Love, Rejection, and Guido Contini

Guido Contini is the energetic centerpiece of the musical Nine. He is a celebrity superstar, an actor and movie maker who writes, directs, performs in, and subtitles his own movies. He is a playboy control freak with charming film-biz charisma who compartmentalizes his life’s worries and deals with problems as they arise. The show is his world as he sees it– a thrilling voyeur’s vantage into the mind of a director of peerless talents.

In the face of his ever-fluctuating work atmosphere, seemingly the most constant thing in Guido’s life is love, and a never ending assortment of it, in many various forms. Through the show we meet his four loves, each occupying a different role in his life: His wife, his mistress, his muse, and his mother.

What also remains constant– though perhaps not conscious to Guido– is the way the people in his life are presented to the audience. As we see the world through his eyes, the action of the show gives us a clear idea of his worldview. The picture we are given is relatively bleak.

Every character in this show, barring a few exceptions, gets two songs. One is an introduction– a love song– and one is a rejection.

Guido’s introduction, the opening of the show, is effectively a love song to himself. He is an artist, an ambitious man who wants all of the best in his life. He wishes he could clone himself so he could be everywhere at once and sing duets with himself.  

Each of his loves, then, are also introduced to us in a love song to Guido. Guido is not present for any of these.

His wife, Louisa, is the first of his harem we meet, as is perhaps appropriate for a wife. In her song, “My Husband Makes Movies,” she is standing by Guido and defending him to brutal paparazzi. She is a champion in this role, and has clearly done this many times before. However, as the music changes, she steps away from the reporters and into her own head, and we realize it is all a facade. She plays the role of the supporting wife, but that role is long behind her, as she explains. She is relatively emotionless in this section: remorseful, and regretful, but she is controlled. She has played the supporting wife so long that it is second nature to her– and her first nature is withering. We learn that she has given much up for Guido, and yet she knows that he is not loyal to her. There is much about his life she does not understand. That’s why the song is what it is: not “my husband is an excellent man,” or “I love my husband”– it’s only “My Husband Makes Movies,” and that is the most she can most honestly assert about him.

The second woman we meet is his mistress, Carla. She is sensual and maybe a bit of an airhead. These are both very clear from her introduction. Her song is “A Call from the Vatican”, and it plays dual roles: first, introducing Carla, and second, introducing the nature of their relationship. There is an obvious sexual element, but also a heightened, almost gleeful sense of sacrilege: they are breaking all the rules and are happy to do it. Guido is interrupted by his wife, and lies that this phone-sex call from his mistress is “a call from the vatican.” Meanwhile, Carla lists off, in the most grand, sexual, over-the-top-show-biz way, all the things she wants to do to Guido. It’s a great song that leaves Guido wanting more, and leaves him with the promise that more will come.

Guido’s third lover is introduced far later. We’re given glimpses of her in act one, but never a full look, as we will learn is emblematic of her relationship with Guido. Finally in the opening of Act Two we are given her song of introduction. Claudia, Guido’s muse, is a classy actress, keeping her relationship with Guido as professional as she can. However, her control is slipping. She can’t help but admit that she is in love with him, and it hurts her. Her introduction is technically two songs, though the first is more of a brief introduction to the second: She and Guido exchange words and reflect on the nature of their relationship. During this, it’s mentioned that Louisa actually called Claudia to come and see Guido, and Claudia does not wish to hurt her. Both women seem to understand that they are each important to their lover. Guido, however, is not in love with the real Claudia. As she states, he’s in love with someone he made up– the idea of her rather than the real thing. Indeed, the short song in which they speak to each other is quite different from the second song she sings alone. “A Man like You,” the introduction, is relatively upbeat, and Claudia is straightforward. She rejects Guido kindly. However, immediately following is her song of true introduction, “In A Very Unusual Way”. This song is the opposite: she is slow to explain her thoughts, she comes around to them in no straightforward manner. She says she “thinks” she’s in love with him, doesn’t know how long it’s lasted and how it started, but knows it won’t end. Her words ring like a schoolgirl crush: “you don’t know what you do to me / you don have a clue / you cant tell what its like to be me / looking at you.”

The last of Guido’s loves is his mother. She sings of her love for him in the title song “Nine.” Though this is obviously different from the other songs, being about parental affections rather than amorous attraction, it nonetheless adheres to the consistent structure Guido’s loves comply with: All of the women get an initial introduction that explains their relationship to Guido, a “valentine” of sorts. All of these women get a second song, too: a rejection. His mother’s song of rejection comes before the rest. In “The Bells of St. Sebastian,” Guido’s mother harangues him for stooping to receive the affections of a prostitute named Saraghina– a character who we will return to later.

Next we see Carla’s rejection song, “Simple.” It is the opposite of what we see in her first song. Here she is quiet, withdrawn, and serious. Her song is heartfelt and humble, no hint of the sensation of her first song: it is simple, drawing on simple things. 

Claudia’s rejection is immediately next, tagging onto the end of Carla’s. We see Claudia here as we saw her first: straightforward, business-like, offering a polite rejection. However, there is no wavering in her stance now. Her mind is firmly made up, and she must move on.

And then comes Louisa’s rejection. In “Be on Your Own”, she is no longer controlled in her emotions. She is angry, and will gladly tell Guido so. She rejects the mask of support she’s worn for so long, saying there’s “no need to carry out this masquerade”. And when she leaves him, he is totally on his own.

And now is Guido’s own rejection song: a grim reprise of his introduction. Unlike the women, whose songs are totally different, his song is a complete replication of the first song’s theme: he hasn’t changed as a person at all, except to become more undone, and that is why he is where he is. 

Nine is entirely an exploration of Guido’s world. So with this in mind, it’s important to consider the fact that all of his women get exactly two outlets for their feelings. Imagine the world of a man where every person is characterized by two single moments: their love, and their rejection.

And indeed, everyone in Guido’s life has these moments, except for three people. His Producer sings one song which isn’t a love song to Guido at all, but a love song to the art of performance in general (and also a rejection in the form of the female film critic’s jabs). The other notable people in Guido’s life to have only one song are Saraghina and Young Guido. The two are inextricably connected.

We can assume Saraghina is the reason Guido is the way he is. His mother states as much in a few lines before Saraghina’s introductory song, implying that all of Guido’s problems with love started with this woman. Saraghina teaches Guido to court and bed women– a skill set that he surely takes advantage of. Saraghina only has one love song. By the end of the show, she is the one woman in Guido’s life who never rejected him. And yet, she is also one who never really loved him, either. Her song is not so much a love song to Guido, but to love and sex and the “thrill of the chase” altogether. Still, Guido seems to hold her in high regard. He even calls her an “extraordinary woman.”

Once Guido’s carefully constructed pillar of lies crumble, Young Guido appears, at the very end of the show. He does no sing a Love or rejection song, but to sing something new for the show and for Guido: a reconciliation song. Here, Guido learns from his mistakes for the first time. He learns a real lesson. Guido has been set on a path by Saraghina– playfully seeking out every potential mate he can, unable to commit to any one. He has effectively never grown and experienced a true adult’s relationship. In “Getting Tall” Young Guido convinces Guido to grow up, and the finale reprises, Guido decides that he will move on and act his age at last. 

This show paints a fascinating image of a man stunted by mature affections understood too early. By seeking out sexuality as a child, he finds himself trapped and unable to connect meaningfully with women as an adult. We understand the mind of a man who believes everyone is either completely taken with him, or in complete disdain of him. Fittingly, it is a child, or an avatar of childhood itself that convinces him otherwise. Children are resilient in that way: they’ll be yelled at by their parents or go through a bad split with a friend one minute, and be happily showering their friend or family member with affection the next. It is our twisted adult sensibilities and conceptions of romance that convince us to see our relationships with others so black and white. Ironically, by seeking out adult love from everyone who could provide it, Guido behaves in a childish way. And yet, Guido must learn things a child knows– things he was never able to really experience as child because Saraghina forced him to maturity too early. It is reconciling with his childhood self that forces him to see the error of his ways at last.

Guido’s brushes with love and rejection in Nine are at once familiar and yet difficult for the audience to fully understand. This is what makes Guido such a fascinating character to us, and surely to the characters around him: he is as enigmatic as he is energetic, and his magnetic personality is both hard to resist and yet a piece of his downfall. Nine creates startling, repeated examples of duality, in the people around Guido and Guido himself, related to love and how we love, and rejection and why we reject. And yet, in the end, we are told it is truly all more simple than we can grasp– something even a child would know instinctively.

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Joyful Celebration in the Face of Death: Jonathan Larson’s Rent

A while back, I saw a Facebook post where some theatre folk were sharing their theater culture’s pre-show traditions. These are always wildly different, but invariably bizarre, fun, and full of energy. The comment that made me stop and think was one about a high school’s pre-show activities for their production of Rent. The poster said they typically did some fun sort of hype-up activity, but didn’t do it for their more serious shows– Rent included– because it wasn’t appropriate.

This took me off-guard. Sure, Rent is a serious show, but it’s never one that I’ve considered so overly serious that any celebration beforehand is bad. In fact, after some thought, I’d wager even the opposite- that Rent is serious, and you must celebrate. The seriousness of Rent isn’t the most important part of it. Rent is about much more than dying of AIDS and battling drug addiction. These are present and powerful entities in the show, but they are never the most important piece. Rent is, at its core, a celebration. Rent’s message is not one of sorrow and regret, but one of celebration in spite of, and even of, death itself.

To fully see this aspect of Rent, I think it’s important to start at the root. The root here is Jonathan Larson. 

Jonathan Larson’s works all have some similarities. First of all, Larson was as much a fan of the broadway theaters his parents took him to as a child as he was of the rock scene exploding around him in his youth. His works blend these passions: his vision of the rock musical lead Jonathan Larson to introduce himself, as described in the coffee table book, by saying, “I’m the future of musical theatre.”

Second, Larson lived– and worshipped– the “bohemian” life. He had spent significant time living in run-down, one-room apartments in NYC. Anthony Rapp talks a bit about Larson’s apartment situation in his memoir Without You: Larson had to throw down the key from a window, since the building had no way to buzz in visitors, and his bathtub was in the kitchen. Larson and his friends would host Christmastime “peasant’s feasts” in this rundown apartment, hosting revolving groups of friends who couldn’t go home for the holidays for huge potluck meals. Larson glorifies this lifestyle in his most popular works– Tick Tick BOOM’s cast recording includes a song called “Boho Days”, where Larson recounts essentially autobiographical details of living in a horrible, dirty, crowded, and wonderful apartment. Rent is, in every sense, a serenade to the artists and alternatives struggling to keep up their passion, and survive, too. 

Larson’s works are almost all autobiographical in some sense. Indeed, many memorable aspects of Rent come directly from Larson’s life. The project began as a collaboration, but Larson’s drive to write about his own experience turned Rent into a solo project instead. Jonathan says, as quoted in Without You, “I wrote this show about my life. About the lives of my friends. And some of my friends are gone. And I really miss them.” It’s important to note that the values of these shows are as much Larson’s values– and this shines through clearly.

Larson is not mourning the pain of his “starving artist” lifestyle in Rent, not really. Neither are the characters in the show.

Rent is hardly a somber dirge. From its outset, it is never exceedingly negative about the life of the alternative. The opening number “Rent” is an electric burst of energy while singing about being poor and unable to afford housing. “Light my Candle” is a sensual number in which Mimi asks Roger to light the candle she’ll use to heat heroin. “Another Day” is an argument between friends and lovers, and yet it’s upbeat pop-rock anthem. Even some of the more somber moments in the show are written in a positive way. For example, take the mortality-realizing “Will I”. This song is not a sad, slow piece, as it perhaps would be in another show. In Rent, it is comfortably mid-tempo, accompanied not by dramatic orchestral strings but by a simple piano and guitar. It doesn’t sound overtly sad, especially not with its soaring harmonies. The round format combined with the lyrics is rather bleak– a nod to the fact that nearly every character in the show is worried about dying alone and being forgotten, or touched in some way by the miserable realities of addiction and AIDS. Nonetheless, the song is set firmly in Gb major, not a dramatic minor key. (Typically, major keys denote a “happy” or “light” sound, while minor keys invoke a “sad” or “dark” sound.) “I’ll Cover You Reprise”, which takes place at Angel’s funeral, is a soulful gospel anthem, not a sad orchestral piece, and is ALSO set in a major key: this time, B major. Taking away the lyrics, neither of these would sound very sad or negative at all. 

The show remains positive and even hopeful in moments that would be anything but in a different show. In fact, Rent goes out of its way to do so. Although Rent is only based loosely on the original La Boheme opera, it distinctly turns away from the source material at the ending: instead of ending on the death of Mimi’s character, Rent ends with Mimi living and the group celebrating another year gone by. This massive change is not made without reason. Larson clearly had something to say in making this decision.

Of course, Rent represents life and death for other reasons, as well. Jonathan Larson died the night of the show’s off-broadway preview premier. The performance the next day, as per the decision of the team and cast, was to be staged as a simple concert sing-through for the friends and family of Jonathan Larson. The cast decided that it had to be performed in Larson’s honor, but getting caught up in the production itself seemed inappropriate– having the cast simply sit and honor the work Jonathan created was the idea. They set up tables on the stage, lined with throat lozenges and tissues; the audience was jammed with people, filling the sits, overflowing into the aisles, standing in the back. In Without You, Rapp explains now the momentum of the show quickly took control. Despite, or perhaps because of their mourning, the show’s energy was more electric than it had ever been. As the show drove on, the cast battled through emotion and performed powerfully. By “La Vie Boheme,” the energy reached fever pitch. As Anthony Rapp writes, “it was clear that the time for sitting down was over.” The actors were up dancing on the tables, singing loud and joyful, and the rest of the show was decided to be staged as written to enormous cheers. Larson’s work was performed as a celebration of his words and music, and that power was overwhelming.

