A little while ago, I worked on a fantastic community theatre show and had a wonderful time. Seriously, it was one of those perfect storms where great talent met great attitudes, and even the problems were kinda fun (in retrospect, anyway – I’m deeply grateful to those who saved the day more than once).
And then it occurred to me that there was something amiss with the show: we had no divas. None. How did this happen? In most shows there’s at least person who demands attention for just…demanding attention, one person who dumps a bowl of cold oatmeal on an otherwise hot breakfast buffet of a theatrical experience (I know, it’s a bad metaphor, but I’m hungry). And then I realized that the last show I was in was also diva-free – in fact, it ain’t easy to remember the last time a diva or two all but ruined my good time.
Seriously…what the hell? Where have all the divas gone? I know they’re out there. Used to be you could count on two or three divas per show – sometimes, you’d take bets on who could steal the most focus and waste the most of the cast’s and director’s time. Maybe they’re keeping to themselves, refusing to compromise the experience for everyone – but that only means they were never true divas to begin with. More and more, show people are being nice, magnanimous, and kind to each other.
This will not stand. Divadom is a tradition that must not go the way of the Walkman, or MySpace, or Terrence Trent D’Arby. So to that end, I have provided a primer that will hopefully rekindle the proud flame of divadom, a state of being that transcends talent and gender (that’s right, fellas) and casts a ray of dark on an otherwise sunny production. Enjoy.
AUDITIONS CAN BE FUN.
I know what you’re thinking. “I have to audition? But this is MY part – I’ve wanted to play it ever since someone told me a couple months ago I’d be perfect for it!”
True dat. But in this business we call show, we all must go through the humiliation of an audition from time to time. So make the best of it – have fun! Think of it as a social opportunity. Chat with your friends. Laugh, dance, talk – do whatever you must to stay “loose” until it’s your turn (the louder the better – it keeps your vocal cords lubricated). Don’t worry about being distracting the directors – they should be focused on the auditioner, and if not, well, it’s hardly your fault they forgot their Ritalin, right? And certainly pay no mind to the person auditioning – if they’re bothered by you, they are clearly not focused on their song or their monologue or whatever their doing to eat up your time.
When they call your name, remember, it’s important to be relaxed. So take your time. By all means, finish your conversation before taking your turn on stage. This will give the (correct) impression that you don’t really need to be there – you’ve got far better things to do. What director wouldn’t be impressed by that? Besides, it was rather rude of them to interrupt you.
If the show is a musical, you probably have a piano player there to accompany you. Unfortunately, piano players don’t like you and will purposefully mess up your song. You’ll have to let them know quickly that you’re onto their game by 1) pointing out where, in the sheet music, you start to sing (i.e., “I sing here, where the words begin”); 2) stopping them at least three times during your audition when they play that one wrong note that threw you off, and 3) rolling your eyes at the director and your fellow auditioners when you are finished, making sure they all know who is to blame for THAT disaster.
When you leave, remember, humility is the key. So be humble. Let everyone – EVERYONE – know that your audition was a TRAVESTY, that you usually perform SO much better than that. You’re sick, of course (don’t forget to cough), and people are just being so mean to you today. Accept the inevitable “oh, no, you were great” comments with a barely perceptible nod, and then go back to your friends…and let the fun conversations continue!
RANK YOUR NEW CAST.
So you did the director a solid and accepted a part in the play. Way to go! Now it’s time to size up your new castmates – after all, this will be your family for the next several weeks. And, just like family, there are some people you like (leads), some you tolerate (featured), and some who simply aren’t worth the gift of your company (ensemble, tech, directors). Figure out who’s who early in the process. If you aren’t sure who’s who yet, just go by who’s the cutest (after you, of course! ROFL!)
But what if that bacterium of a director gave someone else YOUR part? Well, that’s a horse of a different feather, but the proper diva is ALWAYS a good sport. Prove it by constantly offering to help that role-stealing pleeb with the part. Give them line readings. Lots of ‘em. And don’t forget to ply them with sincere compliments, like “wow, even though you’re way too old for this part, you’ve got a really interesting voice” and “if you like, I can hit that note backstage and you can lip-synch” and “gosh, I never thought of this part being played that way. Huh.” This way they’ll know you’re in their “corner,” as they say in the biz. Remind them how sick you were at the audition.
