Backstory

When talent is not enough

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I’m sitting in my bedroom, looking out the window, watching the rain fall hard. It reflects my mood quite accurately, as I am still under the influence of “Allegiance” withdrawal.

Both our workshop performances (in New York, where the musical is currently in development) went swimmingly. The audiences were as invested in watching the musical as the cast was in performing it. It was an intense experience and it’s an honor to be trusted with this material.

However, it isn’t just withdrawal that has placed me in a grayish funk; it’s withdrawal from this amazing cast  — talented, crazy, energetic and generous people.

From the very first day of rehearsals, the group could produce a “wall of sound” when singing together at full volume. It’s a sound whose impact mirrors that of those old Maxell cassette tape commercials, where that listener wearing sunglasses and sitting in an armchair has his hair blown back.

Cast members in shows do not always gel this well. I’ve seen my share of backstage drama, where fighting between costars threatens to destroy morale or cast cohesion. In one musical that I did, a departing cast member left a goodbye card on the bulletin board. It was touching and heartfelt; I knew I would miss him.

However, his “enemy” in the cast took the card, tore it to pieces and posted the remnants back on the board with a thumbtack. I took the torn bits to my room, taped it back together and posted it back up — intact.

No guarantees

It’s unfortunate when stuff like this happens, and I know that it does more often than I’d like to admit. Actors have strong personalities (some stronger than others), and when a casting director puts together people who happen to clash, all hell can break loose. Woe be to the unfortunate soul whose dressing room is in the middle of the war zone, when doors are slammed and shouting matches ensue. I guess that, even with the best of intentions, you can’t always guarantee that the people you hire will get along.

I’ve come to realize that talent isn’t ever enough when putting together an ensemble for a play or musical. It isn’t enough that the person auditioning can sing high E’s, dance like a whirling dervish, or perform Medea from memory. Whoever a production decides to hire has to be equal parts talent, hard work, patience, a good attitude and responsibility.

The talent part is obvious — should sing, dance, act, or whatever is required. The rest is, strangely enough, sometimes harder to find.

Hard work is simple enough to explain: It’s the willingness to put every effort into learning a routine, lines and lyrics and relearning all three in case of creative changes. Patience is required for long hours at work (sometimes 12-hour rehearsals), or sitting in a makeup chair if you’re cast in the “Phantom of the Opera.”

Having a good attitude could mean maintaining a positive outlook on even the longest, most exhausting day, keeping one’s sense of humor and resisting the urge to gossip about cast mates. As for responsibility, it can range from staying sober in the workplace to getting enough sleep at night. A few friends of mine who happen to be directors have lamented how some of the people they’ve cast in shows have dissed coworkers, were chronically late at rehearsals, missed onstage cues, or turned rehearsals and performances into sosyalan venues. Needless to say, these offenders are on my friends’ will-never-hire-again list.

So yes, I do tend to go on and on when I’m in the company of coworkers that transcend merely getting along to feeling nothing but love and respect, whose love for the work and their craft is given top priority, whose singular focus is the advancement and progress of the show they’re working on, for whom the team is more important than any individual, and who are present not only in body, but in mind and spirit.

It is most apt to liken the casting process to a game of roulette. Once the wheel is spinning and that little white ball released, you just never know where it’ll land. Chances are, you’ll wind up on the losing end, but if you’re lucky, you’ll emerge a winner. And in the past five weeks, I feel like I’ve won big.

I’m hope I find myself in a company like the one we had for the workshops. We weren’t just a company of actors — we became a family.

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  • Anonymous

    Can’t wait to hear a sampling of the music for this show….ESPECIALLY knowing Lea’s involved.

  • http://mshypersinger.tumblr.com Steph

    Talent is definitely not enough when you do not have the passion and patience to keep it going.

    It has been my dream to be part of a musical company. Clearly, hard work is the key to everything.

    Good luck Ms. Lea! You are a true inspiration!

  • http://twitter.com/yvescferrer Yves Caalim Ferrer

    I think that the basic requirement for everyone who wants to have a job as an actor/actress is to be responsible. More often than not, this requirement seemed to be the only thing that is really hard to find. Some would often argue that they are the most talented actor a production stint could ever find, thus making them think that he is superior to all of them and would eventually lead to them becoming a “diva”. And this attitude is the very reason why some films/plays fail, and why the people working on that project face a very large amount of pressure. 

    I am just 20 years old and I have worked both as a director and scriptwriter of a play we made for our class presentation. And I experienced how lack of responsibility could ultimately send the whole plan for the play into disaster. Many people complained to me how hard I was with them while we were rehearsing for the play, and how impulsive my decision was by replacing one actress over another one. But what they just don’t get is that for the performance to be well-presented, everyone must be responsible for the roles they were assigned to do. And I think that being a hard-working actor is somewhat related to being responsible. Simply put, without being responsible, you are also not being a hard-worker.

    But I have to agree that patience, and a good attitude are also needed. Responsibility alone wouldn’t simply work. Why is that? It’s because these five characteristics complement each other. One wouldn’t, or should I say couldn’t, really work alone. I remember when the TV series Charmed lost it’s charm when Shannen Doherty left the show, which some thought, because she couldn’t get along with co-star Alyssa Milano. Although she tried defending herself, many people couldn’t just possibly believe her because she already had issues regarding her attitude on set. So, during our rehearsal, many people complained about other people bossing around. If you don’t have a good attitude, your co-workers would tend to get intimidated by you, which may result to making the film/play just a second-rate performance rather than a well-made performance. 

    So that’s what I think about having those characteristics and how they work out for the betterment of everyone. ;)

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