At the end of the show, the audience sat in stunned silence and stillness until a single voice called, “thank you, Jonathan Larson.”

Rent went on, after some thoughtful re-writes by the rest of the artistic team, to open off-broadway as scheduled and on broadway at the Nederlander Theatre later the same year. It did not die with Jonathan Larson.

I hope you can see the parallel: Rent’s message as a show is not just one of celebrating life and death. Rent itself and its development as a whole is a message of celebrating life and death.

Jonathan Larson did not build Rent to be a tragedy. It is not a sorrowful show. Rent is not about death. Everything else about the show– its energy, its strength, its joy– is far more important than the sorrowful elements. The seriousness of Rent is besides the point. Rent is a celebration. It is, as Rapp writes, “a valentine to bohemia,” the product of a childhood of rock and roll, Sondheim, and opera. It is an autobiographical documentary of Larson’s lifestyle and love, and a story– both on and off stage– of friendship and love. And indeed, it tells a tale of loss– but there’s a reason the show doesn’t end in loss. There’s a reason the problems in the show are resolved whether through actual solution or simply the characters’ acceptance of these shortcomings. The loss in this show isn’t a product– it’s the catalyst. Loss is not something to resent, and it is not the end. Rent tells us that loss gives way to something else far more important. The show tells us to love the people we have while we have them. It tells us to work on your art for yourself, even when you are starving and homeless. It tells us to love and love freely, wildly, and without regard for social norms. It tells us that true friendship will weather anything, even if it isn’t completely invincible to trials. And most importantly, it tells us that loss is only temporary– that all that comes from loss is far more important than the instant of mourning.

Rent is not about mourning. It is, out of memory for Larson and of his choices in the show, not a piece to cause sorrow. Rent, in its totality, is a wholehearted, endless celebration of love, life, and yes, even loss. 

“There are no Small Parts, Only Small Actors”

If you’re involved in theatre in any way, then you’ve definitely heard the phrase “there’s no small parts, only small actors” at least once– and probably far more than that. When I was younger, I figured this was just untrue. There are small parts, I thought, that’s just a fact. Some parts are on stage less, or have less lines. They’re small, but that’s not the actor’s fault.

Clearly I wasn’t alone in this sentiment and clearly I’m still not, because I constantly hear stories about actors quitting shows because they didn’t get a “good” part.

This idea among young theatre students– that there is indeed a “small part”— feeds into multiple bad behaviors that not only makes their acting worse but can make entire shows worse. In fact, I’d say that dispelling this myth is one of the most important things a director can do right off the bat to make sure their show has all the power it can have.

So let’s establish something right now– there is no such thing as a small part.

Yes, some have less stage time than others, and some have less lines. But that’s a terrible way of gauging importance to a show. There’s plenty of characters that aren’t in a show for long but are lastingly memorable and extremely important. Brenda is only in the second act of Catch Me If You Can, but she’s still a great role. Grizabella is only in a few scenes of Cats, but she’s by far the most memorable. The characters in Godspell pretty much only have a song each, but some of these songs are extremely recognizable even outside of theatre. Madame Morrible changes the trajectory of the entire plot of Wicked, and she’s only got a handful of lines in the whole show.

My point is this: just because a role doesn’t have many lines or isn’t on stage much doesn’t mean it’s unimportant.

But let’s say you’re no Brenda or Madame Morrible. What if you have an ensemble part? What if you don’t have a single line? What if you don’t even have a name?

You already know what I’m going to say about that, but you probably don’t understand why.

Yes, even the nameless ensemble character is important. In fact, nameless ensemble can make or break a show. They can still be just as recognizable as the characters above. At the beginning of Beauty and the Beast, nameless ensemble become incredibly iconic characters. In Catch Me if You Can, the Jet Set and the nurses are nameless ensemble members that are very important, and also loads of fun to play. Even when the characters aren’t iconic, they’re still important– imagine Wicked without “Dancing Through Life” or “One Short Day.” These songs couldn’t exist without a large cast of ensemble members. Maybe you don’t know who these munchkins are, but you still appreciate them being there! Furthermore, the ensemble parts have the incredibly difficult task of establishing the world or situation, or effecting tone or mood without having any lines. A good, fully-engaged ensemble makes a show fun or heavy- a bored ensemble makes a show boring and non-impactful. 

I think I’ve established the first part of this maxim well- There’s absolutely no such thing as a small part and everyone on the stage has a very important task to be fulfilling. 

So on to the second part- the “small actors”.

I mentioned a bored ensemble above. That would be a group of small actors. Someone who is cast as an important role but plays it bored and limp because they’re upset they don’t have a bigger part is a small actor. Anyone who shirks their responsibility to the show they auditioned for just because they aren’t the lead is a very, very small actor.

In part this is because of their failure to or lack of willingness to learn. Someone who shirks their responsibility to a show because they don’t like their part isn’t learning anything. Contrary, apparently, to popular belief, you can learn a ton from acting in the ensemble: how to make every line meaningful, how to use body language to convey a character without lines, how to stay on and engaged on stage at all times, so on. Someone who stays angry and lazy as a result won’t hone these skills. They won’t learn how to perform their role better, they won’t learn how to make more of an impact with less to work with- they’ll just say their piece and get off the stage to sulk. Anyone who does this will not become a good actor, and they should never get a larger part. 

Like I mentioned before, even parts with one or two lines can become iconic and recognizable. Lurch from The Addams Family doesn’t speak a word until the very last song, but he’s still iconic and you can bet that a really great actor can make it a fantastic, hysterical role. A “small actor” would just be mad to be a side character and phone it in. No one would appreciate his presence. The role would effectively be wasted.

If you treat any given role this way, you shouldn’t be in the show at all. You’re wasting a vacancy of cast space that could be used to make the show better. A cast is only as strong as its weakest link and the moment someone isn’t all-in is the moment a show falters. Being a small actor will make the shows you’re in worse. You will be dragging down your friends and castmates.

So what can you do to avoid that?

You can learn. You can learn not to be upset and you can learn how to play your “small” part to the best of your ability. You can come out of the show having improved your acting abilities and impressed an audience.

Or you can just be mad. That’s what makes you a small actor. Being a small actor is a choice– and if you’d choose to do that, I’d prefer you not join any show of mine. 

