There are a number of things which differentiate ‘amateur’ theatre, from ‘professional’ theatre, not least of which is getting paid.
Recently, I was in a show, which went more than a little bit wrong as soon as we opened. Yes, we were hit with a seemingly cascading series of debilitating illness’ which meant that some cast members were incapacitated during a number of performances. We, as a collective unit, were forced to reshape the show at a moments notice on more than half of our performance nights!!!
During this run though, a few things came to my attention, namely, myths which non-theatre people seemed to be unaware of.
#1 – Why don’t you just get the Understudy to do it?
Let’s be clear. In amateur theatre – (at least, in every show I’ve ever done, even at semi professional level) THERE ARE NO UNDERSTUDIES! This may seem like we are tempting fate, being irresponsible, even perhaps, mildly arrogant, and that may be true. But believe me, when things go wrong (and they always go wrong), not having an understudy just makes things so much more entertaining…at least from the casts’ point of view.
In the aforementioned show, I am told that the audience had no idea that we had cut an entire scene, or that on two different nights an entire cast member vanished mid show and whole scenes where being semi improvised…..Of course, maybe that audience member was just being polite?
#2 – But you are getting paid…right?
WRONG! *insert maniacal laughter*
We are NOT getting paid. NO ONE is getting paid. At least, not in community theatre. In some bigger companies, some people do get paid – namely the director and perhaps the musical director and often the lead who (with startlingly increasing regularity) get’s flown in from somewhere else. But no, for the most part, (even in the shows where some of the more ‘important’ people’s are compensated for their time) no one on or off the stage is getting paid for their time.
Amateur theatre is all about the LOVE of the theatre. And therefore, most community productions you go to see, are being put on by people who love it enough to give up the better part of THREE months in order to perform for you. Yes, you read that right, three months of sometimes up to four nights a week rehearsing. Then tech week, which is pretty much 24 hours of that entire week without a break, then performance season, anywhere from just three nights to more than a month. FOR FREE! Because we love it. See?
Oh, and because it’s not paid, these people are also working day jobs like the rest of you.
#3 But you clearly don’t get nervous, since you love it so much…
WRONG! We get nervous as F**K (excuse my melodramatic language). If you ever use the excuse ‘I’m too nervous to perform on stage’ then realise this, that is JUST an excuse, nothing more.
Everyone gets nervous, some more than others, and everyone reacts differently. I’ve seen people in leading roles crying before they go on stage, I’ve seen chorus members throwing up, I’ve seen grown men trembling their way through an opening scene and I’ve seen breakdowns backstage if something minor goes wrong, I’ve seen panic attacks in the wings, I’ve even had a panic attack on stage and yet somehow, someway, these have always passed without the audience having any idea (at least for the most part).
The simple truth is that EVERYONE GETS NERVOUS. Sometimes the stress does get the better of us, and our cast and crew mates rally to help us through. Sometimes they amplify our performance, and sometimes they bring us down.
But if you love it enough, whatever ‘it’ is – the singing, the acting, the story, the applause – then you will find a way to manage it and do what you love.
Check out the upcoming workshop “find your voice” with Jess. This 5 week course will cover everything from understanding performance anxiety (aka “stage fright), how it affects your voice as a singer and how to manage it, through to giving you the chance to sing as part of a group and put everything you learn to the test in a very supportive environment.