BE FRIENDLY – TALK ABOUT YOUR CASTMATES!
People love to talk – and what’s more interesting than other people? Nothing, that’s what! And who’s more interesting than the people in your cast? No one, that’s who! So talk about them and talk often. People love being talked about – it makes them feel important. However, some people are so sensitive – they apparently don’t appreciate the attention you’re giving them by discussing their talent (or lack thereof). So just to be safe, only talk about people when they’re not there to overhear. Don’t worry…if they show up, you can just immediately start talking about other people in the cast and their lack of talent. It’s the circle of life!
REHEARSALS – UGH!
Certainly, you need to attend some rehearsals, so the other actors will know your blocking so they can stay out of your way. But what’s with this schedule the directors gave you? Did they ask if you WANT to rehearsing on those particular days? Hells no! But still, there it is in writing. They must have put some thought into it, right? Please. They’re directors. As we’ll learn later, they’ve got the brain capacity and security level of a chorus member. (Lulz!) Besides, they didn’t think to consult you about your schedule and ask for your conflicts, did they? Oh, they did? Well, that was a long time ago – how were you supposed to know whether you might make plans on future rehearsal nights? So don’t worry about it. Just show up when you feel like it. Oh, you should definitely call (or better yet – text) them and let them know you’re not coming – after all, you’re a good sport. Make sure you give them a one-hour warning. In other words, if rehearsal starts at 7:00, let them know you’re not coming by 8.
Weirdly, some directors get all yelly when you do this repeatedly. OMG, what is their deal!? Discuss this with your castmates – you’ll feel better. Directors are SO unreasonable. What are they going to do, replace you?
NOPE. YOU ARE IRREPLACABLE.
Especially after they’ve fitted you for costumes.
DIRECTORS ARE DIRECTORS IN NAME ONLY.
You know how they say “those who can, do, those who can’t, teach?” No? Well…they say that. Anyway, here’s the theater version: those who can, act, those who can’t act do tech, those who can’t do tech do costumes, and those who can’t even do that have a cousin or something who directs. Seriously, look at these other people in the cast – would they even be here if the director knew what he or she was doing?
So what can you do? You can help! Offer constant suggestions, like “my character doesn’t want to do that” or “yeah…I’m going to say this instead.” If this doesn’t work, a silent stare – with arms folded – will often convey the message of “your idea is bad” without forcing you to say the unpleasant words “your idea is bad.”
Of course, some directors, perhaps because their “title” has the word “direct” in it, don’t appreciate input from the actors. But “director” also contains the word “or,” as in “or, I can just do what I want” (Fun fact: it also contains the word “ire!”) Just remember, you can always allow the director to believe he or she is in charge – right up until opening night. Then, you’re free to fix their mistakes, put yourself in center stage where you belong, and take long pauses before each of your lines to draw attention to yourself. There – you just “fixed” the show. And you’re not even asking to share directing credit, even though you totally deserve it. Stupid director probably won’t even thank you.
YOU PROVIDE THE TALENT. LET THEM DO THE WORK.
The tech people aren’t going out on stage to sing and act, are they? ARE THEY? No, of course not. Can you imagine? LOL! No, entertaining the masses is your job. Their job is to, like, move sets or whatever. Sometimes…seriously, this happens…they might ask YOU to move something, to position a prop, to stand on your “mark,” whatever that is. Can you believe the arrogance? Still, there’s no need to remind them of their place in the world – remember, some theatre people can be so sensitive. Besides, that would require actually talking to them (ick! Lol!) and there’s certainly no reason to do them THAT. Better to just shake your head sadly and walk away.
TECH WEEK = BLECH WEEK!
It is the first day of tech week (a really stupid week to begin with) and these people simply do Not. Know. What. They’re. Doing! Seriously – you’ve been rehearsing for, what, three months now? You’ve done YOUR job – you know almost half of your lines, and the rest were stupid anyway. Why can’t these fungi get it right?
Okay, hold on, superstar. Just take a nice deep breath (and another shot of Kahlua). After all, without lights, and…whatever else the tech people do, there would be no stage for you to shine. Remember: these are techies. If they were actually good and smart and stuff, they would be actors. So you have to encourage them. Smile at them. Call them “hon” or something. Let them know you’re on their side, and that you’re a “good sport” who will “get into the spirit” of this ridiculous day.