5 More Nonfiction Reading Recommendations for Theatre People

Following up my previous list, here are even more reading suggestions for actors and fans of theatre. Once again, this list is organized roughly from “easier, conversational works” to “textbook-style information”.

1. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

The source material for the Broadway musical of the same name, this graphic memoir has all the charm and intrigue of the show. This sophisticated read deals with family, sexuality, and coming-of-age passages, all told with Bechdel’s sarcastic humor and biting wit. A must-read for fans of the musical and everyone else.

2. Drama High by Michael Sokolove

The (highly adapted) inspiration for the NBC show Rise, about the high school theatre program that piloted high school editions of both Rent and Spring Awakening. If you are interested in teaching theatre, this is absolute required reading! This book is at once a meditation on lower-middle-class Suburban life, education, theatre, and the effect all three of these things have on each other. If you are a Rent or Spring Awakening fan, you will find a lot to enjoy in this book, as you will if you were ever a high school theatre kid.

3. The Secret Life of the American Musical by Jack Viertel

A very conversational dig into the bare bones of musicals. Moving “chronologically” through the structure of a musical, this book explores the traditional roles of various archetypical songs in theatre, such as the “I Want” song and the “11 O’clock Number”. Examples from classic and contemporary popular musicals make the information as entertaining as it is accessible. Audience members and actors alike will be able to take plenty from this read!

4. Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway by Michael Riedel

This is the first book strictly on theatre history I have recommended on this blog! This deep dive into the history of the Great White Way has as much energy as the street itself and doesn’t shy away from the seedy daily dealings and dark underbellies of the biggest titans of broadway business. As informative as it is entertaining– a love letter to show biz gone by. If you want your history to be as gritty and unflinching as the Broadway bigwigs themselves, look no further. Highly recommended.

5. Acting the Song by Tracey Moore with Allison Bergman

Incredibly dense and incredibly useful for any musical theatre actor or singer. This book is essentially your step-by-step guide to interpreting songs and as well as performing them. As the title suggests, Acting the Song is about finding actable interpretive choices and playing them at their most effective. The book includes plenty of examples and exercises to steer any performer in the right direction. Take your time with this read– the information is valuable and worth your full attention!

 

My Favorite Strategy for Learning a Role: Engage Your Senses

 

About a year ago I listened to to an episode of the Kwik Brain podcast all about hacking your brain in order to learn lines more efficiently. I’d recommend anyone looking for some new strategies check out the episode and the second part, too. However, of all of the concepts presented in the two episodes, only one strategy has really stuck with me and become a crucial part of my preparation for a show. I’ve now used this strategy to learn several roles, and am always eager to share with others, because it has been a game changer.

This strategy is to engage all of your senses.

Learning lines is often a very cerebral, inactive process– sitting down with a script and working at scenes over and over until you have them down. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this approach. If you find this just isn’t cutting it for you, though, here’s another idea.

Human memory is associated very strongly with certain senses. For example, catching a whiff of a familiar perfume or tasting a familiar brand of candy can vividly remind us of certain people or times. When I eat cherry Twizzler nibs, I am effectively transported back in time to weekends at my dad’s house, when I’d buy these and eat them while I played my favorite video games. Perhaps feeling cold air or smelling dry leaves in the fall reminds you of going back to school and makes you feel nostalgic. Certain memories are so closely associated with certain sensations that seeing, smelling, feeling, hearing, or tasting something from a very bad or good time can make you feel bad or good immediately upon contact.

Memory is connected to your physical senses. So how can you harness this in learning your lines?

The first thing you should try is to rehearse exactly as you will perform as much as possible. For example, if you know your blocking yet and have access to the space in which you will be performing, try memorizing your lines with the movements in the space. This way, the process is made physical– also a huge boon for memorization. Arriving early to rehearsal or staying late where possible to run choreography or blocking on the stage can therefore be even more helpful than rehearsing at home. The sights, smells, and sensations of the performance space can all serve as cues to aid in memorization. This is called context dependent memory and is an actual, scientific phenomenon!

Therefore, always opt for extra rehearsal time in the performance venue where possible. Instead of leaving early and practicing at home, capitalize on your time in the venue as much as you can!

But let’s say you don’t have access to the space– this is probably more likely for most performers, anyway.

The performance space will be unique in many sensory ways. For instance, the building might be air conditioned and frequently be cold, or might have a distinct smell. You may be able to recreate some of these experiences on your own. It would be easy to turn on the AC in your home or otherwise rehearse in cold spaces. However, it may not be possible to recreate some facets of the experience of the performance space. If this is the case, you can create your own constants across the varied spaces you will rehearse.

For example, let’s say the theater has a very particular smell. You cannot recreate this scent at home. Instead, you could wear a certain lotion or perfume each time you study your lines. This will become the new sensory context the memory of the lines is associated with. A bit Pavlovian, smelling the lotion or perfume will now remind you of the times you’ve previously rehearsed. You can wear this scent when you go to the theater for rehearsals and wear it during the performance– you’ll find it helps anchor yourself into the character and scenes because you have so associated it with the character and scenes.

You can also pair this with other senses. Taste and touch are likely the easiest. Chewing a specific flavor of gum is good example. Chew a unique flavor while you go over your lines at home. Though you probably shouldn’t chew gum in rehearsal, simply chewing a stick on the way to rehearsal and spitting it out before anything begins can be enough to get the taste in your mouth and associated with the rehearsal. You can also wear certain types of clothing or fabrics that will match those of your costumes. For example, the sensation of wearing a corset could be mimicked by wearing a (safely) tight bra or undershirt. Once you begin rehearsing in costume, the feeling of wearing the tight clothing might put yourself back into the context you felt rehearsing in tight clothing.

Even though you perhaps can’t rehearse in the exact conditions of the show, you can create your own conditions and fit them to the show yourself.

When I played Claire in an illegal stage production of The Breakfast Club I wore the same scent of perfume and lotion to every rehearsal. I also sprayed my script with the scent, so that every time I reviewed my lines, the scent was prominent. Coupled with this, I also chewed a specific unique flavor of gum on the way to rehearsals. I would always be sure to wipe off the lotion or scent as much as possible once I was done working, and kept other flavors of gum to change gears later. A year after this performance, when I smell the perfume, my brain instantly goes back to that show, and I still salivate for that flavor of gum!

This is a great way not just to memorize your lines, but also to get into character. Thinking about character motivations and interpretations while surrounding yourself with these sensory cues can turn these sensations into “triggers” for the character. This can also be the basis for some sense memory work– for example, if you apply a certain perfume you associate with sad memories just before going on stage for a sad scene, it might help put you in the proper mindset for the performance.

It is important to note that your sensory context choices must be unique. If you use a taste or scent you are already very familiar with for a character, you’ll probably already have a memory associated with that sense, and it will be less effective. For best results, use a perfume or gum flavor you have never experienced before. This provides you a completely “empty” template upon which to build your sensory context.

