Thursday, June 15, 2006

Company Actor ≠ Commodity

Unless my life goes flying off in an unexpected direction or blinks out entirely, I believe that in three-to-five years time I'll be ready to form a theater company, even though there may be too many in Portland even now. My theater tastes are beginning to clarify even though I can't articulate them well, yet. Doing Shakespeare, on the one hand, and film, on the other, both influence me. I know that I like language and physicality both and that I love marrying serious intent to whimsicality. I also know that I prefer strong narrative works, though I'm prepared to let that change. I'm not interested in plot for its own sake, but as something that helps orient actors and audience as other things are going on. I like high entertainment value and high literary/dramatic interest, both.

I also like working in a focused, if playful way. The one thing that irritates me most in the rehearsal room or on set is the 'cluster f@#cks' that often form when a group of people need to do a task for which no one takes charge--oy vey, man, it's a headache-and I'm not fond of frittering work time away in too much actorish yack-yack (some is good, even essential). As I work around town, I definitely tune into--and remember--those actors and other theater artists who demonstrate focus and commitment and with whom it is fun, fun, fun to work.

I'm also looking out for actors and theater artists who would seem to benefit from--or at least show interest in--working consistantly with the same collaborators over time. Pick up, scratch casts, in a lovingly amateur theater town such as Portland don't get much CHANCE to do great work (something which a group like Theater Vertigo recognizes and tries to correct) as actors get treated like a commodity, and don't get a chance to develop their own, idiosyncratic talents or fallow skills. Directors don't get a chance to know how individual actors work so that collaborations can develop over time, or actors simply don't work often enough. In Portland, there are exceptions. One is the loose, running gang that is Don Alder and his actor pals such as John Morrison, Jeff Gorham, Danny Bruno, Hollis Wilson, David Burnett, Sarah Luchte (and a few others) who work together again and again. Don works with these actors again and again not because they're the 'best' actors available for a project at any given moment (though, they often are!) but because they're the best actors for EACH OTHER at any given moment, which is often better for a project than hiring actors who seem best for a project, on the basis of an audition or two.... Ya'all follow me?

Of course, I'm thinking of myself. At the rate I'm working now--and doing the kind of roles I'm being given--I will slowly get better, but may never start landing the lead roles for which I have an appetite, as long as I'm a 'commodity' in the same 'market' with actors my own age, with more experience and readier access to their talents than I have now. In a company setting, where my strengths and weaknesses are made more pliable and responsive to those of my fellow actors, what are limitations for me, now, would become strengths for both myself and the company, in short time. I think that Third Rail recognizes this, though Third Rail is also blessed to have started it's life with actors already working at a higher level than any other actor-oriented company in town; so does Portland Actors Ensemble and Northwest Classical Theater Company, which go out of their way to invite actors back from season to season, cherry picking from auditions--where necessary or possible--while giving 'less skilled' actors who have worked for them one year, a chance to develop, the next (I'm one of those actors.)

So, I'm begining to give thought to what qualities I'd like a company to have; among them would be focus, aspiration to professional standards based on exposure to the best work being done (not just in Portland!), reliance on strong narratives, mutual supportiveness (actor egos.... yuch), a shared sensibility, an appetite for classical as well as contemporary work, an indoor space, and an appetite for continued physical and vocal training (as I add qualities to the list, I realize that each or all of them are embraced by Portland companies other than the ones I've already mentioned--e.g., Quintessence--but none of them seem to have quite the 'mix' for which I seem to be looking). If such a company had to have as few as three players to embrace these and other like qualities I discover to be important, that's what it would be.

My impression is that Artitsts Repertory Theater started out in a similar way, and it worked.

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p.s. Yeah, in a post below, I said I'm losing interest in stage work as I get a taste of film. That's not entirely inaccurate, but I'd get closer to the truth by saying I'm losing a taste for doing theater in which some essential qualities seem to be lacking.... But, I dunno. Often, I'm thinking aloud on this blog, which I find useful to do in public as a means of attracting communication with other theater artists who are thinking about the same ideas or looking to do similar kinds of work.

3 comments:

Sokrates said...

I believe that in three-to-five years time I'll be ready to form a theater company, even though there may be too many in Portland even now.

I respectfully disagree with you here. P-town could definitely use more theater companies -- plus bigger audiences! A supposedly artistic town, the Rose City really has some catching up to do with regard to theater attendance.

But back to your point, more theater companies could equal more work opportunities for actors plus more options for audiences.

Pick up, scratch casts, in a lovingly amateur theater town such as Portland don't get much CHANCE to do great work

I'm with you on this one. While I enjoy meeting and working with new actors each time I do a show, after a while it can feel like so many one-night stands as opposed to a long-term relationship.

so does Portland Actors Ensemble and Northwest Classical Theater Company, which go out of their way to invite actors back from season to season, cherry picking from auditions--where necessary or possible--while giving 'less skilled' actors who have worked for them one year, a chance to develop, the next (I'm one of those actors.)

As am I! Having played a smaller role for them last year, I'm glad PAE has given me the opportunity to do something bigger this time around. Naturally, I enjoy and appreciate being rewarded for my hard work! So kudos to PAE for "promoting from within."

Aislinn said...

David, when the time comes for you to form a theater company, I hope you think of me.

Trish Egan & Harold Phillips said...

I'm in! :)

I especially agree with the goal of working "in a focused, if playful way." I too get frustrated by too much gabbing in rehearsal and not enough focused work. Yes, what we do is fun... but a strong artist has to know when to turn off the fun and put in the work required to turn in a fully realized, in-the-moment performance. There's a reason why the German's call acting "Spielenarbeit" (literal translation: "Play work.") Yes, we play... but we work and we work hard if we want to produce a quality product for our audiences.