What does podcasting have to do with acting on community stages? And why on earth would I start my first podcast with my biggest mistake? Give me a few minutes, and it should all become clear.
You’re listening to Acting for Community Theatre––a little show with big ideas, stories, acting tips, and a lot of heart for community theatre artists. I’m Barbra French.
When I started thinking about coming up with a podcast, I knew I wanted the episodes to be short and to the point, and I wanted them to help distill this massive thing that we call theatre into manageable pieces for actors, and for directors, too. I wanted to pop in, deliver good content that directly related to the subject matter, and pops out again.
At some point in my musings and research, a brilliant idea came to me: I would call the podcast French Scenes. Why? Because French Scenes are little bits of a whole play or an act, containing related subject matter and action, delivered between the entrances and exits of its characters. Using French Scenes is a way of making the story and action more clear and manageable. It was a perfect idea, and, since my last name is French…voila! A perfect match!
But once I started working with cover art and podcast descriptions, I realized that no one would ever understand what a show called French Scenes would have to with acting for community theatre. They were more likely to think the show was about learning how to speak French, or maybe even how to make, well, porn (with apologies to my listeners from France). No one who wanted to learn about acting would find it through searches. But I loved the name, and I loved that it mirrored what I wanted to do with the show, and I was not willing to give it up. Dammit.
And that was my big mistake. Because that title was for me, not for my audience. And this is where you come in, and thanks for waiting.
Because the same thing holds true for acting. Whenever I see an actor in a scene who has forgotten about his audience, it often comes across as self-indulgent. When I watch a scene with actors who are clearly playing with inside jokes, it shuts me out. When I take in a production where the director has not considered who her audience is at all, it leaves everyone confused, irritated and sometimes downright angry.
Art is not just for the artist. This is especially true in theatre, as it cannot exist without an audience. You can work on a monologue or scene at home all day long, but if no one sees it, you are rehearsing, not performing. The audience is like a scene partner; there is a unique symbiotic relationship––a very clear and palpable energy exchange––between actor and observer. And there is also an unspoken agreement between the two that both sides must adhere to if theatre is to be possible at all. For most kinds of theatre today––not all kinds––the audience must be willing to suspend their disbelief, pretending that they are peeking into something private, while at the same time letting the performer know that they are there watching. And the performer must be willing to pretend they he is doing something private, while at the same time trying to elicit a response from the audience, whom he is pretending is not there.
As an actor, you simply can’t afford to ignore or dismiss your audience, because what you do is, ultimately, for them. Just like what I’m doing for you, now. Yes, you should enjoy it; of course it should be rewarding, fulfilling…a pursuit of self-expression. Nailing a performance as an actor feels like flying, like you’re truly alive. But it only feels that way because you’re doing it for an audience.
This is also true when rehearsing. I remember when I was doing my master’s degree in directing, I was directing a show with the BFA acting students, and about mid way through rehearsals, I gave one of the actors a note––I can’t remember what it was––and he basically refused it, saying that he had decided that his character and his character’s mother had had an incestuous relationship. Now, this idea is nowhere in the script. At all, in either his lines or his mother’s or anyone else’s. So his idea was completely interpretive, of his own imagining, and it never until that moment been discussed in rehearsal. To be fair, the actor obviously was trying to dive deeply into the character and the relationships, in order to create a strong back story and raise the stakes. But this back story was for him, he enjoyed thinking about how that would change the relationship and make the subtext more complex. But it just got in the way. He could never communicate this idea to the audience, because it wasn’t anywhere in the text. His scene partners could not grab on to it, because it wasn’t in the play. All it actually did was prevent us from exploring other moments that were supported by the script and that didn’t follow him and his mother having a sexual relationship. It was a purely self-indulgent choice (which of course was not explored in rehearsal and not present during the performance).
Now, this may all may seem too simplistic, almost a truism, but it’s easy for actors to let themselves get a little lost in their characters at times, or to over think a back story or a line. Doing honest script analysis is a very useful and necessary activity, but being able to let all that go and explore is also essential. The trick is finding the balance and making sure that you never forget your audience.
In the end, I cut my beloved title and I changed it to Acting for Community Theatre to help people find their way here. Because this podcast isn’t about me, it’s about you.
So, here we are, about to go on this little journey together, exploring theatre and acting for community stages. I’ll also be talking to directors, as well, because directors: you need to understand the acting process just as well as actors do. And, in many ways, actors are the director’s audience, and if they can’t speak an actor’s language, they’re going to lose them.
I’ll make a promise now to never forget about my audience again, and hopefully you’ll find my mistake helpful with your own artistic process. I’ll continue to do this every week, providing tips and stories and my thoughts on what makes good acting and good theatre overall. While these little, mini podcasts certainly can’t replace an actual course on acting or directing––but I do have one in the works, by the way––they will hopefully contain useful information that you can take on board, while you’re on your own journey towards becoming a better theatre artist.
I am very excited to be doing these podcasts, and I hope they will encourage you to keep learning, growing, and honing your craft. If do you find them enjoyable or useful, please give it a like, subscribe to it so you don’t miss an episode, write me a review and share it around. Because that’s how we build an audience, and that’s who I’m doing it all for, after all.
So until next week, I’m Barbra French. Thanks for listening.
So, I’m only Barbra French until next week. Right…