I have used this strategy for every big character I’ve played in recent years! I am slowly collecting a wealth of lotions and perfumes that make me instantly nostalgic for specific productions when opened.

To summarize, rehearse in the context in which you will perform, in order to trigger your context dependent memory. This means rehearsing with your physical movements, in similar dress, with similar people, in the rehearsal space under similar conditions to performance as much as possible. However, if this isn’t possible, you can create your own context by introducing certain sensory products like flavors of gum or specific, unique perfume scents, and utilize them every time you practice your lines at home, have a rehearsal, or perform the show. These will help you remember lines and blocking and can also serve as triggers to get you into character.

Try these out for your next show! It works best if you start as early as possible– create context triggers for the role even while preparing for auditions. Then, by the time the show arrives, you’ll completely associate the trigger with the show, character, and process. Hopefully this helps you as much as it has helped me!

A Director’s Guide to Making Your School Theatre Casting Process a Learning Opportunity for Everyone

If you’ve ever performed in school theatre, you know what a horrible, exciting event the posting of the cast list can be. When the roles are assigned for the annual fall play or musical, tensions tend to run high, and students sometimes turn their backs on teachers. Feelings can be hurt, and the casting process can often seem like a personal rejection. Finding ways to keep this process productive and educational for everybody can make your program stronger and help increase retainment between shows!

Truly, every student can learn from every experience they have in the theater. This can be a hard lesson for young people to grasp. Directors can help by making small adjustments to their auditions and communication with students.

The following is a list of suggestions for directors following a rough chronological order. The list is divided into four sections: Before Auditions, Auditions, Casting Considerations, and Posting the List.

A side note: Many teachers are of the mindset that casting drama is below their circle of influence and not of any priority. They will also argue that the casting process is not about making anyone feel good about themselves, but setting yourself up for the best show possible and preparing students for real-world auditions and experiences. This is true. However, I urge all educators to remember that experiences in school theatre can make or break a student on performing for the rest of their lives. While I don’t advise pandering to students with bad attitudes, I strongly believe it’s necessary for educators to enforce fair, understandable casting policies, and treat all students with empathy and respect.


Before Auditions

  • Establish a good relationship with your students. Before auditions even begin, do your best to open lanes of communication between your students and yourself. Make clear that you are a trustworthy figure that harbors no ill will toward any student. This will also help keep nerves low.
  • Be clear about your program’s values and realities. Make it clear that the program will be enjoyable no matter what, and that while not everyone can be a lead, your program will celebrate every member of the cast. Set a clear example of what it means to respect ensemble members.
  • Make your expectations for auditions clear. Explain what the audition will look like, how to prepare for it, and what you want to see. The clearer you are about your expectations, the easier you can justify your casting decisions. This way you can also make sure every student has a fair chance to prepare, and that your auditions will be relatively smooth and stress-free.
    • Host an audition workshop. An audition workshop is a great way to do this! If many of your students are first-time performers, they may have never auditioned before. Going over the process of preparation, choosing a song, and performing in front of the production team can be very helpful for veterans and first-timers alike. Check my article about audition preparation if you need some ideas for preparing your students!
  • Explain the casting process. Explain that casting is never personal, and that many diverse factors impact your decisions. The more students understand the process, the less likely they are to argue with it.
    • Be clear about casting realities. Make sure students know that ensemble is a fact of life, and never something to be ashamed of. Share your own stories of being in the ensemble, or about getting cast in parts you didn’t feel right in, or about getting cut altogether– the more you can show you understand and have been through the same situation, the more likely your students will be to work with you.
    • Find ways for students to try out the process themselves. If your students can get hands-on experience with casting others, they’ll understand how complicated the job actually is. If you can set up classroom projects, workshops, or student-run productions where young performers can experience this, you may find the drama and intrigue around the process minimized.

In general, seek to humanize yourself and the process as much as possible. Keep discussion about what to expect frank and simple, and try your hardest to make sure students never think of auditions as any sort of personal judgement.

Auditions

  • Make sure everyone gets a fair shake. It is disheartening to feel like the director is done with you while everyone else reads multiple times. Don’t be disingenuous in your process, but give everyone an equal chance– don’t let one student read four times while another reads one, for instance. You can also lessen post-list hard feelings if everyone is given completely equal opportunity.
  • Consider creating an audition rubric. Even though you don’t necessarily have to follow this rubric by the word, having one makes defending your casting choices easy and makes your expectations very clear to students. It can also make giving feedback post-auditions easily demonstrable.
  • Be supportive and lessen students’ anxieties. As famed director William Ball states in his book A Sense of Direction, actors are vulnerable when they audition– part of the director’s job is too make the process easy for their auditors. In school theatre, I believe this goes double. Being a young adult is already hard. Don’t make it harder with unnecessary panic.

Casting Considerations

  • Cast according to best fit. Remember that your first and foremost consideration is casting the best show possible.
    • Stay strong! Even if you feel bad about a decision, never apologize to another student or tell them they deserved a role over another. Always stay strong in your decisions. Do not risk jeopardizing your students’ trust in the process by wavering.
  • Consider spreading the wealth. Look for ways to cast people who don’t normally get roles. Don’t be disingenuous, and always favor best fit over personal relationships. An opportunity to rise to a higher standard is always beneficial for every student nonetheless, so definitely seek ways to provide them as much as possible.
  • Keep an eye out for new talent, and don’t be afraid to take a risk. Don’t shy away from casting new faces. New students can really be hidden gems! Use your best judgement– a new, very talented student who is unreliable is likely never a better choice over a reliable but perhaps less gifted veteran.
  • Consider using students as crew leaders. If you have a particularly reliable student with useful skillsets that aren’t necessarily in the realm of performance, consider using them to create student-centered technical theatre programs. Student stage managers, technical directors, and sound or light ops (to name a few) can lighten your workload and really shine with an opportunity to do so. However, these students must be responsible and you must really commit to giving them real responsibilities. Never relegate students to technical roles as punishment or because they didn’t make the cut to be in the cast!
  • Ensemble is never to be used as punishment. Enough said. This totally undermines your message that the ensemble is important. If you need to make it clear that a student’s behavior or attitude isn’t acceptable, don’t cast them at all.
  • Consider establishing rules and regulations related to casting. For instance, if there are multiple performances a year in your department, consider establishing a rule that says no student may hold more than 2 leads roles a season, or set up cabaret performances exclusively open to students who weren’t cast in other shows. This will show your actors you are committed to providing opportunities to many students, and grant them chances to show their stuff.