For an hour or so.
But even then, there’s no reason to raise your voice at the sad little people in the black turtlenecks. Instead, try greeting every “Hold Please!” with a loud, audible sigh (every now and then, slap your thighs for emphasis. Try it – it works!). Now your director might ask you what’s wrong – how rude! If something was wrong, you would have said “something is wrong,” right? But still, there’s no reason to get upset, because you know the one rule of tech: downtime = your time! While they’re adjusting the lights – take a break. Visit the necessary. Take a little walk. Have another drink. Don’t worry, when it’s time to start again, someone will find you. Eventually. If they care about the show, that is.
Hang in there, kid! In a few days the vermin on the tech crew will go from hopelessly stupid to pretty much stupid. You know what that means – showtime!
IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. BUT IT IS SOMEONE’S FAULT.
You know what’s fun about live theatre? Anything can happen! And anything will. And here’s the thing about show people: they are vicious! (Not you, of course.) They are mean, spiteful creatures who love to point the finger of blame. Which means that sometimes – sometimes – that finger of blame might be pointed at you.
“You missed your mark,” they’ll say. “That wasn’t your line – you were supposed to say ‘I love you,’ not ‘Ohmygod I totally forgot your name,’” they’ll whine. “That was MY song!” they’ll bleat. “You were supposed to be in that scene! Why are you in the dressing room on the phone?” they’ll whimper. Etc., etc. You see? Vindictive little trolls.
So how can you defend against this? Same way you drive: with a good offense! Sure, things will go wrong – it’s theatre, it’s full of morons who constantly screw things up. And sometimes you have to remind people of that, lest they point the finger at you. You missed your cue? That’s because the light was totally in your eyes. Said the wrong line? That’s because your costume makes you look hideous (besides, your line was better). Didn’t come out for your scene? Well SOMEBODY (probably that weaselly person who wears the headphones backstage) obviously forgot to tell you. Accidentally sang someone else’s song? Clearly the prop person had the glass in the wrong place, totally throwing you off. Oh – and no matter what, don’t forget – you’re sick. Terrible, terrible cold, all due to the assistant director’s 8-month-old sneezing in the theater a few minutes before you arrived. Seriously, you are REALLY sick, which you should still be reminding people on your third mudslide at the aftershow party.
REMEMBER: WE’RE HERE FOR YOU!
When it comes down to it, who is actually the one saying lines (better ones than the “playwright” wrote…we should totally call those people “playwrongs,” LOL!) and singing songs during a show? Why, you, of course! Well, a few other people too, but whatever. So always remember that all these sad little creatures running around backstage, all the vaguely unpleasant faces you’ve been seeing over the past couple of months, all those names you skip over in the program to read your bio again – they’re all here to facilitate your performance. It’s kind of touching, in a way, I guess. Sure, they’ll probably (definitely) screw up and ruin everything, but they’re here, and they’re trying. So be sure to be a gracious diva and treat them with kindness. “Kindness,” in this case, means never learning anything about them – after all, that would violate their whole purpose for being here! But you know what? Learn their names. Yeah. Seriously. Well, not ALL of their names, that would be insanity. But you’d be amazed how far knowing one or two names will get you (hint: take notes). After all, which sounds better: “Um…you. One of you idiots forgot to put my water in its place, and I go on in 20 minutes. Fix it.” Or: “Charlie, one of you – wait, it was…(checking your 3” x 5” card)…Lisa – forgot to put my water in its place, and I go on in 20 minutes. Can you fix it, Chester? Er, Charlie?” You see how much friendlier that is? It’s impressive, too. Why, ol’ Charlie will be so delighted that a star like you knows his name (even if it’s not actually “Charlie” – it’s the effort that counts) that he’ll ALWAYS make sure your water is in its place, and he’ll probably bitch-slap Lisa after the show. See? The circle of theatre is complete.
Congratulations, my friend. You have successfully achieved Diva Status, Theatre Division. Now stop reading this article, which was written by someone far beneath you, and charge up your cell phone – you’ve got auditions to attend!