Gilbert & Sullivan "virtual orchestra"

Randy Bowser

theatre raps

about community theatre

a quiz for directors

40 years of intensive involvement with the American community theatre scene have given me many of the peak experiences in my life.

Let me share ideas and observations that I hope will help inspire you in your theatrical endeavors.

The FIRST "theatre rap" in this series touches on some of the challenges of being actors and directors in amateur theatre.

The SECOND "theatre rap" continues with advice and information for actors and directors.

The THIRD installment goes back to basics with "Theatre 101" aimed at newbies and as a brush-up for those with experience.

The FOURTH installment is a fun quiz for amateur actors.

The Quiz

The answers are in a red font following the list of questions, and are offered as possible answers. Other opinions are of course possible---I can only offer my own, based on my 40 years of experience in theatre.

The questions are hypothetical situations you could encounter as a director in a community theatre production.

My suggested answers are below in red.

Randy Bowser

Do you have thoughts to share about amateur theatre?

FEEL FREE TO SEND EMAIL to offer your thoughts. The intention is for these pages of "theatre raps" to explore as many topics as possible re: Making community theatre GREAT! ~~Randy Bowser


1-- In my opinion, the only "fair" approach to any aspect of mounting a production is to assure the best play possible.

There is a general sentiment that since volunteers in amateur theatre are not paid, many compromises are necessary to keep those volunteers happy and community theatre "friendly."

But the main ingredient for a solid show is a solid cast. If there are good candidates for roles who couldn't attend the day of auditions, why should they be out of the running?

While the actors who show up for auditions may disagree, their mere presence should not give them precedence over others who couldn't make it.

A director needs to get on the phone to recruit potential actors, and use every resource available to assure the best cast possible. back to quiz

2-- Working out rehearsal schedules can cause directors some of their biggest headaches.

But the method of requiring all actors to show up at every rehearsal, so it can be figured out on-the-fly what scenes can be worked on, is, in my opinion, sloppy, lazy, and unfair to the cast.

Suggestions re: rehearsal schedules--

a) Work out at least a theoretical schedule to post at auditions. It often comes as a shock to neophytes how large a time commitment is being asked. They MUST have the chance to get a good idea of how many evenings they will be called to rehearse.

b) Require actors to list conflict dates on their audition forms. More than a very few conflicts should disqualify the actor from being cast.

c) Plan a thorough rehearsal schedule, including specifics of what will be worked on each night. It's the only way to insure that all scenes are given sufficient rehearsal time before the final dress rehearsals.

Avoid the all-to-common syndrome of having a well-rehearsed first act but an under-rehearsed second act, due to an unorganized rehearsal schedule.

d) Remaining flexible with the schedule is still paramount as a show progresses. The director must stress to the company the need to stay on top of changes. back to quiz

3-- Answer is D. Definitely. From day one, actors need to sense there is an order and organization to the production, and that includes seeing that their director is well-prepared on staging the show.

Inevitably, the pre-designed blocking will be adapted and expanded on during rehearsals. Changes in the set design, and most importantly, the instinctual movements of the actors, will change and mold the director's plans.

But without a solid foundation for the blocking worked out ahead of time, much time will be wasted in rehearsals and the final show will never have the sense of sculptural, artisitc staging that every good production must have.

The printed directions are usually notations made by the Stage Manager of the original production, and may aid the play's reader, and occassionally can help a director visualize complicated scenes, but for the most part need to be disregarded as you mount your own version of the show. back to quiz

4-- No no no. The biggest source of friction between actors and directors is the former's need to honestly justify every second they are on stage, and the latter's need for "results." That is always the underlying dynamic, but with the use of caution, the friction can be minimized.

Pacing, either slow or fast, determined by the needs of a given scene, is a technical consideration for the later weeks of rehearsals.

To demand early in rehearsals that actors focus on technical aspects such as pacing is to guarantee a supression of their honest discovery of character--the actors First task.

A director needs to aid the actors in approaching their work sequentially, without trying to do everything at once.

Helping a cast to get away from the unproductive but instinctual need to please a director will go a long way to achieving deeper, more professional work on stage. Give the emotions and character development room to breathe, without demanding a faster pace too early. back to quiz

5-- No. Every honest director would have to admit that "line readings" are sometimes impossible to avoid. But every good director would say they are a last resort, and that they always need to be presented with the caveat that it's not the exact "line reading" being conveyed rather than an attempt to guide the actor to the line's intention.

The most insidious trap of relying too much on line readings is that a director can end up actually asking the actor to perform the role the way She, the director would. It may not be a conscious desire, but that is the implication of line readings---and for the actor to even attempt playing the role the way the director would is just as false and hopeless as trying to copy another actor's performance, for instance, from a film version. back to quiz

6-- No. Instead, that is the surest way of achieving run-of-the-mill amateur theatre of the sort that gives the word "amateur" a bad name.