Sharing the List

  • Consider sending personalized casting emails. Instead of posting the list with no context or fanfare, consider sending personalized emails to every student to offer roles. This can remove the feelings associated with finding out roles in a public space or from others. This is also a good way to make sure every student feels seen, rather than like a forgotten name at the bottom of the list. However, the emails must be truly personalized in order for this to be effective– sending one generic email to everyone is no better.
    • Offer constructive criticism. Open yourself up for questions related to auditions. Be sure to establish clear parameters for doing so. You could offer specific questions for your actors to ask: “Is there anything in particular that impacted my placement?” “Is there anything I can work on to improve for next time?” This way, the exchange remains entirely productive and avoids accusations or self-pity. Provide the actor with a few examples of things you liked and things you disliked. If you used an audition rubric, feel free to share it with them with some contextual notes and suggestions for the future. This promotes a growth mindset among students and creates dialogue rather than unspoken frustrations.
    • Only offer criticism in writing or in the company of others. That being said, sharing constructive criticism can open the door for further drama if you’re not careful. Give advice in ways your words cannot be twisted around.
  • Make it clear you will not tolerate drama related to the list. Be strong and unapologetic on this point. If students behave poorly in regards to casting, do not be afraid to remove them from the show where appropriate.
  • Celebrate the list. Celebrate every student on the list and make it clear everyone who auditioned has done something brave and commendable. Uplift every individual cast member and show you are proud and solid in your choices.

 

 

Get the Most out of Your Rehearsals by Journaling Them

About a year ago I was assigned a project for class that involved learning about anything and tracking your learning in a multimedia format. Since I was at the time involved in three different productions occurring simultaneously, I decided to make a blog about my efforts in learning to be a director. Though this project itself was very low-stress and even enjoyable, I got a perfect score and a glowing review from my professor, as well as a brilliant learning experience I didn’t expect.

Apparently required journaling of rehearsals is pretty common in school theatre programs nowadays– I never had to do this, and so I was able to approach the task with a fresh mind. Even if an assignment like this has previously tainted your experience with journaling rehearsals, consider revisiting it– it can be very beneficial for your learning, both in regard to that show and to your overall development as an actor and artist.

Note that I use “journaling” as a light suggestion rather than a commandment– you can record and track your rehearsals in any way that works best for you. A blog can work well, as I’ve already found. You could also keep voice recordings or record video or photo diaries– whatever works best for you is the route you should follow!

Once you’ve chosen your method of tracking rehearsals, it’s wise to establish some parameters to follow with every “entry”. On my blog project, I set a few basic rules for every post. I decided that in each post I would:

  • Briefly summarize the events of the rehearsal
  • Note how the director managed the rehearsal and whatever difficulties/successes occurred
  • Verbalize one main “take-away” lesson from the rehearsal
  • Note what I should do to prepare for the next rehearsal and when/how I would do so
  • Mention anything else worth note

These guidelines were broad enough to allow a lot of freedom, but also specific enough to keep me on task and keep me focussed on the goal of deriving directorial insight. Some other suggestions for things one might make a “rule” for their posts include:

  • Light analysis of rehearsal’s scenes/songs/blocking
  • Relate rehearsal events to readings/recent lessons in acting/voice/dance/etc
  • Describe personal character choices/revelations
  • Analyze the rehearsal practices of other actors/director/etc whom you look up to
  • List areas in which you did well and areas in which you need to improve
  • Record questions you may have for the director in the next rehearsal

Possibilities are really endless, but these are some general examples that may come in handy. Ideally, your “journal” should be uniquely fitting to your process, so feel free to add/drop guidelines as you go should you see fit. Find what works for you!

I recommend making a “journal entry” every time you have rehearsal, preferably as soon after the rehearsal concludes as possible. The closer you write to the rehearsal itself, the fresher your memory will be, and the more useful the writing will be to you. You may also want to make an entry when you do anything adjacent to theatre, your rehearsal process, or your learning. In my blog, I reflected upon chapters of books I was reading, discussed podcasts and YouTube videos I had consumed, wrote “reviews” of shows I saw, and wrote about any revelations in the “homework” done as I pored over the script outside of rehearsal. You can include passing thoughts about the show, ideas for character choices or blocking, or frustrated comments about whatever is bothering you– whatever. It’s your journal to use as you feel fit!

Recording all of this is beneficial for many reasons. For one, you’ll have an easy way to review your previous rehearsal efforts, and be clear on what you need to work on going forward. You can piece together the information you’ve acquired across all of your learning– for example, bits of knowledge gathered from rehearsals, auditions, book learning, classes, and random thoughts– and have an easy place to synthesize it all while reviewing prior thoughts. You have a constructive way to air frustrations, and a private place to reflect on insecurities or concerns. Reflection is an important step for growth and personal improvement, and contributes to a more mindful life. Plus, you’ll be easier able to set and keep track of goals you have in regards to your show or acting career. I really think the perks can’t be overstated.

Make your “journal” yours and make it as beneficial as possible to you! That might mean heeding none of my advice, or following almost the exact same parameters as I did on my project. Regardless, as long as it is what works for you, you can derive some meaning from it, and you are able to stick with it, recording your growth will be of your benefit.

6 Non-Theatre Subjects Every Theatre Person can Benefit From Learning More About

A single performance in theatre requires many diverse skillsets from many diverse people. There’s simply so much young actors and artists have to learn about the craft itself just to get through auditions that spending time on learning things that aren’t immediately connected to performing skills can seem like a waste. However, it’s precisely because shows require such diversity that learning everything you can about nearly every subject you can will always be of an actor’s benefit. If you’re ready to take your theatrical training beyond the basics, try moving away from acting, singing, and dancing for a bit and looking to these adjacent areas of knowledge instead!


1. Human Anatomy

I recommend every performer learn as much about anatomy as possible. As a performer, your entire body is your instrument. Your entire body must be engaged to sing, dance, and act. No matter where you plan to work in the theatre, your understanding of your own body will always be of benefit to you. Learning about anatomy gives you a better sense of how your body functions, helping you use your body efficiently and to its full capacity, while also preventing injury.

For singers and musical theatre performers, I especially recommend looking into vocal anatomy. Understanding precisely how the voice functions is a powerful thing! You can effectively learn how to “hack” the underlying structure of your voice and use it to your full advantage. It can also explain and make concrete some of the weird tips from your voice teachers you’ve never fully understood. For example, many voice teachers will talk about proper breathing. Once you understand the action of the lungs and the movement of the ribs to accommodate them, you can get a better sense of how proper breathing looks and feels.

As a small bonus point, I highly recommend learning a bit about body mapping— this will help you translate your anatomical knowledge to concrete behaviors!

2. Psychology

Directors, writers, and actors alike can all find use for training in psychology. Similar to learning anatomy, learning about psychology will help you understand how and why people work, but on a mental level. When it comes to analyzing characters and developing blocking, your understanding of psychology can create more realistic characterizations.

