When talent is not enough
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.
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.