Theatre is about 'we', not 'me' - an article by Gary Jerry
THEATRE IS ABOUT ‘WE’, NOT ‘ME’
by Gary Jerry, Freelance Director
I want you to think about the best comment someone has ever given to you following a performance.
I remember the first time I completed a performance of Spring Awakening in January 2011, and being mesmerised by one thing. The fact you could hear a pin drop across the theatre as the lights went down, and the occasional sob or sniff trying to be held back. I was sitting in the bar later that night, trying to work out what had actually just happened. Two and half hours had passed, yet I couldn’t remember anything but that single moment of silence. For all I know, I could’ve completely changed the script, danced around with a lion mask on, or corpsed at every line. Absolutely no recollection of how it went or what we did. The one thing I did feel was physically and mentally drained - like a ton of bricks had been pressed down on me, and then I’d been released and freed from it all. I looked at my fellow cast members, we sat in silence - nothing needed to be said. Then I looked at some audience members also in the bar - they looked just as shellshocked as us. We - and by that, I mean the audience and the cast/orchestra, had shared in something special. Something unique. And the reason why I know it was unique is because I have no idea what I would have to do to replicate it!
Being in a theatre should feel like being in one big bubble. A bubble with no walls - just one big sphere being shared by all those inside it - a connection between audience and performer. A chance to escape from all of the troubles and issues of the world outside the bubble. It’s safe and protecting from societies issues. You are allowed to laugh, you are allowed to cry, you are allowed to be angry against injustice and know that you will receive no kind of criticism from anyone else. It’s part of the reason why I think I despise the notion of allowing any phones into a theatre - taking pictures of these unique moments and posting them ‘outside of the bubble’ makes them lose their spark. And if someone else sees another patron taking a picture that instantly also takes them out of the bubble too. Theatre is magical because it is live - taking a picture or a video simply cannot in any shape or form replicate the beauty of seeing right before your eyes and being able to breathe it in and live it. Immerse yourself and embrace it - fully letting go can be scary, but it is incredibly rewarding.
As actors, we need to remember to be in the ‘present’ - we can learn from our characters’ past, but never pre-empt their future as no one truly knows what your future holds. An audience longs to see a truthful performance - they can spot liars a mile off, and it seems many audiences will disconnect if they suspect that an actor isn’t being truthful.
Truthfulness is often a challenge in a musical due to the fact we have an added medium of music. But then that should beg the question, why do we sing in a musical? We sing because words are no longer enough to describe the extremities of the true emotion we are feeling. If we just felt a rather bland version of that feeling (ie slightly happy or slightly sad), words would suffice. Adding a melody is a way of pushing forward beyond the constraints of lexicon and colouring the voice with more emotion to truly show how strongly we feel about something. That’s why we must ‘play’ and ‘explore’ to find our closest possible version of a truthful performance in the safety of our bubble. (See, it all connects!)
We are all striving to be the best actors and creatives we can be, and this can only be achieved with trust and the knowledge that no-one is judging their first or second attempts of making magic happen. In fact, judgement should go out the door within art. One person’s opinion on how to rate a piece of art, be it through a stars system, or through their own personal thoughts doesn't mean your art should be based on that. I’m tired of shows being judged on how many awards they have, what a reviewer (who can be biased either way) says or how many Twitter followers the show’s official account has. Every piece of art, every night of a show, every single moment in a musical/play/piece of art should be UNIQUE. So how can each unique moment be judged as a reflection of what a production will be like the next evening or the following month? Don’t rate art. Just enjoy what it brings to you as an individual, and see how it can affect the “we” around you. It continues to bring me a lot of joy, and does my soul a world of good on a daily basis.
Going back to thinking about my favourite comment - that Spring Awakening opening night in West London. One woman came up to me as I headed home and said to me “You don’t know me, but I want you to know one thing - I will hug my children extra tight tonight, and I will be a lot more open to whoever they want to be”. That comment has lived with me every day since - our production, our experience made that happen. I long to make more theatre that can create such a feeling in both creative and audience member.
Gary Jerry is a Freelance Director, specialising in Acting Thru Song and Lift Off Into Musical Theatre.
He is based in West London, but happy to travel around the area.
Gary can be contacted on 07917 440095 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and availability.