Monday, April 01, 1996

Selections from ACT One, Scene 3

This is a selection of stories and articles that appeared in the third issue of ACT One, published in May of 1996.

This is a selection of stories and articles that appeared in the third issue of ACT One, published in May of 1996.

In this Issue
Re:ACTion - The Editors Column- Valerie Moore
Continuing Recollections of an Antiquated Thespian- Raymond Moore
ACT Off - Lessons for the Elite - Rob Thomson
Critically Speaking- Gerry Gray
Our Stories

Re:ACTion - The Editor’s Column
 
One Year! In a little more than one year ACT has grown from an idea to a vibrant, ever growing organization that is reaching out to touch more and more people. It is encouraging to see how we are all learning and growing with each experience. The recent box office success with The Crucible is a measure of what we have learned about marketing (see Rob Thomson’s article on publicity), and with each production many people are expanding their experiences in different directions. It is exciting to be involved with such an enthusiastic bunch of people committed to a common cause. 
 
For those who are new members, or even thinking of becoming a member, the monthly play readings are a great way to make a start without a major commitment. The selection of plays is varied and you can even request your own favourite. Last month’s choice was an exciting one - a brand new, as yet unseen, script by Hank Stinson of Young Master Davie, adapted from Dicken’s David Copperfield. And to make it even more exciting, Helen MacCrae was there to introduce us to the music. 
 
Looking forward to seeing you all the Annual General Meeting. - the editor


Continuing Recollections of an Antiquated Thespian

 

One of the most disconcerting experiences of an actor is to lose his lines - that awful moment of panic when the mind hoes blank. (Recent experience reinforces the feeling!) But it is equally aggravating to lose one’s audience! I recall one workshop production where there were six in the cast but only four in the audience. One of the audience members was an elderly gentleman with a limited attention span for he fell asleep during the second act and snored loudly. His companion poked him in the ribs from time to time and he came back to consciousness with a great snort and splutter. I felt like leaving the stage to invite him to try and stay awake for constituted a quarter of our audience. 

 

I once shared the stage with Miss World, which was certainly a stimulating experience. Regrettably the play was a Harvard Hasty Pudding Theatre production of Lysistrata, the ancient story of the ladies who withdrew their marital services until the men withdrew from their martial activities, and though there were periods of delicious vulgarity, very few attended. It is a terrible feeling for an actor to be in a production that is a disaster but no one wants to admit it - a bit like Encore at the Confederation Centre. Anyway, Miss World, a Guyanese lady, was living in Bermuda and was persuaded to take part, but notwithstanding the display of her obvious charms the production fell into the eminently forgettable category.  - Raymond Moore

ACT Off- Lessons for the Elite

I’m a bit of a snob. In drama I have been seeing myself as part of an artistic elite-people who go to and know something about ‘the theatah’. That sort of prejudice showed in our approach to publicity.

Here, (a trifle simplified) was the strategy for Our Town: put on a famous play … put an ad in The Buzz (read by us artistes) … get it talked about on CBC (listened to by us sophisticates). Well, on opening night about 40 of the ‘elite’ - most of them family, comp ticket holders or other people obligated to us in some way-turned out. All told we got something less than 300 paying customers in four nights. Now let’s look at The Crucible. Almost 1000 people came. The four performances sold out several days before opening … then we sold out again for the next weekend … then we took on two extra ‘back-by-popular-demand’ performances to be seen by several hundred more people. What happened?

Part of that success was choice of play, no doubt. But Our Town was a famed classic too. Part of it was the growth of ACT’s reputation, sure. And part of it may have been the MacKenzie location.

But what really looks clear is this: we drew people because we expanded the audience. We did that by shifting our concept of target. From appealing to an ‘elite’, we moved to connect with:

a)      particular interest groups-people we might hook with this specific play

b)      the hoi polloi, the ordinary public who wouldn’t normally be thought of as play-goers.

First, thinking of American history and modern American literature, we targeted university and senior-high English and History students through their profs and

teachers. Thinking of themes of conscience and community mores, we wrote the churches and suggested a blurb in the Sunday bulletin. And it looks like a lot of those folks came. But the big news was the common people. Everyday Islanders. The ones who listen to Magic 93, CHTN, and even (gasp) country and western on CFCY. How many people did you meet in February who mentioned Rebecca Black’s radio advertisement?

OK, here’s an advertisement for Rebecca. Whose voice, whose tense, immediate grabber with subtly throbbing music played at the consciousness of thousands of listeners day after day?

