Tag Archive: Acting

Is there an ethical way to teach & make theatre?

The university where I earned my BA, Trinity Western, has just been approved to start offering a BFA in acting this fall and I’m very excited about this. I think it will do two things for the school: first of all, it will allow them the opportunity to expand their training and secondly it will, in my opinion, expand their credibility as a theatre education option in the Vancouver region. In preparation for this new program, Trinity hosted a two day session with the staff, faculty & a handful of former students to discuss what an ethical BFA program looks like and what sort of best practices will come into play there. I was honoured to be included in the sessions and was so pleased with the conversations that were happening.

In the six weeks since attending the two day session, I’ve had a lot of conversations with others about the direction TWU’s BFA is heading, and the people I’ve talked to are fascinated and encouraged that the conversations about these subjects are happening. Many theatre practicioners with whom I have discussed the goals of the program made comments like, “I wish someone had done something like that when I was a student” or “I am so glad someone is finally taking steps in that direction.”

While we talked about a lot of things those two days, one of the sessions that I found most interesting came out of the idea of power in theatre & teaching. The basic premise was that the system of theatre and of education often causes harm because of the power relationship between director/cast & teacher/student. Of course, this is true in all systems where there is an imbalance of power. The goal is to be professional about it, by which I mean to recognize the harm that you do despite your best efforts because of the system. It requires you to ask, “How can we avoid harm to foster healthy, creative growth?”

In a response to this, we spent time in small groups discussing times when we had observed or experienced harm being done and created from those conversations a list of things that would have prevented those situations from occurring.

Here is the start of the list that we came up with that afternoon:

Do not indulge in self-flagellation

Do not condone bullying because it furthers “art”

Do not push an actor too far to serve your ego or because of our idea of “art”

Do not be offended by an offer of help or if your offer of help is refused

Do not fight dirty or avoid disagreements or let disagreements fester

Do not avoid the responsibility to speak for fear of rocking the boat

Do not sabotage

Do not treat women differently from men

Do not confuse the role & the person

Do not disrespect any person’s role in the process

Do not fail to take responsibility for your choices & actions

Do not quash creativity

Do not triangulate

Do not use emotional manipulation

Do not disempower a colleague

Do not shame another

Do not disrespect your part of the contract

Do not evaluate by unclear criteria

Do not use theatre as an excuse for your inappropriate behaviour or being inconsiderate of others (ie “Well I’m just a theatre person, so…”)

Do not dodge scrutiny

Do not adhere to double standards

Do not disrespect process/judge too soon

Do not teach by humiliation

Do not think you have all the answers/the only answers

Do not ever speak in absolutes

Do not put your own personal artistic fulfillment ahead of the learning opportunities of the students

Do not use teaching as compensation for a failed theatre career

Do not create scapegoats

Do not justify undisciplined artistic behaviour due to wounded pride

Do not demand trust, it must be earned

Do not create a culture of mistrust

Do not contribute to a culture of defensiveness

Do not put anything before the student’s needs

Do not privilege one role above another

Do not contribute to a culture that divides “artists” & “technicians”

Do not step outside your scope of practice

The school is in the process of converting all of these into positive statements which will become a set of guidelines that they will hand out to all students, staff & faculty. I have a draft of this new document sitting in my e-mail inbox and look forward to spending some time reflecting on it and offering some further thoughts.

Can you think of a time where you saw or experienced harm being done in a theatre education or rehearsal situation? Is there a guideline that would have prevented it? Please share your thoughts in the comments. I will happily pass on additions to the university.

Lots of #10′s

This post is a follow up to 10 Things Actors Can Do To Get Off To A Good Start With Stage Managers.

Shortly after I posed the original 10 things post with the request for readers to add their own thoughts, a friend cross posted it to the forums over at SMNetwork.org.

There were a lot of comments over there and I wanted to repost them here because I think its really interesting to look at what these other stage managers wanted to add as their personal “number 10′s”.

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10) Remember that when the SM says “Could you please do xyz now please” they don’t really mean “could you please”, but rather “go and do this now. Thanks”… Could you please is just our way of being polite.

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Number 5 is my pet issue – Especially as I am currently doing crew scheduling. A call time of 10:25 means that you are to be onsite and in position ready to start at 10:25… It does not mean walk through the door at 10:25 in your casual clothes, get change, make a cup of coffee, have a quick chat and think about getting ready some time soon

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10)  Clean up after yourself.  A stage manager has a million things to do more important than picking up your half empty water bottles, but if you don’t pick up after yourself, they have to do that, too.  Want super-extra brownie points?  Pick up after other sloppy cast members, or remind them to do so.

I will always love and adore a particular actor I worked with two years ago.  We were in four different rehearsal spaces, sometimes all in the same day, and after a week of taking five minutes, every time we moved, to clean up water bottles and candy wrappers, I issued a lecture about respecting rental spaces, cleaning up after yourself, the fact that I would also like a break when we moved shop, but I can’t take one if I’m cleaning up their trash.  Out of a cast of five, ONE picked up his garbage, and everyone else’s from that point forth, AND asked if I needed help with anything.  I’d work with him again, on any project, in a flat minute.

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10) Do not tell me how to do my job. I’m a stage manager because I know theatre better than most, so the day that you want to tell me how to do my job properly, is the day you better be SMing a broadway production. PERIOD.

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Remember–when a stage manager asks you to do something, it is usually because a) you were supposed to do it anyway and forgot, b) he/she doesn’t want you to look like an idiot, or c) something is about to impale you. Bottom line: your life and ours will run more smoothly if you do  Wink

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10. The stage manager really does know what they are talking about.  If they ask you to do something, it’ll be for a good reason, so please just do it – it’s not a starting point for negotiation!

