Gilbert & Sullivan "virtual orchestra"

Randy Bowser

theatre raps

about community theatre

Instant Mediocrity or Not-So-Instant Greatness

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. This "Rap" continues that theme from a different angle.

Beyond The Comfort Zone

Like their professional counterparts, community theatres strive to provide high quality entertainment for their patrons.

Feeling the pressure to present as successful a production as possible unfortunately can cause many directors to rush the work and in the process, stunt the artistic achievements of the actors and crew members who work with them.

Working with inexperienced actors does present its special challenges, but there are some approaches too common in community theatres which are counter-productive to bringing out the best in the newcomers as well the "seasoned" community theatre performer.

From my own 40 years of experience, including some recent ones as an actor in community theatre, here are some comparative notes regarding what I am referring to when I say that our greatest successes depend on MOVING OUT OF OUR COMFORT ZONES--as directors, and as actors.


Directors giving actors line readings.
Having an actor parrot back a "line reading" should only be a last resort.

Sometimes an actor will be missing the meaning of a line, and in those cases, to point out key words, the ones to stress, may be needed to help clarify the meaning of a line.

But for a director to simply require an instant replay of the way He/She would say a line completely undercuts the actor's imagination and potential. The results can be quick--but line readings are given from the director's Comfort Zone--he is comfortable with that approach, and uncomfortable with giving the actor more freedom.

As with all short cuts to Results--the results from giving line readings make for safe, predictable, mediocre theatre.

Directors constantly asking for a quicker pace too early in rehearsals.
Picking up cues and maintaining a brisk pace are part of the important polishing work to achieve in the final week or two of rehearsals.

BUT, driving actors to have a peformance pace early on is one of the fastest ways of drying up the possibility of fresh, creative theatre.

CASE IN POINT: As an actor, I was working on a delicate scene where my character was clumsily trying to seduce a young woman. There was much work to be done for me and my acting partner to feel out the "pocket" of the scene.

At a point when the young lady and I both were solidly "off book" for the scene, there came a rehearsal when I needed to take my time more than usual. I threw out the need for a fast pace so I could more fully feel out the situation, without splitting my focus to technical considerations such as pacing.

The talented young lady I was working with instantly responded to my groping pace, as I (the character) struggled for the approach that would hopefully land her in my bed.

There came a magic moment of break-through that actors live for, and on one of my levels of consciousness as an actor, I Knew we were both closer to the truth and power of the scene than we ever had been.

The director interupted us--"God your pacing is terrible. Pick it up. I'm going to sleep out here."

It was a very effective way to destroy the creative level of work we had reached. The nervous director could only think in terms of the final result--the performance we weren't ready for yet. He could only see the scene in terms of what it "should" be like in its final form--displaying no sensitivity to the process we were going through as actors to get the deepest and most real "meat" of the scene in to our heads and hearts.

The way the director aborted that process is far too common---because of the pressure she feels to get results, and to get them Fast.

I would suggest that part of a director's comfort zone in a case like this can involve not even knowing that for discoveries to be made, scenes are not always rehearsed and worked on in a way that will resemble anything like the final performance version.

Discoveries are made with experimenting--and such exploration is often out of the realm of people's comfort zones.

Directors demanding actors to be off book too early.
Some directors even tell their casts to be memorized before rehearsals begin.

This is one of the most counter-productive approaches which can lead to safe, mediocre theatre.

Actors need to be encouraged to GO TO THE CHARACTER AND SITUATION FIRST and to go to the words last. The most effective approach is the exact opposite of demanding early memorization.

Even though directors can feel frustrated to see actors carrying their scripts around for weeks on end, a director ought to move out of the comfort zone that demands early memorization and realize that the earlier actors learn their lines, the more likely they will come up with canned, uninspired approaches and with ways of saying the lines which are difficult to change later.

Directors must allow actors time to explore the characters, to absorb what is Really going on in the play and in each scene. All of that can only be discovered when the pressure for memorization is taken away.

Having a cast off book approximately half way through the scheduled rehearsal calendar IS important--and once a deadline has been set, it should be adhered to.

But actors will memorize much more easily if they've been given the chance to explore the script in an un-pressured, un-rushed manner first. And the results will be Much more authentic and therefore, interesting.


Examples could go on, and I'll illustrate more in future "Raps."

The point is that community theatres are too often unable to approach more professional levels in their productions, because directors and actors are hooked on staying in their comfort zones rather than moving out of them.


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

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