version the troll is really just lonely, not wanting to eat the goats at all, but merely wants to have a tea party with them.

All of these plays are obviously just silly little stories with hardly any real substance or important idea behind them. I believe that to be really good a play has to have meaning behind it, and that is what will make it great; none of the short plays I have written have been like that, but I do think it is possible to write a short play which has deep meaning behind it. I would like to try to write a short play which has deep meaning, despite its length.

Script writing is a unique process, different from writing a book or anything else for that matter. When an author writes a novel, he has to take his thoughts and ideas and make the reader see what they see through the language he uses. But when a dramaturge writes a play, he has to put his thoughts and ideas onto paper in a way that can be translated into a stage production, where people can actually see produced what the author had in his mind. In a sense, it’s almost like there is an extra step in the process of getting it from the author to the recipient. In some ways this makes scriptwriting easier; eloquent, descriptive wording and clever wordplay are not near as ancillary in a script as in a novel . But in another way scriptwriting can be more difficult; there is a very huge possibility that a playwright’s vision for his play can easily be lost in translation from script to stage. I think that playwriting and novel writing take different skill sets, perhaps even different mindsets. It’s like the difference between describing something to someone and explaining to someone how to describe something to someone else. By no means have I mastered the art of playwriting; I’ve not even scratched the surface, but it is something I find intriguing and want to pursue. Hopefully some time soon I will be able to write a script which is more than a fun, silly story, and post it.