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10.  Please and thank you are the magic words.

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10) On the first day of rehearsal, take a moment to introduce yourself to the SM if you don’t know them already.  Remember that the actor only has a couple names to learn (of the SM team), and the SM’s may have as many as 100.  Also, please don’t be angry if we can’t remember your name and need to be reminded.  It should only take a day or two.  (Bribing us with chocolate or coffee will usually speed up the process Wink)

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10) Don’t lie. Stage managers are detail oriented, and they usually know when you’re lying (perhaps better than you know). I remember that your grandma “died” during the last show, so don’t try using that excuse for missing rehearsal on this show. I can check traffic conditions on my phone, so I know that’s not why you’re running late. I’m here to make things work. Tell me the truth and we’ll try to work out the problem

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10. Help out.

Just lending a hand makes you seem so much more hard-working in my eye.  Even if it’s helping sweep, volunteering to clean, or just asking (even though I don’t have anything for you).  It shows me that you’re aware and open to the whole show.

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10.  Tell me if you would like something preset a certain way.   Unless it is absolutely impossible, I will make it happen, but I cannot read your mind.  Until I hear otherwise, I set things up in what seems to be the most logical way to me, but I am not the one dealing with the props in the course of the show.  Speak up, and things will be as they work best for you each and every time.

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10. Remember Stage Managers are people too. We have feelings, bad days, and limits. While we may never let our personal life interfere with our work, understand that outside of rehearsal and performances that we have lives and other people we care about.

While I do hold a dear spot in my heart for my casts and creative teams, there’s only so many hours in a day to take care of everyone Wink

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#10. Introduce yourself to the Stage Manager.

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#10. Don’t be annoying at auditions. First impressions go a long way.

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#10. If the cast is going out after a rehearsal, invite the SM/crew.

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And there you have it folks – things that stage managers suggest in order to get onto their good sides, and to remain there.

10 Things Actors Can Do To Get Off To A Good Start With Stage Managers

Compiled with Travis Bedard of Cambiare Productions.

1. If you’ve never worked with the Stage Manager before? Don’t assume you know how they work

2. Remember that Stage Managers work in your interest. They don’t work for you

3. They don’t get you coffee, you should think about getting them coffee

4. Bring your own pen, pencil, & eraser. The Stage Manager’s are back up – not your first line of defence.

5. Be early. Early is on time. On time is late.

6. Take your own blocking notes. When you do it it’s for character and intention, the Stage Manager is taking them for visual picture and cuing – you can help each other, but one is not a replacement for the other.

7. Express gratitude. (When warranted.)

8.  When the cast goes out for lunch, invite the Stage Manager along. They probably will not be able to join you, but the invitation is nice.

9. The Stage Manager is three steps ahead of you.  At least.  Try to keep up.  (h/t  @lekogirl)

10.  Suggest the 10th item in the comments below.

The Return of Friday Arts Quotes!

After a hiatus, Friday Arts Quotes are back!

“Rehearsing a play is making the word flesh. Publishing a play is reversing the process.” – Peter Shaffer

“I began my talk by saying that I had not written my plays for purposes of discussion. At once, I felt a ripple of panic run through the hall. I suddenly realised why. To everyone present, discussion was the whole point of drama. That was why the faculty had been endowed — that was why all those buildings had been put up! I had undermined the entire reason for their existence.” – Tom Stoppard

“If you want to help the American theater, don’t be an actress, be an audience. ” – Tallulah Bankhead

Friday Arts Quotes

Whether I’m painting or not, I have this overweening interest in humanity. Even if I’m not working, I’m still analyzing people – Alice Neel

There’s no retirement for an artist, it’s your way of living so there’s no end to it. – Henry Moore

What works for acting works for life. To act brilliantly, to live fully, requires nothing less than the complete investment of your entire soul! What we do is holy! – Alice Saltzman

Florida Director Accidently Shoots Actor in the Head

Following so closely on the heals of December’s prop-knife accident, I was stunned to see another story of actor/prop negligence leading to serious injury. I take this as a reminder to triple & quadruple check all props before shows & rehearsals.

From the UK’s Gaurdian newspaper:

Real-life tragedy nearly struck at a Florida theatre on Monday night, when an actor fired a live gun at a cast member’s head.

During rehearsals for an amateur production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in Sarasota, the show’s director, Bill Bordy, shot 81-year-old actor Fred Kellerman in the back of the head at point-blank range, only to realize with horror that the gun he used was loaded with live ammunition. Luckily the shot only grazed Kellerman’s skull, and he was quickly released from hospital.

The incident occurred during the final run-through of the play’s last scene, in which George Milton shoots his friend Lennie Small to spare him a painful death at the hands of a lynch mob. The Smith and Wesson pistol had been borrowed from a fellow cast member in the Sarasota Senior Theater who had, it appeared, forgotten that it was loaded.

In his defence, Bordy told reporters: “I’m the actor, I’m the director and we’re running late, and without thinking I didn’t check the gun.”

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, dear Lord, no’. Luckily I was a lousy shot.”

The shooting comes only a month after the attention of the world’s media was seized by another theatrical near-disaster – albeit one that occurred several thousands of miles away, in Vienna. Actor Daniel Hoevels made headlines in December after cutting his throat on stage with what turned out to be a real blade. The city’s Burgtheater later admitted that the knife had been left out by a stage manager who had forgotten to blunt it; Hoevels suffered only minor injuries and was treading the boards again the following night.

For his part, Kellerman claimed the worst part of being shot was the loud bang, which caused him to lose his hearing momentarily, followed by a painful tetanus shot administered by nurses at the hospital.

The show went ahead on schedule just two hours later, with an understudy filling Kellerman’s shoes.

No charges have been filed, although police are still investigating the incident.