Performing in Simultaneous ShowsBy Ty Unglebower • Dec 16th, 2009 • Category: An Actor's Advice
The actress Cynthia Nixon made history in 1984 by being one of the few known people to be in two Broadway shows at the same time. Both directed by Mike Nichols, the shows The Real Thing and Hurlyburly appeared just two blocks from one another, allowing Nixon to walk back and forth as needed between the two theatres.
An entertaining trivia fact about an obviously rare circumstance. But the conditions don’t have to be this extreme to make being involved in multiple shows unwise.
I will allow for it in some circumstances. For example if one has gained a part in a show near the end of the run of another show. There may be an early rehearsal for the second show that overlaps some of your later rehearsals of your current show. This is tolerable, so long as the more current show has priority during a conflict. But I’d advise no more than two weeks overlap between two shows. I experienced this once, in college. I was in make-up for a tech rehearsal while doing the first read-through of my next show. An odd experience, but the schedules evened out after that. (Mainly because it was the same theatre.)
Yet the reasons to not overlap are far more compelling.
To begin with, acting with one’s maximum talent requires one’s maximum attention, throughout as much as the rehearsal process as possible. If your various rehearsal schedules are bumping into each other so much that you have to coordinate which one to go to when, it means, without fail, one or more of them is being blown off at any given moment. And the minute you feel you can blow it off to do something better, even if that something better is another show, you have divested yourself, in spirit, from the production.
Schedule nightmares aside, being in so many different venues over such a short period of time doesn’t allow you to evolve your character as well. As with any relationship, an actor must spend as much time as he can just “being with” the character. True, you sometimes will have more than one part in a single play. But when that is the case, you at least have the common bond of the play’s arc. When you are playing several characters from several different productions, none of them are getting the attention they deserve. Your time becomes a generic session of memorizing lines and blocking, with less substance to it.
And finally, it is a bad idea to do so much because of your cast mates. Even if you feel up to the task of tackling several rehearsals at one time, not everyone is going to adopt that philosophy. Your scene partners may require, (and indeed, deserve) a considerable time commitment from you, so as to get a working relationship underway as quickly as possible. Not to mention to develop the dynamic between your respective characters. If you are not there for weeks at a time, this can’t happen, and respect for those with whom you are performing prohibits such flippant use of both your time and their time.
Many associates of mine have been in several shows at once. One guy’s record is 4 at the same time. (I don’t know how it was possible, so don’t ask me.) I enjoy working with them. They are good actors. I just think they would be better actors if they poured more into one show, instead of pouring just enough into several shows at any given time. A jack of all shows, but a star of none.
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Ty Unglebower is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs offbook.blogspot.com (for theatre related thoughts) and tooxyz.blogspot.com (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.