It is tech week for us here at Overshadowed. In fact, we only have one dress rehearsal left before we open again on Thursday. I say again because we are recreating the show that we were in the middle of when COVID shut us down. Now, you would think that would be an easy thing to do. Recreate. But honestly, five months off caused us to have to relearn and change.
So, happy opening Thursday!
In the meantime I started thinking about show bags. I pulled mine out two weeks before I needed it because I was so excited to need one again!
I am always fascinated by what others pack. Here are a few things I feel are necessary.
1. Bobby pins, hair pins, metal pins, if you can name them, you need them! You really never know exactly when one of these will come in handy. Don’t worry about having too many. They don’t spoil and somehow….they always disappear.
2. Extra clothing for all extremes. Underwear, socks, hose, slippers, bathrobe or some cover-up, hoodie, leggings. Be prepared. Show conditions are just different and you don’t want to panic because you spilled or sweat through your cloths and other horrors that you don’t really want to face.
3. A first-aid kit. (I am notorious for borrowing. I never seem to have what I need) Here are a few thoughts. Bandaids, Advil (Or some equivalent) Antiseptic, throat lozenges, allergy medicine, ace bandage.
4. Snacks. Tech week has a history of having longer rehearsals than normal. Do yourself a favor and don’t forget to pack food. Please be respectful of a theater’s rule for what your can eat in costume!
5. Wet Wipes. This is a must! You can use them for so much! Make-up on your costume? Wet wipes. And the list goes on….
6. Notebook and pen. As a director I wish all actors would just write down the things I tell them. In the moment you might be convinced that you will remember, but let’s face it, if you write it down you will be able to review and be on top of your game come show time. It would make a good journal too so that you always remember how you were feeling during this show.
7. Deodorant. Please!
8. Cards or a game. Just in case.
9. Make-up bag. In this I include extra hair ties, Glasses or extra contacts.
10. Toothbrush and toothpaste, gum, mints. Again. Please!
I pack all of that and still have times that I wish I had thought of something else. A show bag is a necessity and luxury all rolled up into one. What do you put in yours?
I’d love to hear what you think! Or even see a picture of your bag!
One of the most common phrases you will hear when you are acting is “Live in the moment.”
It is a command I’ve given as a director and one I’ve received as an actor. I have experienced moments that I was truly connected to my character and connected to everything that was happening on stage and other moments that I was thinking about everything that was happening around me instead of “living” the moment that the character was living.
My most embarrassing moment came during a production of “The Christmas Wish” an Overshadowed original play that we obtained permission to create from a book with the same title. (We got the idea from a Hallmark movie that carried the same name.) I played the Grandmother. I was trying hard not to direct in my head-which is quite difficult for me since that is the area of theater in which I have the most confidence. I walked onto the stage through the door that represented the living room of my character’s house. As I began to say my lines I noticed that the desk hadn’t made it’s way entirely onto the stage and was in fact now half way behind the wall attached to the door I had just entered. My director head noticed and immediately I panicked. I completely stopped listening to the lines that my “grandson” was delivering as I thought about how I was going to get the diary out of that desk. Important, because that was what the play was about. I knew I couldn’t get it out by myself and I didn’t want to do something as unprofessional as move the wall to make the drawer accessible. All of I sudden I noticed that Tim, the other actor, had stopped talking. I looked up at him. He looked at me quizzically. I waited a beat and shrugged my shoulders. Hopefully signifying what I was thinking. “Help! I got nothing!” It must have worked because Tim started talking and covered for me.
That moment has haunted me for years.
I was living in my moment. Not my character’s.
Living in the moment takes an extraordinary amount of concentration. You can totally be in the zone and all of a sudden you become aware of the audience and “Snap!” you are no longer in the moment. It is a very bizarre idea this goal of living in the moment, but the more you think about it the more it takes you out of the moment.
So how can you fix this problem?
Concentration and relaxing exercises. Many beginning actors scoff at these exercises, but I find that the routine you establish is one of the most valuable practices you can have as an actor. We all have different areas that are more difficult to relax so you need to discover those for yourself and focus on those areas. For me, it is my neck and jaw. I need 15-30 mins before I go on stage. I start with relaxation exercises and work my whole body. Next, I listen to music that suits my character and begin to think, meditate, concentrate (Any of those that work for you) about my character. I try to really get into my head. Where is my character? What is she doing? All the things that lead me up to the moment I walk on stage.
