I was going to talk about my South Carolina experience today but realized that there were much more relevant things to talk about. Specifically, Joe Pabst has been kind enough to share some of the ample contents of his mind in this space, in response to a post a couple of weeks ago and then again this past week.
Like Joe, I had some reactions to the anonymous poster who I think brings up many good points. So also like Joe, I’ll kick in my two cents in response to a couple of Anon’s assertions.
Anon said: “The same people work over and over at the same theaters, and there's a dearth of fresh blood to keep the heart of Richmond's theater vital.”
Believe me, Anon, there have been times that I have shared this exact sentiment, particularly at a time that I’m seeing a bunch of shows and I’m seeing a lot of the same people in all of them. I understand why it happens and Joe is right to point out that “People like working with people they like.” In any risky venture – and theater can certainly be risky – there’s a very good reason to go with what you know. There are enough variables to juggle already; wondering whether this new actor you’ve brought in has a hidden heroin addiction or will never be less than 30 minutes late for rehearsal are not things a director wants to worry about.
But here are two other elements to bring to that discussion. One is that some of the best surprises I’ve had at the theater involved an actor who I’d seen a dozen times before tackle something that was a true departure and totally nail it. The first distinct time I can remember experiencing this was when I saw Paul Deiss in “Greetings” years ago. More recently, I found Derek Phipps in the current “Guys and Dolls” a bit surprising. In fact, Mr. Phipps has been delightfully adept at avoiding typecasting. All I’m saying is that the same people working over and over again does not have to be boring or redundant if those people are given interesting material that might challenge them and surprise the audience.
Secondly, I have seen a fair amount of fresh young talent in the local scene in the past year or so. And younger and smaller companies like Henley Street, Sycamore Rouge, AART and CAT are pretty regularly giving actors new to the scene a chance to cut their teeth. You also have a young director like Jase Smith who has been able to bring new blood to RTP and the Firehouse. The bigger problem than a dearth of fresh blood in my opinion is the ability to keep the young and ambitious around long enough to fully exploit their talents. For a while there this spring I seemed to receive weekly reports of actors I had enjoyed watching leaving town. I guess it’s inevitable and I guess we’re lucky that U of R and VCU continue to bring new talent into the area. I just hope that enough students decide to hang on here so we continue to have a good supply of seasoned talent around.
Another comment from Anon that caught my attention was: “The average working New York actor will be stronger than the average Richmond actor, simply because of natural selection.” Hmmm… I can kind of see the logic of this statement if you are really talking about across-the-board averages but, in my opinion, I think the average working NYC actor will mostly be better at working the system (i.e., marketing themselves) and not necessarily a stronger performer. There’s really no way to come up with empirical definitive evidence to support either side of the argument on this one, though. It’s a mix of statistical ideas (averages) and completely subjective criteria (“stronger”).
I will offer this one anecdote that is contrary to Anon’s statement. I saw “Diary of Anne Frank” in Richmond with a cast of “average” Richmond actors and then just a couple years later, a Broadway production with a number of “average” NYC actors (including Natalie Portman as Anne). I can say that, in my opinion, across the board the Richmond cast was stronger than the Broadway cast.
OK, enough semi-relevant ramblings. Tomorrow: SC!