Consent in Theatre and Ideas for How to Manage It

The incredible downfall of former hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, is undoubtedly the most public the issue of sexual harassment/assault has ever been, but it is certainly not a new problem. It exists in every job, every career, every culture. It is a problem so prevalent and ingrained in our everyday lives, and one that has been deliberately or ignorantly overlooked for so long, that it has permeated every aspect of human existence, with devastating affect.

In live theatre, the sheer number of people who have felt forced to give up on their dreams because they did not feel comfortable getting partially or fully naked, or were not willing to simulate sex scenes because the story required it, is huge.

The number of people who have persevered and found themselves being asked to do things in the name of art, which they were not expecting to be asked to do, is even larger.

And sadly, New Zealand is not immune to this phenomenon. The idea of consent is strangely a new one in this country. We have placed a lot of importance on ensuring the concept is included in sexual education in schools, online, in our culture, and hopefully, the idea of it is starting to take hold. So, to refresh, what is consent?

  • Consent is an agreement between two or more people, where the answer – either yes or no – is given freely, without fear of negative repercussions either way.

The key point here is that final line, without fear of negative repercussions either way.

If you are producing a show which contains scripted content of a sexual nature, it is important that people know what will be expected of them upon auditioning. However, quite often, the Director’s vision will evolve during the course of rehearsals. For instance an Actor may be expecting to…

  • Hug or hold hands, but is then asked to kiss.
  • Act as whores, but then are asked to grope or be groped.
  • Undress to their underwear, but then nudity is requested.
  • Perform standard choreography, but it becomes increasingly sexually suggestive.
  • Make out with a character, but then asked to make it a sex scene.
  • Wear revealing clothes, but then told their costume should be a bikini or something far less than they signed on for.

Obviously this list is not exhaustive, and Directors will nearly always have a very legitimate reason for the request and will be able to explain how it will enhance the show(if they can’t, then you should definitely question their abilities). So it is extremely important that the issue of consent, is handled appropriately and with utmost care.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there any chance that the performer will lose (or feel that they will lose) their part in the show – either through demotion to the dreaded back row of an ensemble part, loss of scenes, loss of lines, or loss of performances (if multiple casts)?
  • Is there a chance that the performer risks not being cast in a future production?
  • Is there a chance that the performer is being pressured by the choices of their peers?
  • Is there a chance (either perceived or real) that the performer believes the director will react negatively to them speaking up?
  • Is there a chance, that the performer feels unable to communicate their discomfort to a member of the production team, who is able, in turn, to pass these concerns on to the director?

If any of these questions are answered with a yes, then it should become a priority to address this issue.

For creative teams, some simple solutions are:

  • Ensure that every production has a cast liaison, someone who is friendly and approachable. They may or may not be a member of the cast, but they do need to be at rehearsals, and it is essential that they are easy to talk to. Make sure everyone knows that this person is there to provide a bridge between cast and creative/production team, and that concerns can be handled anonymously if needed.
  • Make it absolutely clear from the first day of rehearsals, that no one’s role will be compromised if they speak up about not feeling ok with following a directors request. A good director should know their cast, production and human nature well enough to be able to work around this, make changes, or sacrifice some more risque content, for the emotional safety of their cast.
  • Discuss with the Director, exactly what they will be requiring from cast members before auditions even take place, so that people can make an informed decision before auditioning. Follow this up with ensuring procedures are in place to ensure that what the cast has signed up for does not change!

Of course, ensuring that your company uses a variety of directors and choreographers, may be enough to make sure this issue doesn’t perpetuate itself, as can often happen when the same creative team does show after show. Obviously we are all human, and there are people we prefer to work with – or not as the case may be – but that is another issue entirely, and for another day!

For Parents of Theatre Kids

Keeping kids safe in theatre is all of our responsibility. But don’t take it for granted that they will be kept safe.

  • Research the show your child is auditioning for, there are some fantastic junior versions of shows out there, which have been adapted for young casts and you can be reasonably secure in the knowledge that these scripts will not contain content which may not be entirely suitable for you child to perform.
  • If your kid is being asked to perform something you aren’t entirely comfortable with, don’t just settle with the idea that ‘this is what theatre is like‘. It isn’t. Theatre is meant to be an inclusive, safe space to develop stories, be creative, learn about yourself, grow in confidence and explore the many facets of human nature. But not until they are ready.

Parents, I would encourage you to speak up for your kids if you feel they may be in this type of situation. Young people are extremely susceptible to group pressure, spoken or unspoken. You know your child better than anyone, and at times, having a parent come in and say no for them, saves them from the embarrassment of saying it themselves. It will save them from enduring scenes they do not want to be involved in, dealing with topics they find upsetting or are not mature enough to understand(if they are performing things they don’t fully understand, it is worth questioning what benefits they are really getting from the experience).