Listen. Many times I see actors that say their line, wait for the other characters to talk. They then breathe and then say their next line. Instead, listen to what the other characters are saying. Focus on what they are doing. React. Living in the moment means that you don’t “prepare” to speak. Instead, you hear the line and then respond in truth to it.
Absorb your character and lines. As a director, I know that I am not going to really be able to push my cast until they know their lines. We discuss characters and blocking and relationships beforehand, but the real work comes when they start to commit everything to memory. Only then is the mind free to interpret. Before that it is struggling to learn, discover and remember. Magic is created when you know your lines so well that you don’t have to think about what comes next.
Some actors create from the outside in and others from the inside out. It doesn’t really matter what the process is as long as it is thorough and complete.
4. Don’t be mechanical. Some people prepare so much that they know exactly when they are going to gesture and how they will move. Some people get into such a rhythm that they always say each line exactly the same way. The danger in this is that you become a “rote’ character. You no longer “live in the moment” but instead you are just going through the motions instead of creating the motion yourself! I think that is my biggest struggle as an actor. I analyze constantly…”oh, I didn’t say that correctly” or “I wonder why the audience didn’t laugh at that” or a thousand other critiques. Concentrate on your character not on you!
Recently, I came across an article from an interview with Leslie Odom, Jr., who plays Aaron Burr, in Hamilton! In it he talks about the moment every night when Lin-Manuel Miranda, as Alexander Hamilton, hurled the insult that caused Burr to challenge Hamilton to a duel and ultimately, to kill him, simultaneously ending his own political career.
He said, “Every night, I’m looking for it in his eyes — I want him to make different decisions. I want it to end differently.”
That’s what it is all about. That is when you know you are completely in the zone. When you are so caught up in what your character is feeling that you actually want what your character wants, hope for it to be so, even though you know it can’t happen any other way.….welcome to “living in the moment.”
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Acting doesn’t run in my family. Well, at least it didn’t. My grandfather and most of my relatives are great storytellers, but as far as I know my cousin David and I are the only ones that turned to any form of acting, or directing as a profession.
Then I had children and they did what I never had the courage to do when I was young. They auditioned and had part after part in grade school and high school. Two of them went on and had parts in college as well.
All three of my children ended up in the speech/communication field. They all three have settled in different areas, but the foundation of speech and rhetoric I believe is at their very core.
I never pushed them to love speech, but I’m very proud that they did.
As you already know, I firmly believe in the power of speech and that God gave us the ability to use that powerful gift. It is a gift we must use wisely.
Flash forward several years (Ok maybe more than several, but time goes by quickly) and now my oldest daughter has taught college level speech classes and poured her love of speech and drama into a new generation.
Then, seven years ago, God gave her a new responsibility and she decided to hang up the college teaching for teaching Logan, her first born son, and several years later, Lilia.
I immediately began to count the years reminding her with each passing one….”Only six more years and Logan can come to theater camp at Overshadowed.” To which Becca would smile at me and say, “Oh, Mom, I don’t know if he would ever be interested in that.”
Then, this week happened. Someone asked Becca if she thought that Lilia was old enough to carry off a part in a musical. We weren’t sure, but seeing as the play isn’t until next year and Lilia will be a little older–Becca decided to explain the process to Lilia. (Who will be 5 next month.) At first, Lilia was NOT interested. Then Becca explained to her how much she loved being on stage and about her first part when she was in Kindergarten! Lilia was hooked.
But then, this story gets amazing. As Becca would teach Lilia the song she would point out notes or words or things that could make the audition better. Lilia would respond, “Ok, mommy, let’s do it again! I want to make it good.”
Proud grandmother, and director here. I gotta tell you. That’s rare.
Oh, that she would stay young and innocent. May she always want to do a good job and not be afraid of the work it takes to get there. May she have a teachable spirit and not be proud and haughty.
It’s tough to stay like that in a field like this.
Mother and daughter worked for over an hour. Keep in mind, Lilia was learning, music and words and character. Then, it came time to send in the video audition. Becca had arranged for someone to come play the piano so that she could film, but the pianist forgot. So Becca had to figure out how to record the audition. In the end, she decided that Lilia would just need to sing it without the accompaniment.
After a few takes they decided on this one.
Well, you know how auditions go. You start telling yourself it’s ok if you don’t get the part. You tell yourself that you might not be right for it. You convince yourself that there is a lot of work involved and maybe it’s better if you don’t get it. We all thought all those things.
