It was a small musical and only six of us in it. We were lounging about the set getting our notes before we had a dress preview for some of the staff and interns. Don’t remember the notes because none were for me. I like not getting a note, don’t you? I mean unless the director is ineptly inattentive and inarticulate it means that I’m doing my job and don’t need correction or prodding. Fine by me! Sure I like getting stroked and praised but when something works I can usually tell: the director laughs or stops talking to an assistant during my bit. No note is a good note so again I cannot recall what was said about some timing business in a transition between the women and one of the other men maybe. What got my attention was the other male actor, who wasn’t in the scene, transition or following scene asking a question about it. It was a moment of intense quiet. What did he say?
Don’t remember. I wasn’t in that part of the act. I was sitting on the set with the rest of my cast mates. It’s moments like this you get a sense of just how much peripheral vision you and others have. I caught her eye down right, his down left, the other two women sharing slightly upstage of me with a quick look that said, “Am I really hearing this?” All eyes went to him, slightly downstage and center. We couldn’t see his eyes and he was too busy to notice us as he expanded on his question. We shot another round of looks to each other. “Yes I am. Why?” Downstage right our Music Director found something very interesting in the depths of his score, our Stage Manager in the front row on the aisle found something really important on her Blackberry and down center on the lip of the stage our director-choreographer’s jaw was only just starting to un-drop. I recall her blinking a few times and figuring out no, it wasn’t April 1st. Calmly and reasonably she gave a “well, we’ll just have to see how that plays in front of the audience tonight,” sort of answer but I have to admit I really don’t recall what she answered anymore than I care about the exact question. What I remember is how quiet we all were. How well we all kept from laughing out loud. How none of us ever spoke of this.
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know we don’t give each other notes? That we don’t ask questions about business in a show that doesn’t affect us directly? If so it’s a good thing you’ve found this site because this will save you some awkward moments. Sure we talk about the collaborative nature of the theatre but the director is in charge. Unless I am in the scene with the other actor or actors and we’re doing scene work I never offer advice unless asked. My job is to act. Every once in awhile a director will ask “any thoughts?” but I take such queries as rhetorical. No, we don’t give another actor a note. I’ll try to help by asking a colleague, “what do you need me to do?” or “what can I do for you here?” in the hopes it might open the door my way too. Sometimes you just click with a scene partner and right off the bat it’s all “We” in the scene, but again it’s a scene I’m in. Sometimes I’ll have some back story questions to be sure our pages are the same and at others shooting the breeze on a five or ten reveals we’ve got a shorthand that will make things work as equal partners. Sometimes out of the hall actors get together and do that kind of homework for the good of the show. No, by this question it was obvious that his vast years of experience in the long established companies were on a community level and not a professional one.
Now please don’t get upset with me. I loved my time in community theatre. Trust me, those years bartending, catering and other side tracks I spent directing community shows while waiting to grow into the only roles I’ve ever known how to play were a Godsend and kept me whatever degree of sane I can claim to be. No, community theatre is amateur—working for the love of it and everyone pitches in everywhere. I don’t remember if I ever had a question like that from a cast member about something that wasn’t their business. I guess I talked too much. Even if I did I’d hope I’d have quiet good grace and then later off to the sides kindly explained that this isn’t the way we do things. More often than not many directors in community theatres had no professional experience and trained by having worked their way up the ladder to get to direct. At times when returning to the sites of former days I’ve been thrilled by a good story being told on the stage and by people whose regular day job is not rehearsing. Others? The real acting happened when I got caught for a comment as I try to slip out to my car without notice. No, they are very different worlds with very different processes and very different standards and rules. What was funny that summer was this chap never stopped giving little suggestions or asking for I forget what. It’s one thing to tell a colleague how much you enjoy a bit or watching a scene but it is something else when it comes from an actor not in the scene as, “have you ever thought of trying…”
Trying to whack you with a stage brace? Now that you mention it…