- OnStage New York Columnist
In the world of theatre, the word “ensemble” can have a few different meanings. It could be referring to all the actors who play minor roles – the so-called “extras” – in the production. That’s often what many people think of when they hear that word used in theatre. However, these days I am far more likely to think of something else when I hear that word. I am more likely to think of all the people in various roles – both onstage and offstage – who put tireless work into bringing a show to life, and how they have to work together to do this.
Over the past several years, I’ve been grateful to have a chance to work a bit in a few of these various positions in theatre, and the more I do so, the more this attitude of mine grows. However, it seems that there are still many people out there – some of whom have been doing theatre longer than I have – that share a different view. Yet the more productions I am involved in, the less I think that those people truly understand the meaning of theatre itself, and just how much of an ensemble effort it is.
A few weeks ago, I was reading through another article that had been posted here on this blog, as I was curious to see what readers had to say about the articles written here. There was one comment that struck my attention and I thought was worth bringing to light for a specific reason. While I will not dignify this person by naming her in this column (although I suppose if you really wanted to know, you could just search the archives on this blog), I will leave you the specific portion of what she wrote that caught my attention:
“Yes, yes, I know: producers, directors, writers, composers, pit musicians, conductors, stage crew...it takes a village. But the village would have no reason to be if not for the actual artists on stage speaking, singing, dancing, bringing the words and music to LIFE.”
When I read this, I couldn’t help but think that she was insulting all of the same people she had just mentioned other than the actors. She was insulting all the same people who help the actors bring the production to opening night. The playwrights and composers, the producers and directors, the designers and stage managers, the musicians and choreographers, the list goes on and on. It was appalling to see that someone could be either too ignorant or too arrogant to realize just how much hard-work – and in most of these cases, how much creative energy – that these people put into the production, and how even the most talented performers wouldn’t have a show that was nearly as successful as it otherwise would have been, if it weren’t for them.
This may just be the opinion of one person, but it’s an unfortunate sentiment that I’ve noticed among far too many of my fellow performers over the years I’ve worked in theatre: The idea that they are both more important and artistically superior to the others involved in the production. In all fairness, other people involved in these productions – such as directors and playwrights – may share a similar view, in which they believe that their own respective roles are the most important. To be clear, not all people I know in theatre believe this. Many of them seem to share the same belief as me, on this topic. Yet still, it seems too many people in theatre are caught up in their own ego to realize the truth about what theatre is all about.
If there’s ANYTHING that is accurate about the comment I referenced, it is that it does, indeed, take a village. It is next to impossible for a high-quality theatre production to become a reality without the involvement of all of these roles in theatre that are interconnected. There would be no production to put on to begin with if it weren’t for the writers – and in the case of musicals, the composers – who write the script of the show. Without a skilled director with great vision and leadership, the writer’s own vision would never be fully realized. As great as the artistic side of theatre is, it also takes a great producer to handle the less-exciting business aspect of putting on a great show, as well. That show would also not be as stunning – either visually or sonically – if it weren’t for the many people involved in technical theatre that make it so. In the case of a show’s sound, the same can be said for musicians and conductors. Finally, you cannot put on a show of any kind without a talented cast of actors to bring the characters in the script to life. That said, what separates “theatre” from mere “acting” is that in theatre, everyone works with each other – and are even reliant on each other, to an extent – to make sure that the show reaches its maximum potential.
So with all that said, here’s my two cents to any performers out reading this, especially younger ones who might just be getting started with theatre: If or when you ever get the opportunity, try doing something in theatre other than acting. I know that performing on stage is fun, but trust me when I say that anyone who wants to truly appreciate and understand the art of theatre should be able to understand the various roles that make theatre work. This is easily the best way to do so, based on my own personal experience. If you do this, you’ll see that when it comes to theatre, it truly is an ensemble effort. It truly does “take a village”.
Photo: Steven Pasquale and the cast of The Robber Bridegroom. (Joan Marcus)