In theatre, to be a truly good performer, you have to commit fully to your role. You can’t be passive, it takes all of your concentration and you need to be consistent. Otherwise you’d get fired. If you do a run of shows, it might be the same thing every night, but a new audience is seeing it for the first time so you have to give the same dedication and commitment as if it were your first time performing it. If it goes a bit wrong one night you can learn from the experience and make sure it doesn’t happen again the following night.
Except we don’t have the same attitude when it comes to life. Most of us don’t commit fully to it and live passively most days. We might have repeat Mondays, Tuesdays etc but we don’t get do-overs of the exact same day where we can do it again but better. We get into a routine, things pass us by because we’re looking elsewhere, or we’re so absorbed in our thoughts that they stop us from actually living the moment that’s happening. We assume that we have a good run of performances ahead of us, but we don’t actually know for sure. So why aren’t we committing fully to it?
Tim Minchin had the dream of writing Matilda the Musical from a young age. He checked out what he needed to do to write it long before he became famous. You can see his absolute joy about the show whenever he talks about it or performs elements of it, even though it’s been running a few years. People want specific things out of life, but never seem satisfied regardless of how they come about. Couples try desperately for a baby and the complain about sleepless nights or someone works really hard for a promotion and realises it’s not all it’s cracked up to be when they get there. You should be allowed to complain if things don’t go the way you want, but there’s a difference between someone paying a fortune for a theatre ticket to have been misled and find it’s standing room only versus someone in a box complaining that they’re a bit chilly and making demands about the heating: you have a baby and a job. The people who are made to stand have been given a raw deal, but if you can do something about making changes to your life rather than being passive, do that rather than expecting everyone else to fix it for you: put a jumper on if you’re cold. Or take a look around and think ‘actually I’ve got it pretty good, it might not be perfect, but it’s still better than standing.’
You turn up to the theatre and you expect great things from the show. You’ve paid to be there, everyone has, so you expect the same standard as everyone else. So what if the lights aren’t working properly and everyone sings out of tune? You’d feel cheated and want your money back. Or a do-over. It’s the same with life, things go wrong and you feel cheated. Everyone else got to watch a good performance, why shouldn’t you? Even the people who were standing still managed to see good theatre, even if it wasn’t as comfortable as they wanted it to be. How is it fair that you ended up with the performance with all the technical hitches?
There’s a difference between knowing what you’re paying for, like a restricted view due to a pillar and being determined to make the most of it anyway, versus paying for a good seat and a lighting rig dropping on your head. But I’m a performer so I like performance analogies. So, being long-term sick, I feel a bit like I’ve done my performance training, I’ve jumped through the audition hoops and I’ve been given the lead in a play, we’re ready to go, but right after the tech run, the opening night gets pushed back because of some administrative, faffy detail that has absolutely nothing to do with what’s supposed to be going on on-stage. I’m watching the people that I studied with go onto perform their opening nights and continue with their runs in different theatres, occasionally with technical hitches, but they quickly recover and continue to make themselves into stars. Every now and then, something completely out of the blue happens, like a theatre burns down, but the public don’t mind that because it’s a tragedy, and we have to ‘keep calm and carry on fighting’ and the show re-opens and is even more spectacular, with the added praise of how they ‘still performed in light of everything else going on’. Whereas my theatre is facing criticism after criticism because no-one knows what’s going on, it doesn’t make any sense, people are accusing us of lying and there’s doubts as to whether there’s actually going to be a show. The audience gives in waiting, they ask for refunds and go elsewhere. Some of the cast even quit, so eventually we decide that the show must go on and we do it anyway. And it’s not great, the audience has to stand, the cast sing out of tune and the lights don’t work. So the audience moans about that too. The crew knew it was going to be a bad idea because trying to fix something while there’s a performance going on on-stage is so much more tricky than fixing something when the theatre’s closed up and you’ve got everyone co-operating.
So I’m watching people get on with their lives, ‘waiting’ to see if I get the chance to ‘perform’. Some of my friends face bereavements, cancers, divorces or relationship breakdowns, but other people have an easier time understanding and supporting people through those than they do with a theatre with a ‘Opening Night Date TBC’ confirmed sign on the door. I feel like I should give people some positive news when they ask how rehearsals are going, but I can’t really and I don’t want to get people’s hopes up. People lose interest hearing the same reply- that doesn’t mean that I’m not rehearsing just as hard as other people are in other theatres, but sometimes my efforts go unrecognised. In some ways it would be easier if the theatre had gone down in flames, because then at least we’d all know where we stand and it wouldn’t be a long drawn out process for years. But who actually wants something to burn down? I want to ‘get on with my life’ and achieve the Oscars that everyone else seems to be winning, but if I do that the Doctors who make up my crew mates have a much harder job on their hands, or I might make it even worse and have several lighting rigs drop at once on our heads. It doesn’t seem to matter how much is invested in it, the performance doesn’t ever get off the ground.
What should I do? I came to a conclusion that the people winning Oscars, especially those who were awarded them ‘too easily’ or too early in their careers might not be committing fully to their performance roles and will get passive about their glittering careers. They might be getting arrogant about their fame and cease to realise how important it is to give it your all every night- they’re becoming divas and making stupid demands as to what should be in their dressing rooms. They’re waiting for something too, they just don’t actually know what they’re waiting for and so they’re missing out on even more than I am. So I’m accepting, or at least trying to, that I have to sit behind a pillar for now with a restricted view because I can’t afford to pay for a good seat and risk a lighting rig dropping on my head. I might not be on stage, but I can commit myself fully to watching the bits I can see and not exist passively. I can see smaller details that pass other people by, appreciate littler things other people might miss and continue to admire and be happy for others and their achievements from the wings. Hopefully I’ll get a chance in the spotlight at some point in the future with minimal technical hitches. And if I don’t, I guess I’ll try to become a good theatre critic!
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