If you’ve taken any of my classes, you’ve probably heard this already, but here it is again.
It sounds very presumptuous to say that I hold here the secrets to ultimate success as a performer. However, I do profess to know the three key ingredients to every successful performer. If you learn nothing else from this blog, you MUST learn the three things absolutely necessary for success. Without them, regardless of how talented you are, you will fail. Guaranteed.
- Show up.
- Learn your lines.
- Don’t bump into the furniture.
Ah, it sounds so simple. Yet, there are people (I’m sure you know them- hopefully, you are not one of them) who think that any amount of talent, large or small, will exempt them from or protect them from these three rules. Ha. Let’s examine these very simple yet all-too-rarely-seen principles.
- SHOW UP.
Not show up late because you forgot to read the rehearsal schedule. Not miss a rehearsal for your cousin’s homecoming. Not go to the library instead because you forgot you have an essay due tomorrow morning. And CERTAINLY not skip rehearsal because you think you won’t be missed and you have something you’d rather do. SHOW UP and SHOW UP ON TIME. I tell you this, a director cannot rehearse an actor that is not there. Other actors cannot work with an actor that is not there. Audiences will not pay to see an actor that is not there, or who was obviously not there for rehearsals. If you think you can fool an audience when you are under-rehearsed, you must be the Second Coming of John Barrymore. Though even Barrymore was painfully obvious when he had been missing rehearsals.
ESPECIALLY if you are a girl, heed this warning. Guys are not in so much immediate danger, but don’t feel too secure. For every one of you with a role, there are at least 10 others who would give their right arm and the Homecoming crown for a chance at yours. If you are not there, chances are the director would rather use a living body that is there and ready to do what is needed than a very talented ghost. Don’t get into the trap of “oh, Mr. B. loves me- I’ve done all the leads so far. I’m a senior- she’ll understand if I’m a little busy. I’ll catch up just fine.” Even if Mr. B. does cut you slack in the senior play, or Ms. H. in the choir concert, or whatever, when time comes for letters of recommendation for arts colleges, they would be lying if they said you were reliable and dedicated. Even if you (by some cruel twist of the universe) were to skate by in college theater and community shows with the I-can-do-the-show-on-my-time attitude, your world will become a train wreck on the first day you’re late to your first professional gig. You will be fired promptly with no warning, and replaced within the hour. Now one can do what you do like you can do it, but anyone can do it better than no one.
- LEARN YOUR LINES.
Duh. Learn the ones the playwright wrote. Learn them in the order that they were written. Learn them before dress rehearsal. There are a thousand and one memorization techniques- I could write a whole separate blog on just that subject. Find one (or six) that work for you and start the day you get the script in your hot little hands. Even if you are a terrible reader- in fact, especially if you are a poor reader- if you work at least 15 minutes every day on your lines, you will be completely off book before the director demands it. You will be relaxed and confident at every rehearsal, you will be able to really work on acting without a book in your hand, and you will be an example and an inspiration to those working with you. You may notice, when you are not standing in rehearsal reading along and waiting for your cue, that there are PEOPLE on stage with you, and they are SAYING things that your character has an interest in! You may even discover (no promises) that there was someone on the other side of that script waiting to have an onstage relationship with you. Whaddaya know about that.
- DON’T BUMP INTO THE FURNITURE.
You may be thinking, “what in the world is she talking about?”, but listen to this. Actors and dancers are some of the clumsiest people on earth. I have spent years trying to puzzle out the whys of the phenomena, and I’ve come up with a couple of theories. One is that these are people who do best with choreography and blocking given to them. Walk here, turn here, stand here, 5,6,7,8. Without this guidance, left to his own devices, the stage performer is lost in a sea of set pieces and rugs that are not his own. This sometimes creates a great clash with the feet, which ARE his own. Another possibility is the constant switch from bright lights to darkness and back again simply have left the irises in a semi-opened state, which is impractical for sight in both places. Whatever the reason, it is a fact, and one that you must take conscious responsibility for, until the time comes that you are working in large professional houses with stage crew to guide you with flashlights, red flags and glow tape. Even then.
Walk the set. Walk it every night BEFORE you get into costume. Notice if anything is out of place, or in any way different from the night before. Stage management (if your show is fortunate enough to have such an thing) is not infallible, and things do get moved and/or misplaced. Walk through your scenes in the space, saying your lines however you like, just to feel it once every night in your body before you have the pressure of an audience and the adrenaline of the show. If you have ANY combat, even just a simple face slap, also walk through that with your partner before each show. It’s called a fight call, and it is required of union actors for safety reasons. If it’s important for them, it’s important for you.
If you have ANY safety concerns, bring them up with your stage manager or your director. In that order. If you are consistently having trouble in one spot with one move while carrying one tray, mention it IN REHEARSAL. Don’t wait until the night before opening when you finally miss that step you always just barely make. These things CAN be fixed, they SHOULD be fixed, and they WILL be fixed. Your safety is number one. If you do not feel safe, and you have legitimate concerns that you have taken to proper personnel and they are not addressed and fixed, refuse to do whatever it is until they are. Nothing is worth an injury, or worse, the destruction of a performance by a falling actor or falling set piece. At the non-professional level, you’re not getting a paycheck, so what can you lose? You will NEVER lose face for standing up for your personal safety. At the professional level, you are probably working with at least some union actors, who are in fact REQUIRED to stand up for safety issues.
If, after all this, you turn out to be just plain klutzy (which is just fine), I suggest that you start taking dance classes immediately. It could your true calling, and if not, at least you’ll be able to choreograph your entrances and exits. Can’t possibly hurt. Much.
Here is the bottom line. If you do not do all three of these things in every show (or at least really make your best effort- accidents and emergencies do happen), you will fail as a performer. Sorry. Talent just doesn’t cut it. These rules are the foundation of professionalism.