Last week as I was sitting in an airport waiting for my plane I had some time to read e-mail that I had set aside as “not a priority” when they first came in. One was a NY Times review of a new Broadway play by Tracy Letts, August: Osage County. When a review contains the words, “the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years,” it gets my attention.
I’m inquisitive and I’m a questioner. I would have been one of those kids that drove their parents crazy except for the fact they were the ones that encouraged the querying. I not only want to know why something is good, I want to know what makes it so. At face value, it’s easy to see why August: Osage County would be good and the review touches on it. Excellent text, talented actors and exceptional direction, perfect sets and costumes and lighting that set the mood. But now the question. Would the theatrical experience be what it is without all the ingredients? Have you ever baked a cake and left out the “pinch of salt?” Without the salt the cake is flat because that little pinch aids in the complexity of the mix. In other words, it takes a collaboration of ingredients to bake a good cake just as it takes a collaborative effort to present a good play…or movie, or dance. Can you imagine what would happen to a symphonic arrangement if a section of the orchestra was missing?
Now I can climb onto my soapbox. It’s my often heard hue and cry. The artists laboratory is not a vacuum. No one in the arts can create alone and if you ask yourself enough questions about the different aspects of the arts you will realize that even those creative souls who think it comes from from their own inspiration find their original inspiration in muses and the environment. Actors, by nature and/or training, are generous. Playwrights and screenwriters are solo venturers forced into collaboration in order to see their work come alive. Others in this collaborative structure would not even see their career specialty become a reality if the others did not exist. Fame and notoriety would make one believe that it is the “star” that carries the show. Perhaps notoriety draws people to the box office but it will not extend the run of a bad play or movie. It doesn’t get a symphony or dance performance an encore run on the program for following years. A good collaboration, however, will make new stars both on the stage and behind the curtain.
A wonderful humbling experience is the repertory company where collaborators work in rotation all season. Often actors will have a leading role in one play and a supporting role in another. Writers may have one or more plays presented in as season and sometimes will have the opportunity to direct. Steppenwolf is one such company, along with others like Seattle Repertory Theater and Milwaukee Repertory Company. Repertory companies allow artists to work together under the direction of an artistic director to engage audiences in what hopefully becomes solid artistic endeavors. No wonder these companies are often workshop resources for bringing something very special to Broadway and Hollywood. For that reason, I remind all post grad artists to consider auditioning for a professional regional company. Talk about a great way to hone your craft!