Thursday, October 06, 2016

A Play To Kick Our Asses

Photo by Erica Krauel

Not as eloquent as Aeschylus, perhaps, but one of the most seasoned members of the cast of Agamemnon uttered the unanimous sentiment: "This play is kicking all our asses!"

She meant it in a positive sense. A 40+ year professional actor who has done his share of classics says he found this more demanding of study time and his own technique than anything he's done, including many works by Shakespeare. Indeed, directing the piece, I have felt myself balled up in the Furies' tangled robes.

In retrospect, starting rehearsals at the beginning of August was too late. If we go on to produce The Libation Bearers, the next play in the Oresteia, I want to begin four months in advance. It's a big ask for volunteer actors but as the ensemble finds their footing during tech week, they seem up for a longer process next time around.

It will depend on the community's response to the play. By all reports, it has been decades since any of these ancient Greek plays have been performed here. There have been more modern plays inspired by Greek mythology but no performances of the translated plays of Aristophanes, Euripides, Sophocles, or Aeschylus. My performances of An Iliad - a modern play adapted from the Fagles translation of Homer - have gone over quite well in Las Cruces, and we have cautiously optimistic hopes for this production.

I was already feeling rather exhausted when the actor playing Aegisthus had to withdraw during tech week (due to a sequence of personal mishaps, not his fault), and I found myself taking over the role myself.

with Michelle Tomlinson, who plays Clytemnestra

But here we are. Tonight is our final dress and tomorrow night we open.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Acting, Paid and Unpaid

Your correspondent, center, directing a rehearsal of AGAMEMNON in Las Cruces, NM.

In my frequent crossovers between professional and amateur theatre, when I hear disparaging talk about the latter, it has been hard for me to remain in the room.

Professional theatre buys a luxurious amount of time. You can pay people for a full-time commitment. You can accomplish a lot when people are available for eight-hour rehearsal days and don't need to work other jobs. Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy rehearsal time. In that sense, professional theatre has privileges the amateur theatre does not.

In non-paying theatre, the actors are squeezing the same preparation into what leisure time they have around jobs, school, families, and so on.

In professional theatre, you may also benefit from actors who have more training and experience, but I've worked with some highly trained and experienced people in non-paying theatre, and of course salaries and Equity contracts don't guarantee quality work.

I love working in professional theatre. I like being paid to do this work, and I like the assurances of a professional environment: hours of rehearsal time, a knowledgeable crew, actors who are expected to be prepared and focused. This summer, I directed a show under an Equity agreement in Albuquerque and it was a delight.

In non-paying theatre, we can keep ticket prices low enough that most people can afford to see our shows. This only works because there are people willing to work hard for little or no compensation. They trust the theatre not to exploit them for profit. They donate their time and creative labor to a cause and, I would hope, because they enjoy themselves while doing it.

My expectations in a non-paying environment are not "lower," but there are different constraints and pressures. I can't work with Equity actors but I frequently work with experienced and well-prepared non-Equity actors who care strongly about the work. I also work with less-experienced performers who are eager to learn and not defensive about it. We need to be creative, working within very slim budgets. And those performers must find time for a good deal of homework and study amid their other obligations. God, I love these people.