Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Wishlist for the New York Theater Community

Contributed by our Guest Blogger of the week, Michael Criscuolo

Theater fans, if you're like me then you've probably experienced one (or more) of the following:

  • You've seen a bad show
  • You've been in a bad show
  • You've felt like your time was wasted by said shows
  • You've felt frustrated by all of this and powerless to do anything about it

And, if you're like me, you've daydreamed a million times about how you'd change things (for the better, of course) if you were in charge.

Today, because I can, I'd like to indulge the side of myself that fantasizes about such things (thank you, NYIT Awards blog). It's been a while since I've had a blog of my own where I could hold forth on such matters. And my friends are sick of listening to me natter on about the following.

So, without any further ado, I give you my wishlist for the New York theater community. Just a little missive outlining some measures I'd take if I had a say in anything.

  • I wish that actors would take their bios more seriously. For real. I know that most actors would rather be caught dead than write their bio. And when forced to do so they often come up with something my grandmother would've sharply called "smart aleck-y." But hear me out on this. Read the following totally irreverent bio that I just made up and tell me what you think:

Jane Smith has appeared in numerous Off-Off Broadway productions you probably haven't seen at a plethora of theaters that are mostly defunct. She doesn't have an MFA but still thinks she's a good actor. She owes everything, especially her ass, to Hamster.

You've read that bio countless times. Maybe you've even written it. And yeah, it's funny. When you're drunk at a party. But, in every other context, you know what I think whenever I see a bio like that? That the actor who wrote it doesn't take themselves very seriously. And they're not interested in having other people take them seriously. You see, I think bios are as important as your headshot and resume. They are another way of presenting yourself to the public. And more people will see your bio than will see your P/R.

So, with that in mind: what would you want a total stranger – who’s possibly going to see you act for the first time – to know about you? That you like cheese? That you’ve been in a bunch of stuff no one’s seen? That your cat’s name is Buster? I think not. Next time you’re about to write “that bio,” take a minute to think about the kind of impression you really want to make on people. You might reconsider.

Personally, I always try to write the kind of bio I like reading: one that tells people what I’ve done. In terms of acting and the biz, what you’ve done is who you are. And, as far as I’m concerned, if you don’t present yourself professionally, no one’s going to treat you that way.

  • I wish that actors and directors would take curtain call more seriously. I know you’ve seen this one before. You’ve just spent two hours watching a really good show: good acting, good directing, good everything. Lights fade to black. You take a deep, edifying breath. Rapturous applause starts. The lights come back up, and...

The entire cast ambles back on for the sloppiest, most lackadaisical curtain call you’ve ever seen in your life.

Nobody knows who to take the bow off of, so everyone just kind of bows when they feel like it. It’s all very slapdash and hasty. The actors look embarrassed and eager to get it over with. Then they walk off in all directions without uniformity. It’s obvious to everyone that the director threw the curtain call together about two minutes before the house opened.

To which I say: unacceptable.

I know. You’re probably thinking I’m a crusty old crank right about now. But listen to what I’m about to say: the show deserves a good curtain call. Why? Because it’s part of the show. And it is as indicative of the show’s overall quality as anything else in it.

The actors deserve a good curtain call too. Why? Because they earned it by going onstage that night and putting their proverbial ass on the line in front of a roomful of strangers. The curtain call is the only chance most of those audience members will ever get to show their appreciation for the actors.

The audience wants to show appreciation (usually). The actors like to be appreciated (no matter how embarrassed they are by it). Everybody needs the curtain call. And a good one reflects well on the show. Don’t shortchange everyone by throwing it together at the last minute. Put it together during the last week of rehearsal and practice it at every run-through up to opening. Going the extra mile on this will put you head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. (And individual bows for the leading players aren’t a bad idea either – I’m just saying...)

  • I wish more theaters would open the house at 7:30. This one is more for all the Indie Theater companies out there since, for the most part, their Broadway and Off-Broadway counterparts already do this. To me, this is a simple thing that conveys a powerful message: opening the house at 7:30 tells people that you’re prepared and ready to do the show.

Remember all the times you’ve gone to see your friend’s show, only to arrive at 7:45 to find the house not opened yet and all the actors and crew people running around trying to get ready in time for an 8:00 curtain? Sure you do.

And do you remember what you thought every time you saw that? I’ll bet you do.

I know what I think every time I see that: Uh-oh.

As in: God only knows what the hell we’re in for tonight. This is not a good way for any audience member – or cast member, for that matter – to start the show.

Now, I know what you’re going to say: Listen, Mr. Crusty Old Guest Blogger! Things happen before a show sometimes. Things go wrong. Equipment doesn’t work. Actors are late. You can’t plan for these contingencies – you can only address them when they happen!

Yeah, yeah – I know. But that doesn’t mean you can’t open the damn theater and let people in. Its part of the accepted social contract of doing theater: audience members expect the house to be open when they show up. So they can take their time settling in, going to the bathroom, reading the program, doing whatever. If the house opens at 7:55 and the show starts at 8:00, the audience has to rush to do all of these. Or even worse (as I’m sure they would tell you): they have to figure out which of these they have time for before the show starts and which one can wait for later.

And let me tell you: if they choose to wait until after the show to go to the john, it’s going to be a long night for everyone.

Plus, it’s a good thing to do for the cast and crew. Once the house opens, they all have a chance to settle themselves in for some pre-show quiet time, focus, prepare, and just generally be calm before the show starts. If everyone is running around doing this, that, and the other right up to curtain, there’s very little time left for anyone to focus on the task at hand. Dare I say that’s totally unfair to one’s cast and crew? I will dare.

I could go on like this for hours, but you get the gist of what I’m saying: I’m basically a crank.

Seriously, though. I’m a detail guy. Because, to me, little details are always what make the larger whole more interesting and memorable. And I think that everyone who does theater should pay more attention to details like the one’s I’ve mentioned above. Because ignoring them only makes the unattended gaps in the larger whole more obvious.

Interesting and memorable will always bring audiences back to the theater, as well as theater artists and practitioners. Unattended gaps will not.

Thanks for letting me bend your ears a bit, theater fans. I now return you to your regularly scheduled guest blogging.

1 comment:

  1. Michael, yes, yes, yes. Doing and seeing bad theater is what made me start producing in the first place. I hate it when actors don't take their bios seriously and I'm right there with you on the curtain call. Although I would argue that 7:45 is a perfectly acceptible time to open the house if it is 40 seats or less and you have the luxury of a lobby. But then the lobby better be ready at 7:15.

    And a few things to add, as an audience member: a clean bathroom, a program that wasn't run off by a bad copy machine and actually has some content that is relative to the play, and comfortable seats. Because there's nothing worse than seeing a three hour opus from a folding chair or wooden bench.