A large part of acting is stepping into another person’s shoes. Some basic psychology knowledge can help you do this more effectively, and move beyond the realm of feelings and emotions to scientific human behavior. One isn’t necessarily better than the other! However, if you find your acting feels overly charged or superficial, psychology might be able to help you.

Understanding psychology can also be of benefit to actors offstage. Psychology can help you understand the best practices for learning and memorizing lines, or impressing casting agents in the audition room. Understanding how your brain works and how others’ brains work is truly of benefit to anyone!

3. Speech Pathology and Linguistics

Though these are two different fields, I am lumping them together in this article because they will serve us similar purposes. Just as understanding how the singing voice works benefits singers, understanding how your speaking voice works benefits anyone who speaks. Actors do a lot of speaking. By understanding the structures that produce sound and the best practices for manipulating these structures to get desired results, you can improve your vocal stamina and volume with reduced risk of injury. Say goodbye to strained throats caused by long rehearsals!

Both of these subject areas will touch upon the anatomy of the vocal tract and how our mouths shape sounds. Speech pathology is as a discipline focussed on the correct production of speech and fixing problems therein, whereas linguistics is about language and sound as it relates to language. These are slight shades of difference to the untrained eye. A beginner’s understanding of either field can prove beneficial for anyone who uses their voice on the regular.

4. Marketing and Networking

As an actor, part of your job is to effectively “sell” yourself in an audition. How well you manage to perfect this process can have a big impact on your acting career! Therefore, becoming well-versed in how to market yourself is of dire importance for every actor.

Learning to perfect “the art of the pitch” will benefit you no matter what role you occupy in the theater. Actors pitch themselves and their characterizations to directors in auditions. Directors must pitch show choices and interpretations to artistic boards or their casts. Writers must pitch their own shows to producers. Designers must pitch their art to directors and creators. In school theatre, teachers must work to pitch the entire program to their administration and community to prove their importance! No matter where you work in theatre, you’ll find some knowledge of how to market your ideas useful. Otherwise, someone else better at it will eclipse you!

Nowadays online marketing is relatively easy, which means you have to work extra hard to stand out. Familiarizing yourself with social media algorithms and content crafting is important for anyone seeking to be seen online. Whether you are looking to expand your school program, advertise your new theatre company, or build a personal website to go with your acting resume, marketing knowledge is your ticket!

Acting is notoriously about who you know rather than what you know. Master the arts of networking with the right people and marketing yourself to them accordingly, and you may find lucrative returns.

5. Wellness, nutrition, and personal health

Basically, “how to take care of yourself.”

When your body is your instrument and you submit a photo of your face with every resume, your physical and emotional wellbeing is important. Your physical fitness will effect your stamina on stage and impact the kind of dancing and blocking you can keep up with. If you don’t exercise regularly in some form, you are handicapping yourself on stage. There is plenty to be said about the superficial beauty-queen side of acting, but leave all that aside for a moment– It is important that you are at your very best so you can be at your very best. This means eating well, getting proper rest and hydration, taking care of yourself when ill, and finding a physical activity that speaks to you.

You also need to be able to take care of your emotions and mental health. Acting means accepting a constant stream of rejection and criticism. You won’t be able to handle the work if you can’t handle this. Familiarize yourself with coping mechanisms or seek help to do so!

6. Finances

Acting is a notoriously lean profession. It doesn’t necessarily have to be! Keeping track of personal finances is a skill absolutely every actor should become intimately familiar with. I’m certainly no expert, so I have relatively little advice to offer here, except that this is absolutely crucial if you plan on attempting to make a living from theatre. Find good resources to learn from and spend wisely!


There is always more to learn! Because performing requires so many miscellaneous skills and benefits from the performer experiencing many things in life, actors shouldn’t discount the opportunity to learn about anything. All learning can be of benefit, even if indirectly. Take the time to learn something new every day!

15 Tips for Improving Your Singing Skills

While I’m no singing expert, I have spent the last several years working to improve. I’ve learned a ton. I’ve become a lot more confident in my ability and have a stronger, more supported sound to show for all the effort! There’s still have a lot of work to do, but I also have a lot of knowledge to share from my years of struggle.

Here are 15 assorted tips for improving your singing voice!

1. Practice Daily

This is one of the best things you can do for yourself if you’re seeking to improve. When you practice daily, you flex all of the muscles associated with singing and improve your vocal stamina. Treat your voice like a muscle. If you don’t use it frequently, you’ll lose it! Singing daily will also help you get a feel for your own voice– how it feels and sounds at its best, and what it feels and sounds like when something is wrong. It doesn’t have to be hard, strenuous singing each day– practice as simple as light humming or singing along with the radio can be beneficial.

2. Don’t skimp on warm ups

Especially if you’re getting ready for a performance or some hard core practice– make sure you warm up! Warming up will make sure your vocal folds are ready for action and that you don’t injure yourself by leaping into the hard stuff. Warming up before a performance will keep you sounding your best. It gives you an opportunity to practice whatever you need to before you get out there, such as high notes or quick patter. If you’re wrapping up a long rehearsal or performance, warming down can also be of benefit– it gives the vocal folds a chance to “unwind” from the work. Doing a quick 10 or 15 minute warmup session per day counts as daily practice, too!

3. Find a voice teacher

A good voice teacher is absolutely crucial if you’re serious about honing your skills. One on one training is mandatory to really reach your highest potential. A skilled teacher can help you learn to reach your goals in a healthy, effective way, and can provide constructive feedback to help you get there. If you don’t already have a voice teacher you love, find one ASAP.

4. Train your technique

Learning about vocal technique is also crucial if you’re serious about singing. Learning proper technique will help you sound your best while singing healthfully. You can do your own research on this– there are lots of resources available online– but the best way to learn is from a teacher who can help you ensure you’re singing correctly.

5. Perform more

Getting yourself out there more is fun and very beneficial for every singer! Go out for shows, or go to open mic nights and karaoke– every little bit counts. Treat your auditions as a chance to perform! Get more confident and comfortable in front of a crowd, and you’ll find the entire endeavor easier.

6. Learn about vocal anatomy

Understanding the underlying structure and functioning of your voice will help you understand the best practices for singing. This is an often overlooked step in the vocal education process, but is very important for your growth as a singer and relatively easy to explore. YouTube is full of videos offering explanations of vocal anatomy, and there are a wealth of great books on the subject. Anatomy of the Voice by Theodore Dimon Jr is one of my favorites.

7. Learn about vocal health

Also absolutely required for anyone serious about improving their singing is learning about vocal health. Maintaining good vocal health is crucial for growing singers. Young singers especially have a habit of stressing and straining their voices because they simply don’t know better– this can be disastrous in the long-term. Learning about how to take care of your voice and use it properly will keep you in top shape and prevent vocal injury.

