Theatre has a reputation for being a rather egotistical art form. After all, a great deal of personal investment goes into creating a piece of art. Actors, directors, designers, and musicians are all sharing their craft. There’s never enough time or money, and so theatre demands that we give more of ourselves. It is completely reasonable to say that blood, sweat, and tears go into getting a play on its feet. It’s no surprise, then, that ego comes into play. It’s your talent, your work, and your name in the program. Since most theatre artists don’t take home a million dollar paycheck once the show opens, the payoff comes from applause, reviews, and other forms of personal recognition.
It is important that each artist been seen and acknowledged for his or her work. So often, while we’re in the midst of the stress and excitement of putting on a show, we forget that our individual investments are part of a greater whole. We are, in fact, all on the same team, striving to create something that is bigger than each of our singular pieces. After a rehearsal last night, I couldn’t help but think of this classic musical theatre scene:
In that charming, high stakes way that musical theatre holds the patent on, this scene from 42nd St perfectly captures my point.
“Even if you don’t give a damn about me, think of all those kids you’ll be throwing out of work if you don’t do this.” It’s not about the producer and it’s not about the star. It’s about all of the actors in the chorus who are dying for a tiny piece of the pie. Everyone’s energy is connected on stage. If one person decides not to invest on a given night, every single person in the production is effected. You might not feel like giving it your all that night, but those kids in the chorus need you to. Some nights, it’s hard to get energized for a performance. That’s life. Maybe it’s been a long day. Maybe you’re sick. Maybe you’ve had some bad news. Those are the nights when you don’t do the show for yourself, but you do it for everyone else on stage who desperately needs your energy in order to create their own performances.
“Think of the songs that will wither and die if you don’t get up there and sing them.” One of the things that I’ve always found most special about the theatre is that it’s a live art form. The text and the songs are written, but until actors get up and say or sing the words out loud, they don’t truly exist. Without life and form, the words will simply go away. Writers and composers give us the the gift of their words and melodies. As musicians or actors, we have a really sacred and special duty to breathe life into what is otherwise just ink on paper.
“Think of the costumes that will never been seen, the scenery that will never be seen, the orchestrations never heard.” There are dozens of unsung heroes who work on every production of a show. The designers, the stitchers, the carpenters, the deck crew, the orchestrators. All of these people invest their personal abilities into serving the show. Beautiful costumes, sets, props, and orchestrations are created. A team of crew members, dressers, stage managers, and musicians are hired to seamlessly incorporate those elements into the world of the show.
“Think of our show, and the thrill and pleasure it can give to millions.” The audience is just as important an element as the costumes. Without anyone to see all the work, what’s the point? Plays can serve many different purposes. They can provide social commentary, they can shock, they can offend, they can amuse, they can entertain. Whether a piece is meant to be an amusing diversion from life, or whether it’s written to elicit real dialogue and change, the people behind the fourth wall do play a part.
“Think of Musical Comedy – the most glorious words in the English language!” Musical theatre is an incredible, quintessentially American art form. When a character starts to sing, it’s because words just aren’t enough anymore. It’s a high stakes game, with high production value, the greatest talent in the world, and an important job to do. It’s amazing that we continue to get audiences to buy into the fact that the characters just start to sing out of the blue. Those of us who are lovers of musicals, know that incredible rush that comes with the swell of the orchestra, the unimaginable high note, or the perfectly synchronized tap dance.
“Sawyer, think of Broadway, dammit!” Here in the Bay Area, we’re pretty far from Times Square, but the spirit remains the same. After all, it’s really about the greater essence of BROADWAY, then about the literal street. Broadway is the greatest goal. The ultimate dream of “making it.” The highest echelon of the craft to which we have all devoted our lives. Broadway is so much more an idea than an actual place. It’s about all that it represents – the best talent, the most beautiful theatres, packed audiences, 30-piece orchestras. Even if we have no aspirations that our little show will get discovered and transferred to Broadway, it is the standard to which we should hold ourselves in our daily work. Because you never know, do you?
As always, the greatest lessons about musical theatre come directly from musical theatre. The point is to respect the craft. That’s all. There will be days when you don’t feel like it. Life does play a factor. But on the days when you’re “not feeling it,” do it for someone else. Do it for the other actors. Do it for the writers. Do it for the designers and builders. Do it for the love of the craft. Do it for Broadway, dammit!