Thursday, April 12, 2012

Selling The Drama

I want to start with a metaphor that I hope will express my anger at present:

Imagine you're a painter.  You kill yourself creating a host of masterpieces.  Then you are lucky enough to have them put up at a gallery.  The gallery hosts an evening with wine and cheese and all sorts of fun stuff to garner some attention around your work.  Then you tell a few select friends and family members to be there to support you and call it a day.  You post your excitement around it once or twice on Facebook.  Maybe you tweet about the opportunity a couple of times.  Then you show up to your opening to find a sparse reception.  Maybe you even complain that the gallery didn't do enough to get people there. 

Does this situation make any sense at all?  What kind of artist just wants a few select people to see his work?  And yet, this is the way almost every actor I know publicizes their work.

It seems to me that we have a basic problem going on here.  Actors seem to think that their job title expresses the totality of what should be their contribution to a project.  Not all actors.  Just amateurs.  Look at the professional market.  Believe you me, Al Pacino does not have the opportunity to be all artist all the time.  He has to give interviews, lectures, show up to meetings, keep up his public face, excite people about his upcoming work, etc.  In a recent interview, he said that Adam Sandler is a great actor.  I cannot, for the life of me, imagine he believes that.  But it helps him sell the movie.  That's his real job most of the time.  Why should any of us be any different?

I'm tired of the way we treat our community.  In New York, we seem to discredit work at the Off-Off Broadway level.  We buy into the idea that Broadway and Off-Broadway equals great work.  It really couldn't be farther from the truth.  And it's killing us.  We have to figure out some way of revitalizing this arts community.  That means that we, at the very least, have to give our own work a chance.

It's amazing how hard it is to get a group of actors in an NYC Showcase to have faith in their own work and the work of their immediate colleagues.  We seem to need to wait until the reviews are out and we are verified.  But between Equity rules and the cost of putting up a show, by the time the reviews are out, it's too late to start telling our friends & colleagues.  Schedules are too crazy, and many people miss out on wonderful work, because of limited seating at the Off-Off Broadway level.  It's never hard to fill closing night. 

Beyond that, most actors I run into talk so much crap about their own shows that they kill any possibility of having an audience, before the show is even running.  Personally, if a friend of mine warns me against their show, I make a blanket rule not to go--even if they change their tune a week later.  Productions don't go through magical transformations in a week.  If you're not proud of your work, I have better things to do. 

It seems that the only time I get invited by friends to see shows is when they are playing a big role.  It's amazing how much doing a large ensemble play actually works against having an audience.  Most actors become convinced that their roles are either unimportant, because of the size of the group, or they incorrectly believe that the next person is telling lots of people, so they don't have to work as hard.  That's the main problem with thinking along the lines of shared responsibility.  As a company, we actually do better with four-person shows than we do with fourteen-person shows. 

So, what can we do?  First of all, rather than accepting roles to fill out a resume, we can become involved in projects we're excited to share with the community at large...and then do just that.  Because even a problematic show will be ten-fold better with an audience.  So, we all build a supportive and energetic community by supporting ourselves and those around us.

What do you think?


  1. Sigh.

    I'm a career coach for actors as my "day" job and it's interesting... often, the conversation about marketing revolves around an actor getting the job, but once they get a job they think they can put marketing to rest. (Or, the promotion is limited to getting agents and casting directors to see their work.) I can understand why - people want to focus on their art when they're finally given a chance to do it. But without the collaborative efforts of a group of artists to get audiences to the theater, especially in a saturated market like New York, houses will remain sparse or empty. And what many actors don't realize is -- without audiences, those arts organization may not produce a next show or a next season. So, if an actor wants a place they can work in the future, they need to do what they can to make sure productions can still happen.

    Now, that said - producers bear much of the burden of putting butts in seats, and I'm not suggesting that actors have to take all of the responsibility. But the more an actor works to get people to the theater (and not just people they know, but even strangers they come across) the larger chance that they'll have a job next time around. Plain and simple. As actors, we work so hard to build relationships with people who can help us get work -- how valuable are those relationships if there's no longer the possibility of production?

    Food for thought... thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Recently I was in a showcase. The play was very good. The cast was very good. Unfortunately, a good number of the cast members had an attitude during rehearsals that the production was beneath them. Even though they had great connections in the theater world, they did not invite them to the show. They did not invite their agents to the show. And it was obvious from the beginning that it was going to be a good show, and these actors were doing great work! For some reason, maybe because it was a showcase, they had embarrassment about being in it. I and another actor worked our butts off getting the word out, and many people came as a result. Imagine if everyone had been as enthusiastic as us!

    An important lesson I learned from that experience was, don't audition and take a role just for 'something to do'. If it's a show you're not going to tell anyone about, don't bother. You'll end up unhappy, and this will affect other cast members who are actually thrilled to be in the production, because seeing your attitude will make them think maybe the show's no big deal after all. Seriously, 500 headshots were submitted for the show. Think how happy most of those actors would have been for the opportunity, and would have brought in audience!

    1. This is so true! Thank you for putting it so succinctly in your last paragraph. A lot of actors think they need to be working, no matter what, and forget that we don't get what we need from our work if we're not enjoying what we're doing and sharing it with the world.

      That said, I'm sorry you had to go through that. That stinks!


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