This keeps them safe, and may even stop them from giving up on their love of theatre.

In Summary

The issue of consent in theatre, is not often talked about, but it’s one that needs to be. Theatre is not meant to be an uncomfortable experience for those performing it. The rehearsal space needs to be a safe space, and the director needs to create this. No one should ever feel like they can’t speak up, if they don’t feel OK with what they are being asked to do. This does not grow great theatre.

Great theatre happens when the rehearsals are open, inclusive, and trust is developed between everyone involved. This is when actors feel safe to experiment and explore their characters, this is when directors get to see what their actors are really capable of, and that is when truly great theatre is created.

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When Things Go Wrong On Stage: Part 1

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!!!shield-114440_960_720

NOT IDEAL!

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. 

STARTS JUNE 1st REGISTER NOW

 

How To Get Cast In A Musical

Getting cast in a musical, as mentioned in our previous blog post, is nothing short of a miracle.

It has everything, and (paradoxically) nothing to do with your audition, contrary to popular opinion. Which is typically “great audition = role in show”.

Not so, fellow theatre nerd. Not. So.

 

Now, before we go further, let me clarify. I am not proclaiming to be a master of auditions. There is much I could learn from people far more talented than myself, but in saying that, I have (in my many years of auditioning for things I was never going to be cast in) learnt a thing or two about the harsh reality of that audition room – it’s about more than just a killer voice.

#1 Look’s Matter

Don’t feel sad if you don’t get cast in Miss Saigon when you showed them the worlds greatest rendition of Defying Gravity. Perhaps you simply didn’t look Asian enough. Equally important, don’t bitch about the fact that you don’t get cast as Motor Mouth in Hairspray if you are a petite white chick. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far. That said, you may feel a bit hard done by if you don’t get cast as Jesus if you are totally nailed your performance of Old Man River, but perhaps the Musical Director wasn’t convinced you could just as easily nail the high notes required of the Son of God.

#2 Look’s. Really. Matter.

If you are auditioning for a large production, in a large city, then chances are you are competing against an equally large number of people for a far less large number of roles. Try to avoid dressing ‘forgettably’. They may well stick a number to your clothes and video your audition, but unless you really wow them with your song, then it is very likely you will be lost in the crowd to some extent. This isn’t to say that you should go and put on that unicorn onesie, however. The key is to look reliable, professional and well turned out enough that the panel thinks you really CARE. Which you do, so that shouldn’t be too hard.

#3 I’m not even kidding. Look’s Count!

From the moment you step into that audition space, you are being judged. That’s why auditioning is pretty much the worst thing in the world. If you walk in to the audition room folding in on yourself in fear – then unless you are hoping they will see you as the damsel in distress, you better believe they have already switched off. FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT! Show them you believe in yourself and you are already winning. Stand up, pretend that you are thrilled to have them judging you and you can’t wait to sing for an audience of between 3-7 people who have already seen 100 people sing for them that morning. YAY!

#4 Be Prepaaaaaared

Did you just sing that like Scar? No? Just me?

Well, ok then. Moving on.

Let’s assume for a moment, that you do have the look they are after, that you are dressed perfectly and that you are totally sweet with walking into that audition room and nailing your song to the wall. Now back track a bit – are you ready for this? Have you selected an appropriate song (more on that debacle another day) and rehearsed it? Do you know how you are singing it? Do you know where every note in that song fits in your voice? Do you know how you are interpreting it? Do you know the character background? The name of the show it’s from? What the scenario surrounding it is? Why it exists at all?

If you answered no to any of those questions, then you better go and do some research and rehearsing.

#5 Sell them the story, not just the voice

Let’s remind ourselves for a moment of the one KEY thing that sets musical theatre apart from all other musical and theatrical forms.

It is a combination of the following two art forms:

Music. And. Theatre.

Too often us Musical Theatre geeks forget the theatre part, preferring instead to simply wow the audition panel with our incredible voices. While this may pay off in some cases, more often than not, this approach will FAIL YOU!

If you look the part, and know your song inside out and back to front, then let the theatre of it come into your performance. Act. Emote. FEEL what you are singing about. Whatever you do, do not just stand and sing.

Why is this important?

Contrary to some uneducated belief systems, Musical Theatre is not just about great singing. Of course, it is certainly preferable to have a cast who can sing, more often than not, if faced with the choice, a good directorial team will pick an actor who can mostly sing, over a singer who can sort of act.

Audiences are coming for a story, not a concert. Never, never, never forget the story of your song.

In Summary

  1. IF you look right for the part
  2. IF you are memorable
  3. IF you seem confident
  4. You really know your song
  5. You sell them the story not just the voice

If you succeed with these five points, have managed to get the stars to align, AND appeased the theatre gods, then it is highly likely that you stand a very good chance of being cast. Of course, at the end of the day, there may just be someone better. Which sucks, but there will always be more opportunities.

