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The Polite Actor - Part Two

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Rehearsal and Performance

Food for thought.

  • To practice listening, choose one person whom you interact with daily and listen to them as if it was the first time. 
  • Have you made a cheat sheet before? Share your examples with me! 

The rehearsal room is where learning through experience takes place. This is the time to make mistakes, record your findings and bond with the other cast members in a professional manner. This mentality of the learning actor should be carried onto stage so that one remains open to the spontaneous decisions that come from trusting the preparation done at home. The key to a successful rehearsal as an actor is listening. If you can become an active listener then you increase quality of experience that you gain from each show. This idea also adds to the positive atmosphere that is imperative to creativity and your reputation as someone reliable. 

Rehearsal and On-stage - The Three R's

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Active listening is a tool that is useful to both an actor and to anyone who feels learning is important within their daily lives. There is a lot of information that flies around during a rehearsal and it is important that you take this in fully so that you can contribute effectively when needs be without derailing the ideas that the director has laid out. Therefore, it is paramount that you are listening with the intent to understand and not the intent to reply, which means that you expect that whoever is talking has something vital to teach you. 

The speakers Celeste Headlee and Julian Treasure both theorise strategies for active listening which can easily be applied to the rehearsal room. 

  • Celeste says: Go with the flow. A director will often talk to the cast and spawn burning ideas that you are desperate to speak. However, explaining these for others to understand will derail the exercise that the director is trying to set out. It is okay to let go of these ideas; however, it is not always necessary. Write them down as they come to you and ask to talk with the director at the end of the day, this will create a strong rapport between you and the director.
  • Julian says: Use RASA. Receive, Appreciate, Summarise, Ask. This method is effective in showing that your listening and making sure you understand before proceeding. 

RASA

  • To receive, you must pay attention by tuning you ears to what the person is saying, which can be done by focusing on the mouth or eyes of the director. 
  • To appreciate, make small noises in agreement (if you understand) so that the director feels comfortable to proceed. 
  • To summarise once the director has finished speaking, in order to clarify your understanding, use SO... statements which the director can agree or disagree with. 
  • To ask, requires a tip that Celeste gives: if you don’t know, say ‘I don’t know. This indirectly helps the director to learn better ways of communicating their message, as well as creating an atmosphere of honesty. It also avoids going back over things later on. 

Respect

Creating a positive atmosphere is the goal when using good etiquette. There are simple rules of respect that one must remember within the rehearsal room in order to be accepted as a contributing member of the cast. 

  • Manners are vital at all times. Remember to say please and thank you when transferring props, asking to try a scene in a different way or asking your scene partner to trust you in doing something unexpected. Managing people’s expectations with politeness is more likely to give you the opportunity to try things out in rehearsal. 
  • Unrelated talking during rehearsal is always counter-productive, whether the director expresses their frustration or not. If you want to discuss a scene, a part of the concept or something about the character. Wait for the director to finish and ask politely. This may result in a necessary discussion on the spot or taking some time to talk at the end of the session. 
  • Use your breaks wisely. It is always a temptation of young actors to spend breaks gossiping. It is my personal experience that this is almost always a waste of time. Breaks should be for eating, drinking, going to the bathroom and working on scenes that have yet to be explored to their fullest. During your meal, you can socialise and get to know your cast-mates, however there should always be a designated time to go over things that haven’t been covered in that day’s rehearsal. 

Responsibility

The word responsible is derived from being response-able. It is vital to be able to respond to any given situation without much planning time because of the unpredictability of live performance.  

  • The first step, after outside preparation, is to memorise all cues. Create a comprehensive cheat sheet that includes the line before entrance, the correct entrance side and any props that you require. This should be compiled from the first rehearsal and should be memorised by opening night.  
  • You may always stick your cheat sheet to a dressing room mirror so that you can refresh yourself before each show, this prevents missing entrances and builds trust between the cast. 
  • Props – if your show has them – must be looked after. It is almost certain that there will be a prop table that you MUST return your prop to once it has been used. As well as taking responsibility for your own props by using them correctly so as not to damage them, you must not touch props that you do not use yourself in the show.  
  • It is often the case that props lie around the wings, which can look untidy, what you must remember is that if everyone is responsible for their own props then no props are in the wrong place. Having this mentality also creates trust between the cast. 

The reason for thorough preparation and understanding of the flow of the show is the likelihood that something will go wrong on-stage. Some examples might include... 

  • Missed Cues, for a short or lengthy period. 
  • Missing Props. 
  • Props left on-stage. 
  • Mis-timed lighting cue. 
  • Falling set. 

These slip ups are natural and cannot be avoided. I have encountered them all at least twice which shows their frequency. The process for dealing with them will differ in every show and it is important to remember these two guidelines. 

  • Stay in character at all times. The audience understands that this is live performance and expect that things may go wrong. If you stay in character then you minimalise the chance of the audience noticing the problem. It is how you make up for a mistake that counts. 
  • Approach slip ups with enjoyment. You can’t control the mistakes that are made but you can have fun cleaning them up. You are in the driver’s seat and you can utilise your knowledge of the character at this point in the play to monologue, pick up a prop, deliver a line to restart a scene or cover set that has come apart. Improvise! 

Hello, Learning Actors! Remember for these longer episodes it is always okay to skim and scan to get only the information that you require. Search for what you need most (and let me know if you find it!). 

On a different note, the skills that a learning actor must use can always be translated to real life. The situation of our planet at the moment is dire and as a white man it is paramount that I remain educated about my own privilege and use my platform where I can. Below are some articles that have been helpful to me and I have also linked the petition ‘Justice for George Floyd’. 

Stay safe and stay learning. 

https://www.change.org/p/federal-bureau-of-investigation-justice-for-george-floyd

Witnessing Whiteness | The Need to Talk About Race and How to Do It 

Understanding White Privilege 

Why cultural appropriation isn't cool | The big issues | ReachOut Australia 

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