As I think I’ve mentioned in this space (and I know I said it at the Barksdale “Coffee and Conversations” roundtable on critics), it can be easy to overlook directors in the recognition of a show. Actors’ performances are in the forefront and the work of the designers is conspicuous. A director’s influence is everywhere and therefore in some ways nowhere. I think directors are sometimes not mentioned in reviews because it is hard for the critic to see or to know what the director had to do – beyond the obvious – to make the show work. Did he/she have to prod performers to get certain things out of them? Or did he/she have to rein them in and get them to focus? Was there one guiding principal that informed their direction or did they work it out scene by scene? What was their biggest challenge and how did they overcome it?
With a show like “Compleat Wrks” – where success seems so dependent on the interplay and the skills of the actors – the work of the director is particularly easy to miss. But coaxing that interplay into existence doesn’t just happen by itself. So Mr. Hamm is correct is saying that Matthew Ellis deserves recognition for guiding that play to success. And in my post yesterday, I mentioned the choreography without giving props to Patti D’Beck who was both director and choreographer. I’m trying to get better about this stuff, people, really I am!
So back to G&D and its visiting lead actors and the connection to Daisey’s indictment of regional theater… I haven’t seen “How Theatre Failed America” but I can at least respond to Rick’s comments.
I find his anecdote about the failure of TheatreVirginia while the downtown performance project was kicking off pretty troubling. The amount of money that can be raised to support a building – in contrast to a group of actual living people – is somewhat sad. Having said that, there has been discussion on this blog about the draw of nice venues. People respond to spectacle and there are few spaces, at least in Richmond, that are capable of supporting true spectacle. And venue debate transcends the arts world: what is the big contention for so many sports franchises these days? Upgraded venues. The reason Richmond is losing the Braves has nothing to do with how good the performers (aka players) are or what they’re paid; it’s all about a new stadium.
There are aspects of the situation facing actors that are analogous to other challenges in our current business environment. What’s one of the first things that turn-around specialists do in the corporate world? Cut the labor force. The use of out-of-town actors – isn’t this just a variation on out-sourcing? Instead of Hewlett-Packard looking to India for customer service people, you have regional theaters looking to New York for actors.
I work in the computer world 9 to 5 and I see how it favors flexibility these days; you can be an expert in one hot technology but then another technology becomes hotter and you have to adapt. Is the theater world much different? For working actors, the multi-talents seem to have the most success – if there's no work in straight plays, their ability to sing or dance (or run a light board or build sets) enhances their ability to stay employed.
But while thoughts like this may be great for making rhetorical points, they don’t address the grim-ness of the situation for actors. As Rick says, “actors…are a dime a dozen, flown in from New York to live in a dorm for 7-8 weeks with no connection to the community they are working, spending their one day a week off back in New York auditioning for their next gig somewhere else... Our society loves stars and celebrities...working actors are an entirely different breed.”
I think about all of the actors whose work I love and who have already left, or will soon be leaving, Richmond because they can’t make a living here. I also think about an actress like Rita Markova (this blog will not be “all Rita, all the time,” really, I promise). I don’t know Ms. Markova but you can tell from her recent credits that she moves around a bit. She seems like one of the itinerant actors to whom Rick is referring. She is lovely and she has amazing skills. As I mention in my review, she breathes life into a potential two-dimensional role in “Guys and Dolls.” In the Havana scene, it isn’t all about Sky for her. Her increasing abandon isn’t just a loss of inhibitions, it’s a rediscovery of vitality, a sense of relief as she sheds the burden of her mission-related anxieties. She comes to life in that scene and she brightens up the stage when she does.
Someone like Ms. Markova could land a role on Broadway or on a soap or even in movies. But those are often “lightning-strike” type events, rare and hard to predict. Isn’t the American dream about how anyone working hard, with a certain amount of skill and a modicum of luck, should be able to succeed? Should someone have to wait for lightning to strike before they can settle down in one place, maybe raise a family, and make a decent living?
Sad to say, I don’t have any solutions or even many suggestions. But I do know I’ve rambled on here (just as I feared) long enough. So I’ll go ruminate some more and see if I can think of anything helpful to say. In the meantime, please feel free to put forth your ideas.