But then, we thought about how cute she was and how directable she was and found ourselves hoping, but understanding.
The process didn’t take long. The next day we knew that the director had decided to go with an older girl. When Becca went to tell Lilia she thought Lilia would be ok because she hadn’t really wanted to do it in the beginning. But, when you work hard at something……
Lilia was quite sad and responded, “I’m never going to get to be in a play.”
All this time Logan, the sweet brother that he is, watched and encouraged, and even suggested they get Lilia ice cream that night.
At the end. He said he might want to be in a play sometime too.
Well, that makes my heart really happy. So next year, I’m planning that they both come up for Overshadowed’s theater camp! Watch out, Illinois!
Here are my takeaways,
Auditions are hard. No matter how much you prepare yourself you just might not be what the director wanted. Try to learn from it and be better next time. (Even though you might not get that part either.)
You aren’t too young or too old. Get out there and try to do something you’ve always wanted to do, but maybe been afraid of. It’s ok. We are all rooting for you.
Auditions take work. Don’t just stand up and sing a song you don’t know. Work at it. Prepare. Make it better. You’ll be better for it.
Have confidence. Even if you didn’t have time to learn all the words. Sing it out and don’t make apologies for voice or time or anything. The casting panel has heard it all and starts to think of them as excuses.
Lastly, always do your best. Try to have fun and whatever happens enjoy the rest of your day.
By the way, when I went to college I had a tremendously thick Southern accent. For only the third time in my life I got up courage to audition. The University had a group called the Classic Players , a group that did only Shakespeare at school. I performed Lady MacBeth’s monologue . You know the one? “Out, Out damn spot.” Now say it again, with a thick accent.
I never heard back other than they didn’t need me, but my cousin, David, (the other one in my family that I mentioned earlier) was on the casting staff. Leave it to the ones you love to tell you the truth.
David said they all held it together as they said good-bye to me…then almost fell out of their chairs laughing.
When someone tells you a story like that is there any wonder why you wouldn’t audition again?
But listen….my God wanted more for me. He continued to mold me and put the desires of theatre in my heart and now…now I can encourage others and make sure they understand how valuable they really are. I think that’s why auditions are so hard for me. I understand the disappointment. I understand the pain. I truly feel bad that I don’t have the room to give everyone a part or the part they want.
Lilia, you are going to be amazing one day….maybe as a dancer, maybe a singer, maybe a mother, but whatever it is you are incredibly special.
Logan, the same goes for you. How kind and loving you are. Always take care of your sister, but know that you are special in your own way as well.
I can’t wait to direct both of you.
One other thing….there is one small payback issue…..
Becca was talking to Logan about my theater. Logan replied, “Well, she doesn’t do that anymore right?”
Becca said, “Well, yes, that’s what she does. She directs. Why?”
Logan said, “I thought she was too old.”
Just so you all know. You are never too young or too old. Get out there and do it!
I’d love to know about your auditions! I’m really trying to grow my readers so if you enjoyed this please follow me and spread the word! Thank you!
The past few months we have learned a lot about ourselves. Some of us have learned that some time alone is not necessarily a bad thing while others have learned that they never really appreciated the humans in their lives. We have learned that differences can divide us. In fact, differences can cause hate and fear and bad behavior. In some cases, though differences can bring a needed change. We have become reacquainted with family time. We have learned what is important and what things we can do without.
Over the past two weeks Overshadowed held a theater camp. It was a smaller camp than we usually have. We didn’t have as many costumes or as many set pieces or props. We started the first day having to recognize each other just by our eyes and realized very quickly that it is indeed possible. We social distanced. The students were very quiet and almost lack luster. The teachers were concerned that camp wouldn’t be the same experience due to the restrictions we had due to COVID.
On Saturday, we finished with a performance of Music Man, Jr to an audience of 50. They loved it.
More importantly, the students loved it. Here are some of the things they learned: It doesn’t matter that the audience was small. They performed because they enjoyed performing and loved the experience even more. It didn’t matter that the audience was small. The 50 people were there and out of the house and so our cast was going to give the audience the best experience they could. It didn’t matter about the masks or social distancing. Our campers learned. They made new friends (close friends.) They created memories. Some said it was their best theater experience ever. I think I feel that way. It was incredibly special to walk out on that stage and look at the faces of an audience that was thrilled to sit in a seat with anticipation of being whisked away to River City.
I might have cried a little.
In our Bible study this week these verses stood out to me.
James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” You have no idea how I went back and forth about having camp. God gave the direction. Sometimes I don’t ask soon enough. I argue and try to figure it out…It’s not that I don’t want to bother God….but I act like that is my reasoning. “In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6. Every situation. With Thanksgiving. Ok. God….I know I haven’t been all that thankful during this COVID mess. It is a lesson I should have learned a long time ago. Thank you, God, for blessing even when I don’t trust. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” I Chronicles 16:11. God cares about you. He cares about your hobbies and your loves and your fears. For me and the audience and the families of those students, these past weeks were a gift. I will receive it humbly and thankfully.
God has been so generous to me these past weeks. I am so thankful.
Is theater a gift for you? What have you learned these past months? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a comment and share this blog if you think others would like it as well!
There once was a girl. This girl was afraid of everything. She had recurring nightmares that were so vivid and horrible that she would sit up in her bed at night and be afraid to close her eyes. Her parents didn’t allow her to watch anything frightening because her imagination was so great that any suggestion of horror would torment her for days.
This same girl would hide in the shadows. She secretly wanted to be involved, be popular, try out for teams but the fear of failure was too great. Although she would rehearse at home she refused to let anyone know the secret desires of her heart.
Then, her aunt took her to see her first play. This same girl realized that in acting she didn’t have to show people who she really was. She could gather the strengths that she needed to audition or volunteer to get involved. She reasoned with herself that if she was rejected, people weren’t reacting to her– they were rejecting the “character” she was presenting to be.
I’m not exactly sure how old I was when I put words into how I realized that no one really knew who I really was. In fact, I once teased that I was going to write a book about my life called, “The Me Nobody Knows.” I’ll never forget the look on my friend’s face when I verbalized that. I know she thought she knew me, but she only knew the “Reba” I let the world see.
I think that revelation doesn’t shock too many people any longer because I continue to tell people how insecure I used to be…and how insecure I am.
Why do I feel the need to tell people those facts about me?
I think there are a lot of people in the world just like me. I never knew it when I was younger. But life teaches you that most people aren’t exactly who or what they seem. I think even if you have the skills and confidence I didn’t….you might still need to learn a little from the artists that make up theater.
Theater changed my life.
Theater helped me gain confidence. Theater taught me life skills. Theater gave me some of the closest friends I have.
God used theater in my life to create a theater for Him. I boldly try to reclaim this art form for His glory.
(Those of you who have been reading my blog know what I’m going to say next,)
And then enter COVID.
I’m a little worried that in a world that the arts education is continually being eliminated from the educational system that theater/speech will once again be in danger of disappearing.
I recently learned of an organization. The Educational Theater Association. From what I understand this organization has spent the last months putting together a guide for schools that will help make sure theater in schools doesn’t disappear. They have thought through a whole host of questions and concerns and have pages to guide the teachers and schools. I am so thankful that the arts have people who advocate for them. If this is something you feel strongly about. Please share this organization with a teacher or school so that they can download the free guide. If you’d like to contact me I can give you a link for the guide.
This year thousands of students were unable to complete a normal year of studies. Many were unable to perform in productions in which they had spent many hours of preparation time.Experience lost.
And now what happens? Rumors are abounding about what happens to our students this fall. Will theater be back? Hopefully, people will lead the charge and express the importance of theater in the lives of their students.
I don’t know where I would be without it.
About ten years ago Overshadowed started taking interns for the summer months. A couple of months ago, I thought that this year we would have to say no to that help. I am happy to report, we have THREE this year. Three interns that we will learn from, but also, we will be able to have an impact on. Three interns I will never forget! How do I know this? Because I’ve had so many of you leave a special place in my heart.
Let the summer theater programs begin!!
Next week. Music Man thoughts!
I’d love to know what you think. Please leave me your comments or thoughts and don’t forget to share
“Few realize how loud their expressions really are. Be kind with what you wordlessly say.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich, Making Wishes
An actor uses a variety of tools to convince an audience that he truly has become the character he is playing. As a director, I am constantly encouraging the actor to build his character from the outside in or inside out. I don’t care which way he chooses, but it is a must to combine your body and face for the full character development.
In fact, most of us study the face for clues to what a person is really saying to us. Non-verbal communication becomes essential in acting. Did you know that according to a study by Dr. ‘s Paul Ekman and Wallace Frieseney, they found that, the 42 muscles in the face responsible for expression, can make over 10,000 configurations! 3,000 of these relate to emotions. Amazingly enough, expressing yourself by the use of your face doesn’t come natural to everyone! But it is so important.