Now go and conquer those cold audition panels – remember, they want you to be great, because they want to be able to cast their show (even if often their tired, grumpy faces suggest otherwise).

 

 

 

6 Ways to Rock a Rehearsal

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Getting cast in a show is AWESOME! But if you are new to the theatre scene, or even if you are not, there are some very well established rehearsal ettiquitte’s  (is that a word?) which you need to obey if you do not want to be the show ‘outcast’.

#1 BE ON TIME:

For the love of god, DO NOT be that person who arrives late. All the time. Or even more than once. Once, is usually forgiven, but if you are consistently late to rehearsals, you can count on the fact that your cast mates are probably taking bets on how far you will push it. This is not a good way to make friends, and it is incredibly disrespectful to everyone else who does make the earth move to be at rehearsal at whatever god forsaken time the Director has requested. Just be on time.

#2 LOVE YOUR ROLE

You may be the lead, or you may be in the ensemble. Whatever role you have been granted, love it! Keep in mind that there will be people who auditioned who did not get into the show. If you are a lead, do NOT laud it over the ensemble. If you are in the ensemble, do NOT bitch about the lead. Remember, we are all just people, and getting into a show is a miracle in itself. Do not take it for granted. If you think you or someone else has been miscast, do not moan to your cast mates. Absolutely do not moan to the director. Whatever you do, DO NOT COMPLAIN TO THE COSTUME LADY!

#3 LOVE THE COSTUME LADY

I have never been in a show, where the Costume Lady was not more feared than the Director. They have the power to make your life a living hell or an absolute delight. Do NOT moan to them about anything. Do NOT ask for an adjustment to your costume unless they ask you first. DO butter them up. Bring them baking. Tell them they look amazing. DO NOT EAT IN YOUR COSTUME!

#4 BRING A PENCIL AND AN ERASER

If you are the person who writes things down and remembers things from one rehearsal to the next, then you are a legend. Take notes, learn them. When they are changed completely at the next rehearsal, erase them, learn the new ones. Keep this pencil until closing night. Only then can you be sure you are absolutely doing what the Director requires. If you want to level up in awesomeness, bring enough pencils for the whole cast. Keep multiple erasers in your makeup kit.

#5 BRING SNACKS

Rehearsal are long and exhausting and super fun to be part of. But often (particularly in amateur theatre) the powers that be, temporarily forget that you are mere a mere mortal, and therefore require fuel of some kind. This is especially pertinent if you are being asked to do the near impossible task of changing from a young dancer into an old hag and reappearing on the other side of the stage in less than a minute. Having snacks which are easily consumed between quick changes or ‘drink breaks’ will be a godsend. As above – bring enough to share.

#6 LEARN YOUR PARTS

Please refer back to #4. If you have trouble remembering where you were placed, what your harmony is, where you exit, when you enter, or the changes made to your lines the night before, then make sure you write it down. There is nothing more frustrating in this world than having to keep rehearsing the same thing over and over, because one or two people keep messing it up. If you are writing it down and you are still having problems, then ask someone in the cast to help you learn it. Make sure you practise in your own time. Yes, it is a lot of work, but that’s what you signed up for. Theatre isn’t a lazy person’s hobby. If you are on top of things, it can be a lot of fun. If you are not, then it will quickly become a very, very unhappy experience.

Pay attention to everything and everyone and if you miss a rehearsal, then make sure you catch up with what happened before the next one.

That – is how you ROCK a rehearsal!

Starting a Theatre Company

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Starting a company is easy. Relatively.

Putting on a show is hard. Definitely.

Doing both of these things is an exciting test of endurance and passion.

To start a theatre company you need patience, endurance, copious amounts of self belief and a whole lot of passion.

Patience, because it takes time. You will hit hurdles and red tape and need to fill out a LOT of applications asking for money. Unless you’re rich. Then you can do whatever you like.

Endurance, because (as above) you will need to stick this process out. You will need to keep reminding yourself of the big picture and push through the endless hours of planning and set up required. You want to succeed? You have to pass this test first.

Self belief is key. At every turn, someone will say “why are you doing this?” Or worse “Don’t do this, we don’t need it in this town”. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, they will stop you in your tracks. The self doubt will creep in and tear you down. If you really believe you have something to give, then give it. If you have to start fresh in order to give it, then do it. Sometimes it takes an outsider to change things. Sometimes it takes an insider to shut things down.

Passion is paramount. If you don’t love the theatre, the late nights, the tears and the stress and the rehearsals, then don’t even think about starting a theatre company. But, if the thought of bringing someone’s story to life on stage fills you with excitement, if you love spending endless hours in a rehearsal room, if you love nothing more than that silent moment between the audience hush and the curtain opening, if sharing your expertise with other passionate people fills you with joy, then push through the doubt. Start that company and share your passion with the world.

There’s simply no such thing as too much theatre.