1. Community Theatre: The Turtle and the Empty Stage

This year I’ve attended and reviewed a lot of community theatre. I love it. I love it that there is so much of it around Sydney. I love it that it brings people together to create theatre and to watch it. In our smart phone world, the physicality of live theatre is fresh and vital and compelling. Done well, it’s a wholly engaging form of storytelling that pulses before you.
It’s not always perfect and there are certain foibles that recur across different forms of community theatre and styles of presentation. I thought at this time of the year I’d reflect a little on them.

The Stage tells a Story – Creates a Theatrical Illusion
Key to creating good theatre is the aim to immerse the audience in the glamour – the make-believe illusion of its reality. All the actors onstage have to be engaged with this reality whether they have an action to convey or not or whether they are speaking or not. If a performer is on stage they must always remain in character.
It may sound obvious and automatic but it’s not.
Active Listening is Important
Active listening happens when a performer being spoken to listens and response with their entire being to a speaking actor or action onstage. If you don’t have a speaking part – how attentive is your character to what is being conveyed – can the audience see with your stance, posture, gestures how the information / action is affecting you? Are you conveying the importance of what the speaking performer is saying by your attentiveness?

Lonely hearts, Katherine (Peggy Leto) and John (Barry McMaster)

Lonely hearts, Katherine (Peggy Leto) and John (Barry McMaster) photo credit: Craig O’Regan

At the current production of Rockdale’s Guild Theatre’s Silent Night, Lonely Night I was thrilled by the performance of lead actress, Peggy Leto. Her character listened to monologue after monologue of text and was absolutely engaged by it – we saw it in the way her character was affected by what was being said in her gestures and facial expressions. When her character’s turn to audibly respond came, her words didn’t gush out like a newly released dam. In keeping with her character, her responses were measured and timely. When she spoke on the phone, the silences in the half imagined-dialogue had a natural duration – the audience could make out the exact responses of the invisible, inaudible other side of the phone line.

Being this comfortable on stage comes with the confidence of knowing lines early in the rehearsal process so that your character and her/his relationships with other characters can be shaped in rehearsals and continue to grow in performance.
Advice to actors – know your lines as early as possible in the rehearsal process – when you don’t it shows.

A mark of a good performance – the mark of a good cast – the mark of a confident director is the use of pace and silence. If your cast can maintain the illusion of the story when they are silent on stage, the stage can support great moments of dramatic tension that come with silence. A dramatic high or low has been reached – the playwright is making his/her big statement – then let it sink in. Don’t denigrate it by rushing over it. Silence has impact – so long as all on stage remain in character.

See Peggy Leto in Silent Night, Lonely Night at Rockdale’s Guild Theatre until 24th November 2018

Next – in 2. Community Theatre- The Turtle and the Empty Stage acting appendages – accents, disabilities and the empty stage

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4 thoughts on “1. Community Theatre: The Turtle and the Empty Stage

  1. Pingback: 2. Community Theatre: The Turtle and the Empty Stage | crafty theatre

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