I remember vividly being scolded as a youngster for the “tone of my voice.” The words I said and my facial expression might have been communicating one message, but the message that was coming from the tone of my voice made my parents believe I was being disrespectful. (which I probably was. Sadly.) Maybe if I had a twinkle in my eye and a smile on my face I would have gotten away with it….again….probably not.
Often words do not match emotions, but the face can betray what the person is actually feeling. Thus, important in communication, but also in acting.
People’s emotions are rarely put into words , far more often they are expressed through other cues. the key to intuiting another’s feelings is in the ability to read nonverbal channels , tone of voice , gesture , facial expression and the like.
Why do I bring this up now?
You got it. The masks.
Now don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying don’t wear them. I am not saying I don’t believe in them. In fact, when I am around groups of people I will be sporting this beautiful Cubs mask made by SERJ Handiworks (serjhandiworks.com if you want one) But I do think we need to understand that there are risks that go beyond health risks. If we focus on those maybe we can prevent problems that might occur after this year of mask wearing.
If we cover half of our face, we only have half to communicate with. Let’s be aware that we still need to be expressive when we are engaging with others.
In a recent study about Facial paralysis a group was shown videos of people with disorders that affect facial movement, They were then asked for their first impressions based on the videos.
People with severe facial movement impairment were rated as less happy and sociable compared to people with mild facial movement impairment. Participants also had less desire to form friendships with them.
In other words, it is very difficult to conquer the human tendency to form impressions based on facial expressions or lack of them.
In 2001 there was a study done on children to test their face-reading skills. This study showed that children with stronger face-reading skills were more popular, and performed better academically. They also discovered that students who had trouble with face-reading had more trouble making friends and had learning difficulties.
I do not wish to alarm and I’m not even sure I totally agree with the results of the study on face-reading. However, I do believe that we need to be aware that with the masks we need to try harder.
Don’t hide behind your mask. The eyes are the window to your soul. Make an effort to connect with the people you see. Honestly, we are all in need of a human connection. It might be the smile in your eyes that makes a difference in someones’ day.
Who knows? Maybe when we can take those masks off for good we will find that the work we put into our facial expression will offer communication and connections that we would never have made before this whole thing started.
And that would be a very good thing indeed.
2 Corinthians 3:18
‘And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’
I’d really love to hear from you! Please leave me your comments. But I’d love it if you would share this blog as well!
At first, I was discontented. Well, okay, miserable. Only three awards out of eight possible? C’mon! Couldn’t the judges see the talent, energy, and pathos that went into the production?
Although I don’t usually watch the Oscars, I was curious to see how my favorite film of the year fared against the others.
Best supporting actress? Of course!
Best sound mixing? I agreed.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling? I saw that, too.
But, I wanted them to win all the awards. Then I settled down and realized there are other deserving actors/actresses, especially from other cultures who need a win as well.
Then, I got to thinking about our performance as Christians on the stage of life. Are we winning heavenly awards that will bring glory to God and not ourselves?
For instance (and I’m questioning myself) . . .
Best Leading Actor: Are men taking their roles as leaders seriously? How about church leaders? Or anyone for that matter, in a leading role?
Best Supporting Actress: Are you as a wife taking your God-given role seriously and supporting your man? Or, if you are a young person at home, are you supporting your parents? How about singles? Are you being a good friend, and honoring your boss (no matter what gender you are)? How about pitching in with the gifts God has given you in your local church? Congregations, are you bringing joy and not pain to your church leaders?
Directing: Let’s turn the tables — are you allowing God to direct your life, or are you taking charge?
Best Costume Design: Are you “putting off” the dirty garment of anger, lies, and filthy talk? And “putting on” the fresh, clean garment of kindness, humility and patience? (Colossians 3:3-14) Or, possibly, are you pretending to be someone you are not?
Best musical score: Is your life a symphony of comforting notes and scores that brings joy to those around you?
Visual effects — Does your countenance reflect your heart? Do your deeds reflect your relationship with the Creator?
Writing: Those of us who are authors, are we writing for the glory of God, or for a spot in the limelight?
Sound Editing: How is your tongue? Are you silencing those harsh or untrue words before they hurt others?
