Actors? Social Activists? Or Both?

Actors? Social Activists? Or Both?

There has been a lot of speculation over whether actors and actresses should be publicly voicing support for the “#Metoo” movement, which started as a way of raising awareness to the pervasive sexual harassment (or worse) in our society.  Many believe that entertainers should do just that, entertain, and stay out of social or political commentary.

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#URstage: In Defense of Negative Reviews : Part 2

Vicki Trask

OnStage Calgary Critic

I talked last year about forgiving yourself as an audience member if you didn’t like a show, and the importance of critically thinking about theatre (regardless of whether or not you’re a reviewer).Today I want to expand on that.

I am in the very unique position of writing reviews in a community in which I actively participate. Theatre is not just my interest; it’s my job – my love. It’s where I go when I’m sad, and it is my daily classroom. Part of my learning comes from watching others perform. When I attend a show and review it, I’m analysing what I liked or didn’t like in the context of growing as an actor and a writer.

In a year of working for On Stage, I’ve had the honour of attending so many incredible shows around Calgary – and I’ve also participated in a few. As an actor, the stage is simultaneously the safest and the most vulnerable place we can be. The stage is home and the audience are guests and invaders. We invite them in to bear our souls and they evaluate our performance based on their entertainment. From the old couple in the corner grumbling about content, to the reviewer in the back, to the friend trying to find a response to the question: “what did you think?” everyone is watching with intent; and I think that’s how it should be. Theatre is not idle so we should not ask our audience to be. 

From an actor’s perspective, audiences are terrifying. It’s encouraging for some to see a friend in the audience and yet they are often the people we struggle to impress the most. Knowing that everyone out there is judging, in their own way, is disheartening for some and motivating for others. For me, it’s a dare. When someone tells me that I’m bad or that I will never be good enough, I am heartbroken – and I wallow for a while – but then it becomes a challenge. I put the pressure on myself to step up my game. I know that’s not the case for others. For some it’s an attack, for others it’s a sign. There’s no wrong way to feel but there’s also no way to know or change people’s feelings when you answer the question “what did you think?” My suggestion is to be honest.

As much as theatre involves pretending, it’s about truth. It’s bearing our souls and exploring emotion while other people judge our interpretation. It’s not an easy profession – nor is it in an easy hobby. Community theatre has always been a tricky area to critique. The people on that stage are not professionals but they still have talent and passion for what they’re doing and people have paid to see them. I don’t believe a paycheque should define an actor’s ability to perform and be critiqued for that performance. If you’re taking pride in your work shouldn’t others be allowed to see and analyse it the way they would a professional performance?

Now, reviewing is not an excuse to be a horrible person. When you leave the theatre, you should have something to talk about. If there is something that you didn’t like, ask why.

Discuss, review, blog, draw, understand; figure it out. Don’t leave on a negative note. For actors I say: don’t lose heart because of someone’s interpretation. For reviewers I say: be realistic but not cruel. 

What I’m advocating for is open and honest analysis of a very vulnerable medium. It sounds emotional and scary but I hope everyone can grow from it. 

#URStage: Theater in the Trump Era - From Creon to Lear, the Tragic Hero is Clear

by Lindsey B. 

#URStage is a column devoted to publishing the real world issues facing artists today, on and off the stage. If you are interested in contributing, email us at onstageblog@gmail with #URStage in the subject line. 

Based on the first part of this article’s title, one might think this piece will be a call to action to save the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities from Trump’s budget cuts as early reports from The Hill and Washington Post indicate is a real possibility, not to mention the possible loss of PBS.  The topic of the arts suffering under his administration is certainly relevant and alarming, and we do need to publicize what that loss would mean.

But, I am not a journalist on the front lines of Washington, but instead a high school English teacher. This post is about Trump’s first week in office and parallels in great classic drama, that anyone with a passion for classic literature will see, and unfortunately, if Trump’s budget cuts for the arts happen, future generations will not. 

As my teaching colleagues and I prepare to take 150 high school students to see Shakespeare’s King Lear at The Guthrie in April, and I prepare students to attend the performance, this week’s headlines read like lines of a classical drama.  While I wouldn’t point out these parallels in a bipartisan classroom, I believe my students, or future directors will.

Sophocles’ classic Greek play Antigone is the third in the Oedipus cycle depicting Creon, a king in his first few days of office suffering from hubris, paranoia, and fear of traitors to his “ship of state”.  On his first day in office, he makes an edict that leads to his tragic downfall: no man shall bury the body of Polyneices, a traitor to Thebes.  Creon’s edict and rash decisions lead him to imprison his own niece, and no advice from his advisors or son can stop his nearsightedness. He loses his niece, son, wife, and ends the play begging to be killed because he realizes his hubris. I cannot read an article about Trump’s immigration ban  or executive orders to build the wall with Mexico, without seeing the parallels in classic literature. When the fear of enemies comes before the good of the state, real consequences happen.  When advisors are ignored and edicts are issued without careful thought, individuals are effected. 

Shakespeare’s Lear, is leader whose vanity causes tragedy.  When Lear decides to divide his kingdom among his daughters, he foolishly asks each of his three daughter to profess their love for him.  I’m reminded of this scene this week as Trump’s vanity has caused him to create alternate facts to establish that his inaugural crowd size rivaled his predecessor and his CIA speech drew applause that rivaled Peyton Manning’s at the SuperBowl.   Trump’s obsession with establishing his importance seems to outweigh the other aspects of the office, at least in week one.

Lear foolishly believes the flattery of his selfish daughters Goneril and Regan, and punishes his honest daughter Cordelia.  Trump too, seems to respond well to flattery and bribery and has recently nominated Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, although her lack of experience is glaring, especially her lask of understanding concerning the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  DeVos admits it’s possible her family has reportedly donated over $200 million to republicans.  

Seems like Trump could use a little less personal drama and a little more classic drama.