Theater is Competition
In response to Brad Pontius’ piece, I do agree that it’s okay for theater to be competitive, but he fails to mention one major part of theater. It was born of competition. In Ancient Greece, plays were performed and playwrights were able to showcase their skills for the chance to win money and fame. The City Dionysius Festival was the Super Bowl of Ancient Greece. The reason that we have some of these plays exist is that they beat the competition, or they were able to stay intact, either way, they won the historical lottery. Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Aeschylus all won that competition and that’s why their work is still performed today. Don’t belittle theater to keep an aspiring actor from realizing what it is; pure competition.
To make it anything less than that is to do the entire theatrical history a disservice. Don’t turn theater into this “friendly competition” fluff. Playwrights don’t write these plays just because they want to, no one goes into an audition or interview hoping their friend wins and everyone just has fun, they may say that but it’s not the full truth. No matter what aspect it is in theater, people want to win. Say it like it is, if you want to put a bow on it and package it nicely then go work at Macy’s, leave the competition to the ones willing to compete.
Theater is a great thing to have in our society but much like professional sports to romanticize them only degrades it. Putting the work in and not getting a part, or a job depending on what aspect of theater you work in, either adds fuel to one’s competitive fire or makes someone realize it's not what they want to do.
Theater is work, theater is pain, theater is blood, sweat, and tears, but at the end of the show when that audience is roaring with applause and the cast and crew all know that they put on a perfect show, no muck-ups, no missed cues, no mishaps, that’s why we compete for roles and jobs, that’s why we thrive.
I don’t want this to sound as if I think that Mr. Pontius is wrong, that’s not what I’m saying. But don’t sugarcoat what theater is. I came from a blue-collar, factory, and military background, competition is my life’s blood. I had to compete for rank and jobs and continue to do so as a stage manager. I love what I do, I love the competition and the thrill of knowing that I either have what it takes, or I need to work on my skills to make sure that I’m not only the right candidate for the position, I’m the only candidate for the position.
Being that only candidate is also an issue that Mr. Pontius brings up in his article. He talks about suffering for your art his quote is “art is better when it comes from pain”. Hell no it isn’t. Those people onstage are actors, they’re playing a role, they are not at a psychiatrist office and the audience isn’t their therapist. I directed a one-act last year and one of the actors auditioned with their own written monologue. Their pain in the monologue was real, it was too real, there was desperation in their monologue, they didn’t want this role they needed it. That is the wrong kind of competition to have when it comes to theater. An actor should want a role but if they need it then there are other factors at play.
We don’t want to see real people onstage, we want to see characters. Please don’t bring your trauma to the stage, that’s not what its there for don’t use it that way. If you have that kind of pain, then please work it out in a clinical setting with professionals who can help. Bringing that pain to a rehearsal and potentially using it for the stage in a Stanislavski style (which I will write a later article about why that’s a flawed method) can hinder your performance and the audience’s reaction, we as an audience don’t want to see someone actually suffering, we want to be entertained not traumatized.
My position is intense on this subject, that I’ll admit, and Mr. Pontius says that having a brutal approach is not a good way to go about this, I disagree. If you want to choose theater as a career path and if you want it to be profitable for you and fulfilling, you should have a “this is for me” mindset rather than a “hey, we’re all theater people” mindset. Of course, we’re all theater people at a professional audition or interview but I’m not there to make friends first and get a job second. Those friends come from getting the job and working with those people for weeks, months, or years. Most of the lasting relationships that I’ve made in the past few years have all been with people that I’ve worked with, but that doesn’t stop me from giving it my all to put myself ahead of them in an audition.
The theater is and will always be competition.
Don’t belittle the competition. Embrace it.