8. Learn basic written and aural theory 

This won’t improve your singing voice necessarily, but it will help you to learn music quicker, be better in tune with other singers and the music, and help you detect intonation in your own singing. It also makes riffing and harmonizing easier! There are a wealth of music theory and ear training resources out there, especially in app form. A few minutes of practice a day can quickly translate to easier learning and better performances.

9. Hear more trained singers

Just as visual artists can learn a lot by going to a museum and actors can learn from watching other actors, singers learn from hearing great singing! This is especially useful when learning about good singing technique. Some singers like Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston are famous for their impeccable technique. Seeking out masters in the field and finding what they do well can be very helpful for your growth.

10. Seek feedback 

If you’re taking my advice to seek a good voice teacher, hopefully this is already occurring. Seeking constructive criticism and advice from many sources is always beneficial. However, remember to take all feedback with a grain of salt, especially if you don’t know the critic’s credentials– great advice is hard to come by, and not everyone is qualified to give it.

11. Take care of your voice

Once you’ve learned more about proper technique and vocal health, taking care of your voice becomes a much more intuitive job. You’ll begin to get a feel for what is destructive to your voice and what is beneficial. In general, remember to keep yourself hydrated, and never strain yourself trying to sing far beyond your comfort zone. Consistent vocal stress can lead to injury, which can end careers early. Keep yourself at your best!

12. Explore different styles

Many singers like to choose a lane and stick in it. In musical theatre, this lane is often “contemporary musical theatre pop style”. While there’s nothing wrong with this, experimenting with other styles can broaden your range and introduce you to a wealth of useful skills. Consider trying classical bel canto style or opera, or get into rock and growling. You will learn transferable skills from each, and all singing (as long as it is done healthfully) will be beneficial for you.

13. Do your own research

There are a wealth of resources available to singers looking to improve themselves. The internet makes many of these resources free. Start looking for books, ebooks, websites, podcasts, YouTube channels, apps, blogs, magazines/e-zines, documentaries, and more relating to singing! Your options are endless and there’s never been a better time to find learning materials in an instant!

14. Find your own voice 

Many singers, especially young or new singers, are tempted to imitate styles of singers they respect or look up to. This can be damaging, as attempting to imitate the style of a trained singer without the very same training can cause vocal strain and injury. Therefore, it’s imperative that singers find and become comfortable with their own voice. This can be difficult to teach. Finding your own voice requires time and lots of comfort with singing. In the meantime, ensure you are not straining yourself to imitate Broadway stars or popular artists, and think about putting your own spin on their work. Your voice teacher, assuming you take my advice and seek one out, will be able to help you in this endeavor.

15. Join a choir 

Choir is a great way to learn more about music while flexing your singing voice! It also requires you to learn to blend and tune with others, and allows you to learn in a group environment. Plus, assuming you like to sing, choir is fun! Seek one out in your local community or at your school. The benefits really can’t be overstated.

Bonus Point: Be Confident

Nothing really sells a performance like confidence. Even if your singing needs work, confidence can mask some of your shakier points. Fake it until you make it! Keep practicing and getting better, but be happy with the growth you’ve made, and continue to show off your stuff: you’ll be a pro in no time.

Actors are way More Introverted Than you Think

There is this weird supposition that all or most actors are extroverts, to the degree that some people think theatre isn’t attainable as their career or hobby just because they’re introverted.

Boy is that a load of crap.

Science estimates that there are slightly more extroverts in the world than introverts, or else there is a roughly 50/50 split. This seems to hold up with my own observations. Being an introvert, I tend to attract other introverted people, so my friend group is perhaps slightly skewed but even with that in mind I’d say a 50/50 split is fairly evident in my personal life. For every deeply introverted friend I have, I have a strongly extroverted friend to counterpoint.

The irony is, a really large portion of my introverted friends are my theatre friends.

Part of the problem is that not all introverts or extroverts behave the same or enjoy the same things. I know extroverts who are the life of every party, who really attend every party instead of bailing at the last minute with a vague text about having to work or feeling crappy, but are terrified to do an oral presentation on a project to a classroom. I’m introverted enough that I might want to skip out on the cast party since I’ve been stuck in a dressing room with these animals all tech week, but the actual on-stage part with them is the highlight of my month. It’s all a spectrum of interests and behaviors, and frequently comes down to luck of the draw, how much time I’ve spent alone versus with others over the last several days, and how badly I just want to get home and play video games, already.

I get the theory. Theatre is a team sport. It requires a lot of social interaction with a lot of people, and requires you do it all on stage in front of even more people. To some introverts, this is a nightmare. This sounds, for all intents and purposes, like a strictly extroverted activity.

However, theatre is actually a perfect activity for introverts. In fact, they may even be better suited to it for extroverts.

The thing about theatre is that it doesn’t just require communicating with others– it requires really connecting with yourself. A big part of acting is looking within. You, as an actor, need to understand the circumstances of the script, how they apply to the character, and how you would feel in the character’s situation given their life experiences. This is, in no uncertain terms, an introspective act. A lot of acting is just making introspection visible to an onlooker– many acting teachers advise beginning with mental lines of thought and letting a physical life emerge from it. Usually show and character analysis comes before determining blocking or character choices. Most of the set-up for acting is highly introverted, in the respect that it deals with a lot of independent thinking and deep intra-personal reflection.

And once all of this business is brought to the stage, extroversion alone still isn’t enough to succeed. Consider what we often think of as a chief trait of extroversion: the ability to strike up conversation with anyone and always know what to say.

Responding to other actors on stage isn’t about finding the nerve to speak to someone or knowing what to say next. That much is already taken care of by the script. Really truthfully responding is very much about more introspection, though in an obviously less isolated sense. Actors need to be able to cut to the heart of how the dialogue and circumstances make them (and their character) feel. While being clear about feelings and emotions usually isn’t a strong suit of the introverted, it isn’t necessarily for the extroverted, either. Both groups are similarly inclined to stomp down their instinctual feelings in favor of presenting a comfortable exterior to the public. Introverts, though, are typically well versed in thinking on and working through these emotions later in private– something extroverts are more likely to skip out on. Stanislavski said that while acting, actors should be able to maintain a sense of public solitude. In other words, the public part of performing shouldn’t be much of a worry at all, and introverts have the leg up on behaving in solitude.

At worst, extroverts are more likely to focus too much on the strictly external. They might characterize their performances through only physical or even superficial actions, or give in to over-the-top clowning in order to be funny and eye-catching. Acting is not about being the center of attention (unless you’re playing a role that really demands it– and this is rarer than you think). Acting is about knowing when to back off and switch to internal action. This is something the introverts will have on lock.

Of course, anyone and everyone can do theatre. I simply want to dispel the myth that theatre is wrong for some people due to their preference of company versus alone time. I’m an introverted actor, surrounded by other introverted actors and an equal measure of extroverted actors– don’t count yourself out!