We Happy Few: A Reflection on the Importance of Relationships and Interdependency in Theatre
In midst of acting, if I’m in a position infrequently to look out into the audience and into the house, it feels like staring into a total abyss. Aside from, of course, being in the moment with my character with the story in the given play, and that my eyesight is beyond terrible, I find a strange sense of mysticism and wonder in that—as if it were a message from the universe that all that mattered was the present, and the stories we tell.
However, I also find that it is too often we take for granted as thespians the fact that we share the stage, the story, the wonder, and the present moment together, as a unit. Call it what you will: cast, crew, team, friends, or even perhaps family. But if anything must be said about our experiences on stage, it is that we aren’t nearly as successful or as good as we all aspire to be without each of us backing one another to at least some degree. After all, as my high school theatre director and teacher never failed to point out, almost prophetically: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Going now into my junior year of college as a theatre major, not only do I hear these words, I see the embodiment of them in everything that I do with whoever I may work with. Sure, the perspectives and personalities are almost always differing and varying to at least some degree. And there may be some people you just click with, and others you barely find yourself able to have a decent conversation with outside of rehearsals and performances. But all the same, I find that you need the mix and mash up of all that to have a healthy dynamic as an artist and as a group of artists.
I also find it incredibly ironic in writing this as an introverted actor and as someone who always seems more in the background of social gatherings and relationships with my fellow actors, technicians, and production team. Nevertheless, I still see so much worth in that. I see so much importance to have this presence with them if that’s at least all I’m able to have. I may not necessarily agree, or vibe more specifically, with some attitudes, personalities, and constructions that I come across or bear witness to. But lately, I find also that that’s OK, too. It doesn’t say or imply anything less of what or who I am as an artist or as a person, or the experience I feel like I “should” be having with everyone.
Everyone’s experience, just like their personality, is unique and rather divine in their own right—particularly in the arts, and especially in theatre. I just feel that if we give ourselves more permission to feel accepting both of our own differences as well as the differences of those whom we work with in this art and in this business, it just may be more of a healthy balance in creating and putting together a piece of work that we all contribute to, individually. For those who know music, the most astounding, unique forms of harmony are created either in instrumentation or choral arrangements that sound completely unified…but if you were to take it apart, and isolate the various parts, they all initially sound as if they don’t belong together in the slightest. But when you hear it as a whole, then that’s the best form of music. That’s the best kind of art because it’s true cohesion.
All of this may seem rather trivial and rather cliché, but all the same, it really shouldn’t be something to ignore or even take for granted. I’m not saying to put up with overly egotistical and self-centered behavior or treatment. Just as an actor to another, it’s in one ear and out the other. Or at least, that’s how we should approach it. But for those passing moments in either playing a warm-up game, chatting it up in nights out following long rehearsals, or after opening and closing nights of a show at cast parties--I say also to just go all freakin’ ham on that. You have to give yourself that permission to be vulnerable and to trust your fellow thespians just as much as you give yourself permission to be vulnerable and to trust yourself, on your own.
Just in thinking of Shakespeare’s Henry V, we as artists are in fact, “the happy few”. We’re the ones who are there for such ungodly hours of tech rehearsals, the ones who break their backs putting a set together even up to the last possible minute before opening night, the ones who struggle to be the most raw and real within the moment with a character even though that may really excite and actually terrify us at times, along with so many other things that most people wouldn’t even think about and take for granted outside of this strange, topsy-turvy subculture.
And for those that may struggle to find their own “happy few”—seriously, just look around you. That should be evident in itself. And if you don’t see it, that’s on you. Because, really, the moments you share with these people, your people, are just as real as when you’re on stage and the curtain and the lights go up. And both are just as important and vital to a show’s success, wherever you go and wherever you work.
So, just something to keep in mind before going out there on stage and, “once more unto the breach, dear friends”.