American Theatre has an active and engaged Facebook community, and they’re not just using the shared wall to scribble and joke. Yes, there are some wits among our more than 12,000 fans, but there’s a large amount of wisdom among them, as well. So when we ask a substantive question, either about a nuts-and-bolts theatrical practice or about something more philosophical, we get some great responses that deserve to be cherished.
Lest some of these great comments and conversations be lost, here’s a survey of the past month’s best threads and our favorite comments:
How do you tell a friend you didn’t like their show?
Bernard K. Addison: You don’t. You say “congratulations” and leave it at that. Most actors know when they’re in a bad show…nothing else needs to be said.
George Pappas: I have newly made a deal with a few friends. If we really don’t like what we’ve seen each other in, we just say, “You’ve lost a lot of weight!”
Bob Smith: There is a time and a place. In the lobby immediately after a performance is neither. After the show has run, over drinks, we may discuss more specifics. It gives the performer/friend the benefit of distance from it, so criticism isn’t quite so biting. At that time, constructive criticism (if it relates to your friend) or just old plain “I hated it” is warranted, if you’re really friends and respect one anothers’ work.
Steven Dennis: ”My dear, how do you do that every night?”
Scott Bailey: Run out of the theatre, change your cell phone number. Problem solved.
Should anyone other than the director give notes?
Sid Solomon: The stage manager once the show is open.
Eric Powell Holm: I’m a director, mostly, so you might think that I’d be the first to say “No way!” But I don’t think the assumed “rules” that we all go by should be the same for every single production. Does a painter always work in exactly the same way? I hope not. Theater Oobleck in Chicago famously never has a director! (The playwright tends to act in the play.) I think it’s about the quality of the note. But I’d rather have a room where smart, kind actors (who know each other very well) feel free to offer feedback to each other, than a room where someone has a great note and censors themselves.
Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin: If it’s a note to zip your fly, then yes.
Tips for creating great documentary theatre?
Jessica Blank (The Exonerated, Aftermath): The interviews, and the people, may be fascinating in the room. That doesn’t mean if you just put them on a stage and call it theatre, it will be fascinating to your audience. You have to make a PLAY. That means dramatic structure. It means not relying on the people’s stories, or the amazingness of individual human beings, to do the work for you. That’s exploitation. Your job as a documentary playwright—like any other playwright—is to find the structure in the material and pull it out, to make a shape, to cut away anything that doesn’t serve the STORY being told.
Blake Wilson (LSU Performing Arts Academy, Irondale Ensemble Project): 1) Listen. 2) Ask questions that elicit stories. 3) Focus on action, don’t get bogged down in exposition/explanation. 4) Don’t lecture the audience…let the stories do the talking.
One more thing: pay attention to what ISN’T said as much as you pay attention to what IS said…
OK, one more: Be upfront with your subjects about what you’re doing with their stories…that doesn’t mean give them “veto” power…but build their trust so that they know that you are honoring the spirit of their stories (and the spirit in which the story was shared).
Tips for crying on cue?
Rebekah Williams: If you are living in the moment, then the tears will come. If they don’t, then its not being honest in the moment and you either need to get to where you need to be to make it happen or come up with something else to do other than cry. My $0.02.
Irene Crist: Try not to. Really try not to. Because as people, we don’t choose to cry. We try not to and it comes anyway.
Michael Mauldin: Think of your paycheck.
David Hansen: Try acting.
Hardest lesson you’ve ever had to learn?
Kriste Andrea Tujague: It really does matter whether or not people like you. They don’t just cast or hire based on talent alone.
Stephen Foster: Don’t take the drama seriously. Give 100% to the work, not other’s “opinions.”
Ricky Moreno: Stage managers are always right.
Hal Spencer: Make sure you pick up the murder weapon before you go onstage to reveal it.
Matthew Ivan Bennett: It may take me two months to write a play, but it only takes a person two seconds to say that it sucks—or needs another two months’ work. And that’s just the way it is.
Jeffrey Sweet: A theatre belongs to the people who join together to tell the stories. When real estate becomes more important, it stops being a theatre.
Michael Coon: Make sure the props mistress/master changes the liquid in the on stage bottles that you drink from NIGHTLY!
Blake Wilson: Not necessarily a hard lesson (unless you really screw up), but an important one: In theatre, assume that everybody knows everybody.
Rob Weinert-Kendt is Associate Editor at American Theatre. Prior to that he was the founding Editor-in-Chief of Back Stage West, and he writes about the arts for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Time Out New York. He is also a member of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop.