Gilbert & Sullivan "virtual orchestra"

Randy Bowser

theatre raps

about community theatre

To Be Consistent Or Not To Be

Over 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 FIFTH rap is a thought provoking quiz aimed at directors.

The SIXTH installment is "Affirmations For Actors."

The SEVENTH installment is about the concept of "professionalism."

"Consistency in Performance"

Years ago while appearing in a University production, I was driving a director crazy with the absolute consistency of my performance in a play. He said I wasn't looking mechanical, but pointed out I was doing precisely the same movements and the same line deliveries every night. It was as if my performance was on film, or was a hologram being projected onto the stage.

My director asked for me to shake things up a bit. Tap my left foot on a particular line, instead of my right foot. Take a two second pause in the middle of a line, instead of my usual one second pause.

His request perplexed me.

But I trusted this director, and so tried to do as he suggested.


I suddenly realized that I indeed had been "too" consistent. Thinking I couldn't have been more relaxed and spontaneous on stage, a new dimension in acting instantly opened up for me.


---to paraphrase a fairly well known saying.

While consistency is routinely demanded by stage directors, and actors are taught to aim for consistency--the truth is that what is most effective on stage is NOT absolute consistency. When an actor aims for and arrives at that place, that gray area, between tight precision and undisciplined chaos--that's when his/her performance is like "FLYING BETWEEN THE BARS."

Picture watching a trapeze artist at the circus. The most thrilling moments are when he is in mid-air, between the bars. Those are the moments when the athlete/artist is using his prowess to fly. He isn't grasping any supports, and the audience holds its collective breath, thrilled with the danger of the moment and personally relating to the human being they're watching who is daring to fly.

How can the actor "fly" if he isn't allowing his performance to soar in the air, between the bars, like the trapeze artist?


Yet, there is a danger in advising actors to allow themselves the kind of freedom I'm describing. Many newcomers to acting fluctuate too wildly from night to night because of a lack of training and experience. They can tend to rely on their moods and feelings to dictate their performances rather than a well-informed and disciplined mastery of theatre craft.

So student actors do indeed need to be especially mindful of the discipline involved in creating a repeatable performance before delving into the areas this thesis is exploring.

The goal of a repeatable performance remains the primary difference between stage and film acting. Stage requires the actor to develop a performance which can be freshly repeated each night for the entire run of a show, while the actor in a movie must rely on spontanaity to find only ONE performance which the camera catches and the editor then augments with effective splicing--he never has to reproduce what he did.

But the difference between stage and film acting is not as black and white an issue as is too often thought.

Fear that actors will vary in perfomance to the point of ruining the careful work of rehearsals and throwing their fellow actors with wild fluctuations--that's why directors usually are conservative in their advice to actors, and will stress the need for consistency instead of true spontanaity. Understandably, Directors don't want their shows to change drastically from night to night.

But an actor reaches a point in his/her development when he can safely allow his performance to vary WITHOUT disturbing either the spirit of the show or his fellow actors. Then and ONLY then is the final stage of an actor's work in a show actually being done. This is what makes the best of the professional actors always exciting to watch---they know well the importance of letting each night be "different" and yet "the same." The pro knows and believes a great truth:


When an actor starts to fly, only then will he be honoring this undeniable, but too often ngelected truth in theatre--that the audience is the show's final, and some say the most important, collaborator to a producton.

In rehearsals, the director and cast are discovering and constructing their version of a given script. From a combination of analysis, skill, intuition, and trial and error, the group pieces together their theatre event with an eye toward engaging the audience as effectively as possible. But their work is only theoretical until a live audience is watching their work and responding. No matter how trained, skilled and talented the company, their work in rehearsal remains in a vacume until actual performances reveals the true effectiveness of what they've prepared.

When a show opens, there will be mis-fires such as timing that was mis-calculated in rehearsals, and subtlties which prove to be either too subtle or too heavy-handed. It is only by refining the performance based on the audience reaction that a production eventually finds authenticity in its connection with the audience.


The play opens--adjustments can be made to improve the production, and other adjustments can start being made by the actor at every subsequent performance--OR one can stubbornly say "the work is over" once the show opens, and be content with stagnant work that really doesn't reach the audience as well as it could.

The director may give notes during the run of a show in an effort to correct things that aren't working. Indeed,there are technical aspects of the cast's performance(s) which are elements the Director can continue to work with during a run.

But there are a myriad of character details only an actor can truly be in touch with, and so there are a limitless number of adjustments the actor can make in performance which are beyond the kin of what a director is able to guide him with once a show opens.

I've primarily been talking not about "fixing" a production after the initial performances and reviews, but rather about the personal give and take between performer and audience--the energy which by its nature will change the performance, however so slightly, from night to night.

In an amateur production there are usually many actors who Do need continued guidance from a director after a show opens--I don't mean to neglect that point. And the seasoned pro is also wise to get feed back from the Director on his personal performance through out a run.

The alert actor makes adjustments which can make a show more effective to all audiences during the run of a show, as well as adjustments which are nuances unique to each individual performance. The chance gathering of the particular audience members, the temperature of the auditorium, the news events of the day--there are hundreds of factors which make each night of a show's run unique. And the actor who is able to flow with these nuances and who can "throw the dart" slightly differently each night in reaction to those subtle differences from night to night---he is the actor who has become like the trapeze artist flying in the air between the rungs.

There is indeed a "target" for each moment in a show, as mentioned before, but its "bullseye" is not a precise point at the center of the target--the bullseye is the entire target.

There ARE limits. A "dart" which reaches beyond this target is a foul. But there is more than just "wiggle room" for a legal "hit." Some nights, it may seem right to aim for the right of center--other nights it will seem right to hit the target at the very edge. And it's never as if the actor is completely in control of how and where he throws his dart. Powers beyond his control will cause truly spontaneous moments of brilliance that can seem like "gifts from the muse"---but ONLY if the actor allows that to happen. It is more than just 'OK,' for instance, that lines come out of his mouth slightly differently from night to night, or that a moment which was big and broad one night is suddenly more restrained.

The audience is the instructor, and to ignore their input, insisting on giving a "canned" performance which is just like the one given the night before--that is to deny the power and significance of live theatre. Are they shifting in their seats? Then the show's pace is too slow---pick it up! Are they sitting bolt upright in their seats?---they aren't being engaged--take your time and redouble your efforts to draw them in.

Have you been told that to be aware of your audience is verbotten? Banish that bad advice---Directors and actors who insist that performers are supposed to not be aware of the audience are either not being honest, or misunderstand the concept. There is plenty of room on the infinite planes of one's concentration to reserve energy with which to be aware of the audience's participation or lack of participation. It's mostly a matter of allowing oneself to be aware that you are in the presence of a group of fellow human beings with whom you want to share an experience. They aren't below you or above you--they are your equals and they want and deserve the best possible use of their time while in your hands.

When one is truly mindful of the spontaneous and very human activity theatre is, how could he Not allow the audience's response to guide his performance?

As long as you are true to the script and the work your director guided you in during rehearsals, your constantly "inconsistent" performance can be a true piece of art, encircling your audience with the white light of immediacy and human connection.

So I urge you--even though you may get perplexed or even annoyed notes from your director:

Fly--don't cling to your trapeze.

Randy Bowser

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