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The Polite Actor - Part One

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Part One: Pre-Rehearsal

Food for thought.

  • Think of an actor at any level who has impressed you with their etiquette or discipline.
  • How do they conduct themselves? How can you do the same? Write three things.

The aim of rehearsals as an actor is to explore the world of the play so that a coherent, creative and entertaining performance is given by opening night. The team that creates this tapestry is far larger than one actor and it is important to remember- for your own mental well-being - that one can never carry the show alone. The actor who believes they can hold together the strings of a show is one who may have fallen into the idea that their performance is a superior part of the play or that they cannot rely on their fellow actors to deliver. In both scenarios, the actor is fixated on others – which, I believe draws away from the development of one’s own performance.  

As an actor, you have a responsibility to hold tight your string so that the rest of the cast and crew can focus on their own roles. The etiquette of the performer enhances the efficiency and creative environment that this team creates. This aids actors who are fixating on others because it replaces the critical and nonconstructive energy with one that is kind and caring. As actors, we want to give energy and ideas to the rehearsals, not take away from others by constantly trying to steal the limelight or carry the play. Good etiquette on and offstage allows each performer to emerge from their shell and deliver into a safe and polite environment. This will, in turn, ease those who are worried about the quality of others as each person feels comfortable enough to be brave. I have divided the stages where etiquette is important into three categories: pre-rehearsal, during rehearsal and post rehearsal. 

Pre-Rehearsal - The Three P's

Pause

The idea of disciplined rest during a rehearsal period is important to prevent sickness and burnout. After long days of rehearsal, it is a good idea to pause and regroup before the next day. As discussed in ‘Stanislavsky at 17’, getting 7-9 hours sleep per night is ideal; as is eating the right food and staying hydrated.

A part of etiquette before the rehearsal that is essential is self-restraint - particularly against intoxicants. Parties, copious amounts of alcohol and drugs and extensive screen time are all counterproductive to the process and should be avoided at all costs during the rehearsal process. As an actor reaches maturity, the lure of late nights is a large one particularly within the social circle of the theatre world, but the actor must make the choice as to the level of intoxicants they are exposed to.

You have the ability to say no to all intoxicants and do not have to feel pressured into these things if you feel that your work is more important – but, this is a personal choice (and sometimes sacrifice that one must make to avoid wasted days hungover or burnt out).

Punctuality

The rehearsal time is precious. Whether you are called for eight hours or 30 minutes, arriving on time is essential so that the day can be used most effectively, especially during short rehearsal periods - which many shows are now forced to occupy. 

Bella Merlin (The Complete Stanislavsky Toolkit, Nick Hern Books LTD, 2007) cites Stanislavsky in her chapter on stage ethics, when discussing lateness and its effect on the actor, saying it - 

“makes the actor wild and puts him in a condition where he is incapable of work”. 

This precept should be retained by all Learning Actors. The feeling of lateness tightens the muscles and makes the brain tense; causing extreme stress. I was once late due to a broken-down bus. I had to run to the rehearsal and as a result I became ill for two days of the rehearsal period. The learning here is that one late can have a trickle down effect that makes you unprepared for the rest of the rehearsal period. Further to this, lateness can leave a bad impression for the director, which can lead to one trying harder to prove that one is worthy of the role. This saps focus and energy as the late actor falls into a pattern of forcing emotion in order to please others. It adds to the idea of being fixated by what other people are doing or thinking.

To manage this, I would remember these tips... 

  • Always check the mode of transport you intend to travel on for delays, cancellations or diversions the night before and morning of rehearsal.
  • Have a way to contact the stage manager, director or other actors that doesn’t require a wireless signal. Send messages to all contacts as soon as you are aware of your lateness. 
  • Aim to arrive 30 minutes before any rehearsal (this is good practice for auditions too!).  
  • If you realise you are going to be late and are on public transport or stuck in traffic. Use the mantra ‘This is beyond my control; I will not worry’. If you have followed the other guidelines then at this stage it is best to make peace with the fact that worrying will not make you move faster.  
  • Warm-up before you leave the house, vocal, physical and mental so that you are ready. You can do a shorter secondary warm-up once you reach the rehearsal but this way you will be switched on during the journey and can use the time for... 

Preparation

It is imperative as an actor that you develop the ability to work at home. Whatever has happened in the rehearsal that day, it is my experience that a recap of what has been accomplished and a look ahead at the next day's work is ideal. It is a good idea - if possible to set aside a space where work can be done without disturbance - as a young actor a desk and clear bedroom floor are a good start. Here, both writing and movement cane be done.

Set aside 1-2 hours every night to learn lines, memorise blocking, adjust and explore physicality and implement a director’s notes. This time can also be used to do more research – with a better understanding of the director's vision. Sometimes the pre-production research you do is wildly offbeat with what the director intends and this is a good time to catch up. 

This is why it is important to keep a notebook of findings, research and the annotated script – so that it is all in one place and you can easily access all of your material and can read it while on your morning and evening commute. This is a far more effective use of time, than playing mobile games.

Another use of commutes can be mental preparation. I have often utilised a playlist that embodies my character when preparing on the train. Alternatively, I have met actors that listen to motivational or calming playlists that put them in a creative mood. It is down to the individual to devise a preparation for each role that is suitable. It is likely that each one will be different depending on the demands of the part.

I believe that the way you enter the rehearsal space should reflect the way you intend to conduct yourself for the entirety of the day. I hope that you can craft a routine to incorporate all these stems so you have a skeleton outline of how you will conduct yourself during each show. By being rested, punctual and prepared, you will be in the right head-space to learn throughout the rehearsal day and also to be kinder and more open with your fellow actors. 

Hello! I am excited to share the second part of this article with you next week, I will look at the during and post rehearsal parts as they are smaller in content. As you can tell by that, preparation is a large part which is often unseen, so it is important to take responsibility for your own readiness.  

As always, stay hungry for knowledge and get solving! 

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