Cinematography: if you were to play your life back on the screen in a two-hour movie, how would the audience react at the end? Give it 5-stars? Cry at the tragedies that led to more tragedies without meaning? Laugh uproariously because its so true in your own life, a mirror that reflects your need to change?
I’d love to hear your ideas below in the comments!
So, I leave you with the musical performance of Les Misérables cast at the 2013 Oscars…now that deserved an award of its own! You can find the performance at 1:18
Of course, only God deserves our ultimate praise and worship, but, as we do our best in our work and life, we reflect God’s excellence:
“Praise him (God) for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.” Psalms 150: 2
This quarantine has provided me with some rare opportunities as I’m sure it has to you. (Positive thinking, people!) Maybe you found time to finally deep clean the garage or that closet? Or…just to sleep! I’ve found time for two of my favorite things: cooking and reading (make that 3 – eating – let’s be real). In addition to my favorite genres, history and fiction, I’ve been reading more plays (and eating more…and…riding my bike more – gotta combat the COVID 20!…Pounds that is).
I´ve been thinking about how I would stage and develop these plays (I have a few shelf fulls I´ve been working my way through). In thinking (and eating, of course) during all of this, I discovered the topic for this blog!
Cooking up Characters with Kady! (did you like that alliteration?) Seriously though, there are so many parallels between cooking and directing that once I started, I just couldn’t stop seeing the similarities. So, here are some ´tasty´ thoughts about how to ´cook´ up and serve characters and actually, the whole show, as a director.
First, and absolutely the most essential, is the visualization. I have always been fascinated with the process of taking raw ingredients and reshaping them into a new cohesive whole, which is why I love cooking. (plus I love eating, gotta be real folks). Taking ´raw´ ideas and reshaping them into living breathing characters in a ´real´ world is why I love directing. Both cooking and directing spring from visualizing the final product.
An important caveat: I make no claims to be a professional or even a remotely good cook! (and definitely not baking – I have not conquered the opera cake yet – plus I haven’t deboned a duck…let alone a chicken) And I am most definitely not a Broadway director. I direct summer camps for Overshadowed and direct my school´s drama program/plays. Broadway someday? I can dream. But in the meantime, I absolutely L-O-V-E what I do. So back to it.
I almost (not completely because I l-o-v-e to eat) enjoy imagining the combination of flavors, texture, and plating more than creating the actual dish. Why? It’s the wonder of possibilities! It’s the magic of ´before´ reality hits and all the obstacles jump up to bonk you in the nose. As I read a script, the same thing happens. Oh the possibilities! I imagine the world with the movie or I should say, the ´stage of the mind´. And while the show plays, I ask questions: What do I think the forest of Oberon and Titania actually looks like?Should the 39 Steps be staged as a radio drama or can it be ´live action´?And Jane Eyre..modern or historical?How should Don John hide his perfidy from the characters but not the audience in Much Ado About Nothing? How would an audience react to a production of Raisin in the Sun?How actually should I create the creatures of The Hobbit? (that one was answered brilliantly by my creative team!)
Sometimes the visualization doesn’t start with a script. It sometimes happens like my grocery shopping (especially when I´m hungry). Sometimes, I will see a unique ingredient (like a kumquat) and think, ´I´ve never cooked with that before. I wonder how it can be used and what other ingredients will go with it?´ Then, I pull out my phone right there and look up ideas, nutritional facts, and common or unique ways to cook it. And then into the cart it goes and the adventure begins! Sometimes I´m introduced to a new idea I´ve never used before, or a story I´ve never heard of, or a design element or tool I’d absolutely love to use. The research begins and ´Oh the possibilities´!
And once the mind, and sometimes the heart, are full of all the possibilities, I have found I need a lot of help to make that dream a reality.
Which of course leads to the next step: the collaboration.
With the ´recipe´ of the visualization in hand, I turn to my team. As a director or the visionary of any creative endeavor, this is the most essential task – getting your vision, ideas, tastes, textures, mood, hopes, fears, wish lists, and the world across to your creative team.
Not just so they understand what is being created, but so that they catch your hunger; so that they take ownership of the vision as well. Any chef knows the explanation of a recipe must be absolutely clear or what will be presented to the diner will be a muddied catastrophe. The director must be absolutely clear in establishing the framework and details the world his/her team is to work within. They become your sous chefs in their respective areas of expertise. Lighting, costuming, makeup/hair, sound, house, set, props, stage crew, marketing – you name it. This utterly essential team must hunger for exactly what you´re hungering for. If you pick well, as I have thankfully often experienced, they will love your vision as much as you do. And as such, will willingly share in the burden of creation.