Where did the mass of our audience come from? From the homes and cars of folks who tune into the three stations of our sponsor, Island Radio.

The point of all this? In shifting our publicity sights, we got our-selves an astonishing box-office success. And - however accidentally - we appear to have had a wonderful success at doing one of the most fundamentally important things a community theatre group is supposed to be doing. Taking theatre to the community.  - Rob Thomson

Critcally Speaking

In the Christmas issue of ACT ONE (scene 2), our editor commented on the review of The Foreigner to be found in The Buzz and urged other ACTors to state their opinions. The response was so overwhelming, she charged me with the task of filling in the gaps.

Valerie was correct, there was a problem with that particular review. The focus of a review, any review, should be whatever is being reviewed. However, despite Mr. Spelvin’s positive comments about ACT as an organization, he seemed more concerned with impressing readers with his wit and wisdom than in offering any constructive criticism. As a result, he only succeeded in turning people off by repeating himself more often than is acceptable within polite company. But the irony was how appropriate the review was. Seeing so much of The Foreigner revolves around what people do when confronted by people they think don’t speak their language - how they talk louder, repeat themselves and think they know more than the other guy - it was only appropriate our reviewer fell into that part of society the play itself was poking fun at.

Nonetheless, while The Foreigner review was less than successful, I think Valerie’s comments spotlight another, more unfortunate problem - our poor attitude towards criticism.  In general, people like and want to have their handiwork ‘re-viewed’ - but they are less willing to have it ‘critiqued.’ They want a reviewer to tell what happened without getting into the good, bad or indifference of the whole thing. How nice! - Well, it may be very nice but it is not overly valuable. Indeed, why bother with the third party. Why not just write it yourself. 

As I see it, criticism, if given constructively, is one of the most valuable tools any of us can ever give or receive. Only our attitude tarnishes it. Improvement comes from identifying those things not working properly and then correcting them. It is unlikely that concentrating only on those things being done right will move anything from failure to success - however exerting that same energy on fixing things being done incorrectly just might lead to that success. 

Where does this attitude towards criticism come from? Perhaps from my career as a professional dancer. It certainly was prevalent in the studios and rehearsal halls everywhere I trained and danced. Just recently, I read Karen Kain make reference to the same attitude in her biography. Why dancers?  Perhaps because, for dancers, time is very much of the essence. Their life (career) is so short that time cannot be wasted. Only those with potential to make use of criticism are given criticism.  It is seen as a waste of time to give criticism to those who cannot make use of it. Dancers know, literally, without being told, if they lack whatever is necessary to make it as a career. Similarly, as the purpose of criticism is improvement, it is seen to be a waste of time to more than occasionally acknowledge what is being done correctly.  After all, that is what the individual is supposed to be doing.  Better to spend the time dealing with those things needing improvement. 

So that is where I stand regarding criticism - and that is why I was able to find The Buzz review of The Crucible by Sean McQuaid less harsh than others. Mr McQuaid’s main compliment was giving a fair, honest and constructive criticism of what he saw on opening night. That we were judged good enough for a serious review should be appreciated. After all, the general poor attitude towards criticism is only surpassed by the greater poor attitude towards critics - even good ones. Thank God some good critics have impenetrable thick skin. The review did make reference to the things done right - the packed houses, good overall direction and production, skill-fully controlled lighting… but did not ‘belabour the point’. He got down to the task at hand and that was pointing out those things that did not, in his opinion, work so well.

It is easy in the heady days of a sold out run to forget that less than one week before opening there was likely not one person involved with the production who was sure we were going to be able to pull it off! It’s amazing what a SOLD OUT run prior to opening will do to one’s ability to memorize lines and blocking (Thank you Rebeeca!!). Sean did not make up those fumbled lines - they existed. I gave and received my   fair share. The point was that we had all worked hard getting to opening night and were very tired when it came. None more so than the leads that carried so much. Sean found David’s portrayal of Proctor lacking, his body language, expression and projection blank. Isn’t it odd that David was found lacking in those things he is so able to inspire us with as a Director. It is difficult for anyone to fulfill successfully two jobs, particularly when they include judging oneself without a mirror. The review found ‘the usually solid Ed Rashed’ strangely floundering throughout the first act. Considering how late Ed joined us in rehearsals, I’m amazed he was there at all on opening night. It speaks well to his ability and that is a compliment. These are not excuses but may explain some of what Sean McQuaid observed on opening night. While much did improve during the run, I still think it is important to reflect on what an appreciated third party observed on opening night so we can possibly improve upon it in the future.  - Gerry Gray

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