Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What I Have Learned from Doing (A Lot of) Theater

First off, I apologize for the delay. To make up for it, my post will be very, very long today.

For the past five months, I have had the privilege to be a part of the amazing, talented, and dedicated cast of "West Side Story" at Northfield High School. This was my eighteenth time performing in a live theater production. It was also my favorite. The connections made or made stronger throughout the course of this play were all incredible. After doing so many plays that I can no longer actually list them all (I just have a number in my head), I have learned a thing or two. Of course, many of the things I have learned have been things like "Face the audience!" or "Never question your blocking!" or "Aqua Net does not taste good!" but theater has also taught me about people, my potential, and about life. So, without further ado, here are the top five things that theater has taught me.

5) "You got it, or you don't." or "It ain't easy, but it is fun!"
"You got it, or you don't" is something you will hear a lot about everything from mathematics skills to fashion sense. In acting, you can either be talented (or have the potential to be talented), or else theater just isn't your thing. Regardless of whether or not you think you would be good at theater, I recommend giving it a try. If someone had told me at age nine that, because I did that production of "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" I would be looking at colleges and filtering them out on the Princeton Review by best college theater program, I would not have believed you. Many people see actors on stage and think "I can do that!" but, when it comes right down to it, few people can. Nothing about theater ever has been or ever will be easy. Until they replace us all with robots, actors will be working their butts off to put on that play you enjoyed for two hours. This is, of course, not to say that it isn't fun. Theater will always draw in people of all ages because of its ability to make you laugh or cry (more on this later). If theater isn't your thing, it isn't a big deal. I know kids who can do complex equations in their heads and I still get mixed up with negative numbers! What one person is talented at, another person may find incredibly difficult.

4) "I don't want to question the director's judgement, but..."
Never say this. Ever. I don't care if the director gave you a smaller part than you wanted of if he or she is asking you to dye you hair purple for a production of "Inherit the Wind". These words set off an alarm in my head. This alarm tells me to evacuate the conversation. Saying "I don't want to question the director's judgement" does exactly the opposite: it screams that you are, in fact, questioning the director's judgement. Sometimes, you won't get the lead. Sometimes, you will have to paint yourself green. Do you think that Indina Menzel said "I don't want to question the director's judgement, but do I really have to be green to play Elphaba"? Nope. Well, probably not. I doubt it. Newsflash: That's theater. Without an ensemble, plays, specifically musicals, would lose a lot of their pizazz. There would be no huge musical numbers. The most common line you will hear while doing theater is that "there are not small parts, only small actors". This is so true. If you only have three lines, but you deliver those lines with all of your energy and emotion, you will rock the house. If you give up saying "My part doesn't matter" you will suck. You will blatantly suck.

3) "This dress isn't really my style."
Ladies, this one is for you. You won't always be the pretty, delicate love interest. I know, I know. You wanted to play Sandy, but you got cast as her chubby friend Jan. You wanted to wear the sexy, tight, black jumpsuit or the adorable pink poodle skirt. Instead, you get glasses and fat jokes. Here's the thing. You may not be playing a beauty queen, but that's not the point of theater! You want to wear skimpy outfits, get stared at by boys, sing a pretty song, and stand around in stilettos all day? Go run for Miss America. Go ahead. I'll wait.

2) "Don't call us. We'll call you."
Harsh. But why didn't you get in? You sang your heart out in a song you and your voice coach have been working on for a year and you read for the part you have always seen yourself playing on Broadway! What went wrong? Honestly, it might be the way you are. As someone who has directed before, I can say that I have assigned parts to people who looked more like the character and who I knew could work to crush it on performance night. Theater is very, very visual. It could be what you wore, it could be your attitude, or it could be your hairstyle. There are so many different reasons why you might not get in. It really is best not to take these things personally. It may feel like they hate you or that people who are "less talented" (another phrase to avoid) got in, but, in reality, you just weren't what they were looking for. You may be perfect for Glinda the Good, but you might make a terrible Juliet Capulet. That's just how it is going to be. You won't get rejected every time, but you won't get accepted every time either. This is just something you need to let go. It happens.

1) "Thank you."
After plays here in Northfield

Theater gets into the gritty, raw emotion and essence of humanity in a way that is truly unique. The gift of working with a wonderful group of young people to convey a message of prejudice, love, and loss to an audience of hundreds every night for seven nights is something that I will always remember. I will be thankful this Thanksgiving for the opportunity to do what I love with people I love. Isn't that what life is all about?

Louisa, you did a wonderful job in "Little Women" this month and I hope you continue to shine.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


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