The creative team is not just there to share in the burden, they´re there to add to the dish. Having other’s input adds flavor, shape, and foresight or resolution to problems you couldn’t see (I tend to dream big, my team helps keep my feet on the ground). Plus, someone else’s creativity and skill can make all the difference. That doesn’t mean the recipe loses its intrinsic value, its central identity, or that the director loses ownership. It simply means a new perspective of costuming, some expertise on how to actually make those puppets work, a composition of the mood you wanted to convey through music, or a unique way of enhancing audience interaction will all help create an authentic performance. That is simply invaluable. This team will become your fellow visionaries, and in some cases, dear friends with whom you can share and bolster the creative process through all the possibilities.
The third step (which I adore) is the preparation, or the creation of the characters. This is the step of pulling the characters from the page into the world that has been envisioned and is being created. This step requires reliance on the sous chefs/line cooks.
I think actors generally fall in the range of both. (I speak as an actor as well). What I mean is this: My niece is 14, precocious, opinionated, very chatty, beautiful, creative, and did I mention opinionated? My nephew is 16, tall, handsome, a sweetheart, intelligent (single) and follows instructions well. (I love them…clearly) When my sister and I cook or bake (Which we love to do! She could open her own restaurant), we do enjoy making it a family affair, which means pulling my niece or nephew into the adventure. Both enjoy cooking in my sisters kitchen, but one is a sous chef and one is more of a line cook. My nephew takes the instructions and performs with minimal questions. Need something diced? Grilled? He’s on it. If he doesn’t know how, a demonstration or explanation is given and he’s good. My niece, on the other hand, needs to know why. Always. ´Why not julienned instead of diced? It will look prettier, Aunt Kady!´ Oy vey! I have learned that after explanation, and after she has defended her point of view (vociferously), I have a choice. I can modify per her suggestion, or if that modification takes us outside the parameters of the recipe, I can choose not to. But I had better clearly explain why not to her before she is willing to move on. And she does, and dices with absolute precision. She does so because she owns her understanding of why. It’s now her mission, her task, her recipe too. Now I know sous chefs are second in command in the kitchen. I´m not saying actors are assistant directors. But, when it comes to character creation, the directorial vision has to be handed over to the ´assistant´ creators of those characters – which is the actors.
I have found that despite training (Meisner, Method, College degree, or complete amateur), actors generally land somewhere between my neice or my nephew. I enjoy both the line cooks and the sous chefs. Those like my nephew take the instruction and go with it. If they need direction they ask or accept it, then take it and go. They have already signed up to your vision because they trust it’s gonna ´taste´ good (especially if it’s pasta). They really thrive when the director is ´hands on´ in the early stages of laying out the elements of the character that he/she want to see brought to life and then stepping back and allowing the actor to take on the responsibility progressively throughout the entire process until of course they present the character on stage before an audience. Others…well…are my niece. They may question your vision from the very start. It doesn’t matter if they are highly trained or complete newbies. These are more sous chefs than line chefs and need to own the ´recipe´ of their characters as their own. This means you have to explain the vision and it needs to make sense to them. They need to understand the world their character lives in. And if it doesn’t make sense and they just can’t claim ownership of it, well… there have been times I’ve kicked my niece out of the kitchen. But when they do own the vision, when they are allowed to add their flavor to it… the performance that results from such an intensive shaping can be so enriched and authentic. In the world that’s been created by a team fully committed to the vision, adding a performance that has been relentlessly picked apart, lovelingly shaped together, and executed with absolute belief is utterly glorious! I guarantee that your audience won’t soon forget it. It is a beautiful preparation.
From visualization to collaboration to preparation, we’ve arrived at the final flourish, the lifting of the silver dome – the presentation! What a wonder it is when that curtain finally rises! A chef can indeed cook alone and create an adventure on a plate that the diner won’t soon forget.
But theater is not a solo endeavor.
Besides creativity and teamwork, its most important ingredient is trust. The playwright must trust that their story will be told with integrity, even with creative license. The director must trust that the world he/she envisioned will truly be brought to life by the design team, the crew, and the actors. And when the audience sits down to dine on the feast that is truly the ´theater experience´, they trust that the performance they are about to partake in has been cooked up with the greatest love, professionalism, care, detail, and creativity, with a dash of magic. Bon appetit!