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Nathan Thomas
Random Thoughts
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july 2007

I'm old-fashioned.  I admit that up front and at the beginning.   

For years I endeavored to find some way of breaking through to something new in theatre.  I worked to figure out what the next new trend would be.  I wanted to be on the cutting edge and see terra incognita, the brave new world few others had explored.   

Now I'm just old-fashioned.

When it comes to theatre I strongly believe it all has to do with what happens between the characters.  I strongly believe that actors need to be concerned in that space between them.  I believe that theatre should be about human beings.  That humanness may be expressed in unusual ways, but theatre needs to be about humans and feelings and ideas.

I'm old-fashioned, as I say.

Over recent months I've had the opportunity to see some shows and work on some shows as both a performer and as a director.  It appears we're all turning into neo-Classicists in our performing style.  And if we assume that the bigger, more expensive, and more popular shows influence style more than small shows; this style is pretty much already here.

Instead of engaging each other on stage, actors basically tend to face the audience directly and proclaim in the audience's direction.  As an actor, I may have a scene with another actor or several actors.  But it's not my job to engage with them directly.  Rather, I'm to face the audience as much as possible.

Along with this physical attitude of facing front, it's important to have a kind of melodramatic, "punched-up" vocal delivery.  Anything that doesn't have a drop of the bombastic won't reach across the footlights that we don't have anymore.

Relationships aren't meant to be easy, I think.  Occasionally in life we're very lucky to fall in with another person we can easily synchronize with.  But most relationships are fraught with peril.  And as many many people have found, it takes a great deal of energy to fight for a relationship to succeed.

Theatre people would like theatre to be easier sometimes.  The actors would have all the lines learned instantly. The directors would have nothing but brief, brilliant things to say. The set would go up in as short a time as it takes to strike it.  The costumes, even with a million hook and eyes, would be beautiful, comfortable and come together with nary a late night, a needle-jabbed-thumb, nor one frayed thread or uneven hem.  The show would provide a transcendent experience that would transport the audience into a frame of mind to contemplate that world peace is actually possible – today!

Sondheim said it – art isn't easy.  But he left out the second part.  It's not meant to be.  Timidity is the enemy of art.  And were art easy, it would be possible for the timid artist to be successful.  The artist must be bold.  Must risk.  Must be willing to test the impossible.

Anyone who has shown mild interest in theatre history knows that there have been trends in performance.  We have records of how 'real' and how effective performers in the past have been.  Had we seen some magical, time-traveler tape of those performances, we'd probably gag and say, "There's nothing real or effective about that performance." Tastes change.

And yet.  I think our time needs to get past this neo-Classical urge quickly.  We need to worry less about standing and facing the audience.  We need to find ways in which we can strengthen the interplay in between the actors and the characters.  And then we need to find ways to illumine that space between.  And that might mean – from time to time – that an actor actually has a back to the audience.  Imagine suggesting something as bold as that in the year 2007.

But, I'm old-fashioned.

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About This Article

©2007 Nathan Thomas
©2007 Publication Scene4 Magazine


Nathan Thomas has earned his living as a touring actor, Artistic Director, director, stage manager, designer, composer, and pianist. He has a Ph.D. in theatre and is a member of the theatre faculty at Alvernia College.
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july 2007

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