Who the heck cares about your theatre legacy?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about legacy in community theatre. The legacy we leave and the legacy that we inherit from others. Some legacies are absolute rubbish but so many are valuable beyond measure.
The privilege we all enjoy of working in community theatre comes from years of dedication by people who probably wondered if anyone even noticed them. Managers who pulled companies through economic recessions, determined not to let the company die on their watch; lighting technicians who rig lights show after show; those who quietly sell programmes in the foyer or make sandwiches in the kitchen; everyone of them is building a legacy and they’re the reason our theatre companies exist today; the reason we can enjoy what we do.
But where does your legacy begin? How do you make sure you’re building a positive legacy of your own? And, who the heck cares anyway?
As I considered my own legacy, I remembered the moment when the very concept actually entered my brain. Years ago, I was performing in the chorus of a musical and I was bored. out. of. my. brain! The show was old fashioned and the director struggled to release the chorus to do more than “enter as a single pile” (Victor Borge, you are magic).
As rehearsals continued, I grew more belligerent. My attitude was rank with self righteousness and while I kept my thoughts to myself, I didn’t even try. In other words, if I was working with a ‘me’ now, I’d be sticking a boot pretty far up my immature behind.
One day, I noticed a friend who had created a little story for herself within the upstage action of the chorus. This story went far beyond the ‘whisper behind your hand, nod at the people either side of you’ stuff. This was well thought out business that added to the depth of the story without pulling focus. She continued to create this little lone character and pull her life onto the stage every time the chorus entered. She was wonderful and, it was at this moment that I realised how little value I was adding to the show and, just as importantly, to the team I was part of.
I learned several things in that show:
You set your own attitude. No one is responsible for your work ethic but you. Precious, self absorbed actors are useless on stage and add no value to the story or the team. Flush a bad attitude and get on with the job. Someone is learning their bad attitude by watching yours.
You can learn something from everyone you work with, even a director with limited skills. They’re working their butts off, are probably well aware of their limitations and don’t need anyone else to point them out. It’s theatre, people. You work together to create something bigger than yourself and, to do that, EVERYONE needs to think with the team in mind (and when it gets too much, stick a straw in a good bottle of red and enjoy some quiet time ;-).
As a future director, I learned the value of releasing chorus actors to create; that they are more than an homogeneous blob. Each performer on the stage has enormous value and I needed to learn to release each person to participate fully in the story. They aren’t there just to be a moving backdrop. They can be so much more.
Chorus work takes skill. Remove the phrase ‘just chorus’ from your theatre vocabulary. It takes time to learn how to create stage business that adds to the production without drawing focus. It’s a fine balance and takes maturity in performance, not to mention humility.
Finally, I learned that leaving a legacy does not require a high profile. Don’t ever think that what you do goes unnoticed. It’s noticed, all right. So make sure that what you are projecting is positive. Someone will notice you thanking the sound technician who removes your microphone for you but they will also notice when you are rude to a member of the stage crew. The thought that an act of immature behaviour would be mirrored by a less experienced performer should horrify us.
So, does legacy matter? Aren’t we all just desperately trying to make our own mark on this world, eager to be noticed and acknowledged? In my opinion, our legacy is one thing that really says ‘we were here’ in this theatre community.
Every single one of you in the theatre does something that the average person would (I’ve said it many times) pee their pants doing. On and off the stage, everyone involved in a community theatre production exhibits courage when they create community theatre in spite of ridiculous limitations and challenges. You are therefore the very people who should be demonstrating what it means to create and grow a positive legacy.
So, before you release your ‘attitude’ at your next rehearsal, remember that each word and action will become part of your legacy.
Sherryl-Lee Secomb is An Idiot On Stage. The Idiot exists to encourage and equip community theatre to expect more and be extraordinary.
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