There is a modern tendency in amateur actors to not understand the director's role as a leader. It's not uncommon to find actors and even some directors who think that putting on a play is a group effort in the totally literal sense. That simply invites chaos. There Must be a single mind guiding the artistic choices in every department of a production--that of the director's.

If actors understand their immense job properly, they will never have time to even think about offering directorial notes. back to quiz

7-- Quite the opposite. You must establish a start time for rehearsals, and then let Nothing prevent you from Always starting on time. There will always be at least one actor who is punctual---Work with that one actor as the others arrive. It works wonders in impressing on the cast that you are serious about your start time. back to quiz

8-- An opinion widely backed up by respected text books is that to make cuts and re-writes in a script is to demonstrate a lack understanding of the author's work.

To me, it's a less black-and-white issue. We have to routinely cut down Shakespeare in order to achieve a reasonable playing time. But I do think cuts must be only be made after much consideration and even agonizing.

Directors are interpretive artists, and not the co-authors of the plays. Often, cuts Do indicate a lack of insight, and re-writes almost always do.

One helpful rule-of-thumb is to remember that usually there have been highly successful professional productions of the scripts we work with. If the original companies could figure out the difficult moments we are tempted to cut---then we can arrive at solutions also, and thereby remain truer to the author's intentions. back to quiz

9-- There was a period several decades ago when it was popular to not have curtain calls. Some directors still prefer this idea.

But I'm not alone in thinking that to not conclude a play with a call is a pretentious practice.

The mood of Every show is "broken" by the mere fact that the show is over. That is unavoidable. The audience is back in the reality of sitting in a theatre, and generally they want to show their appreciation for the evening's performance by applauding.

The mistaken notion behind the "no curtain call" philosophy is that the calls are for the actors rather than for the audience. But they are indeed for the audience, and provide a cathartic need to offer a response to what they were just given.

If you have a cast member who refuses to participate in a call, try talking through the above issues, and if the actor still refuses to join in, then you simply have to have a curtain call minus that actor.

The style and mood of a curtain call can certainly vary widely, depending on the show. To have a solemn, group call is certainly appropriate in some cases, while the energetic running-out-to-center call can be very appropriate for a musical comedy. back to quiz

10-- Definitely false. One of the big differences between professional and amateur theatre is that the pros have paid union members to do tech work. In a community theatre, it's all done by volunteers, and they usually don't apply in large numbers to paint flats and hammer together walls.

A good practice is to state clearly from day one that actors are Required to help on set building, or some other technical aspect of the show, for at least one full day.

If individuals object, they should be asked if they would prefer having a set or a bare stage without lights. back to quiz

11-- To replace the actor is a very legitimate choice.

Some would say that it isn't fair to "fire" a volunteer, who after all isn't being paid. But that would be to forget that the number one consideration for a director is to mount as good a production as possible. If the unfortunate situation comes up where it will be best for the show to replace an actor, then it must be done. back to quiz

12-- Generally, no, it's a bad idea.

Inexperienced actors especially, can have the mistaken notion that to play a particular role, they need to remind the audience of the actor who did a film version. The country is filled with amateurs performing bad imitations of Streisand, Minelli, etc. This is to be strongly discouraged by directors.

BUT, if you feel you can adequately guide an actor to get a better feel for a show's atmosphere, period, style etc by watching a film WITHOUT trying to be like the actors, then it is sometimes worth the try. I have found there are simply times when an actor just can't grasp what a show is really about until he sees a good film version. Happily, there have been times when a strong light bulb was turned on for lost actors after watching a movie, and when they still managed to create performances not like those in the film.

But it's a tricky business. A diretor must be very careful. back to quiz

13-- You must strongly discourage the practice.

Actors can become overly depdendent on having the director's ear. Being swamped with questions from all sides after a rehearsal can be truly maddening and unproductive.

Naturally there will be legitimate questions actors need to ask. If your assistant doesn't already realize she is supposed to field as many questions possible, ask her to do so, and to schedule actor conferences when needed. back to quiz

14-- There's a wide variety of opinions on this question, but I strongly feel that detailed notes should be given all through the run of a show. The theory that "the work is never over" means there is always room for improvement, and notes will help maintain the quality of the show.

Notes also will provide ample opportunity to point out lessons actors can be learning during a run, if they're made aware of timing errors, good and bad adjustments they made etc.

Shows Should improve during a run---the cast is discovering what it's like to perform the show with audience feed back. But the show should still maintain the integrity of your vision and the actors' rehearsal work on through closing night. back to quiz