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Challenge Yourself Through Other Performing Arts

By • Mar 3rd, 2010 • Category: An Actor's Advice

What do a ballet, an opera, and a poetry reading all have in common?

Two things. I have never been to any of them, and I embarrassed by that in all three cases.

An actor must not only absorb the reality of life around him in order to create it on the stage. I have spoken on this before. Yet an actor is also well advised to take in how performers of other types take in the reality of life around them. How they bring about the emotional response that is common to every performing art, despite the vast differences in execution.

Of course the list of possible media is not limited to the three I used in my example. Art galleries, photography exhibits, modern dance shows. An actor needs to feed on all such things. Even the kinds of art that he may not find the most interesting.

In fact those that are least appealing at first that will challenge the actor the most. If you read my blog or these columns you know how much I feel an actor should challenge himself.

“Why is sitting through something that bores me a good type of challenge?” you ask. I will use myself as an example.

I am not a fan of ballet. (Which is one reason I have not yet attended one.) But if I were to take my own advice, I would embrace the chance to see one, because it would give me an opportunity to see how ballet dancers express the same ideas about the human condition that I myself express as an actor. I need to challenge myself by truly entering into the spirit of a ballet; to dig deeply into it’s nature, and that of its cast, to find the common ground between what I do, and what they do. The operative word being common. Instead of concentrating on the fact that an opera singer isn’t doing what you like to do, try to find out how they are causing what you like to cause; an emotional response in their audience.

I am not suggesting that you must go to every opera or ballet you come across in order to be a good actor. Nor do I mean that you must suddenly become fans of something that you do not enjoy. We all have different forms of expression which move us. But I am suggesting that once in a while you overlook those obvious differences in taste, and focus instead on what is common between what you do as an actor, and what a painter has done with a canvas, or a musician has done with a piano. If you can find that common ground, you will be a better actor because you have tapped into other ways to express it to a crowd. You will have learned something from the opera you can take with you to the play.

And, worst case scenario, you end up surprising yourself and become a fan of opera. Either way, everyone wins.

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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 (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

4 Responses »

  1. Ty I here what you are saying about taking in many different forms of art that you yourself are not involved in. First let me say that an actor does owe it to himself to experience in person as much as art has to offer. Most certainly the performing arts. But I don’t know if I agree that someone can take something useful away from something that bores him to tears. Of course we are all individuals and there may be some whose discipline is great enough to accomplish such a goal but it certainly escapes me. I have been to the opera many times my wife loves it. It absolutely puts me in a coma.I might add that when I was young and started out with the dreams of being a professional actor I belonged to a professional opera company in northern New Jersey and there are some pieces of music in opera that cannot be rivaled. However 3 or 4 hours is beyond my tolerance. I love the ballet I love the symphony orchestra and I do leave with an enrichment. I think what is more valuable than attending events which show less then a little interest to you,[ if you do indeed wish to be an artist yourself] is try your very best to include individuals from these other art forms into your circle and community of artistic friends. I think with that a vast new understanding can be gained. But the old sayings are the best sayings don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Get out there and experience for yourself all the different art there is to offer.
    David James

  2. Thanks, David.

    I understand your point, and I certainly wouldn’t advocate beating oneself over the head with arts that one simply doesn’t enjoy. You personally have certainly have seen enough opera to know you will get nothing out of it. And that may be the case for many others. But it is my hope that if one goes into something for the first time with the very specific intention of learning something, it would be a far less painful experience than initially feared. Then one can decide if they enjoy it after all, or if they cannot stand it. Even if one doesn’t enjoy it, however, I maintain something about performing can be learned from it at least once. So every actor should go to at least one opera, every ballerina should attend at least one play, and so on amidst the various cross medium combinations that are possible.

    I also agree that befriending and network with other creative souls from the various areas of the arts is of great benefit as well. I would like to do more of that myself. I recently joined Twitter…perhaps that will assist me in this endeavor.

  3. Ty, I believe I’ve missed only opera. Not a huge fan, but took a humanities course as a senior in HS, and have a passing familiarity with Carmen, Don Giovanni, and La Boheme.

    I’d recommend any of those three first. Carmen for its classic tunes–really, find a clip of March of the Toreadors, or Love is a Bird that’s free–or words to that effect, and you’re sure to recognize at leat one if not both. Then again, they were common to advertising /cartoons 40 years ago. Not so much now. Speaking of cartoons, What’s Opera, Doc? is a good intro to the form. Haven’t been ’cause the music is fine, but once the singing starts, all I can think is: “You’re ruining the music.”

    My best music teacher ever, who intro’ed me to La Boheme, on which RENT is based, btw, also told me the truly great story of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Until Mrs Scozzafava, I thought it was simply the “dinosaur music” in Fantasia. Turns out it created a total riot–literally–cause it was so ahead of the curve musically, and choreographically. It was ballet that balletophiles HATED! Totally post-modern.

    I was so fascinated that this really cool music from the dinosaur sequence of Fantasia had this incredible backstory, the end of which was that it created such a to-do that it almost literally disappeared from the face of the earth. It was never perforemed again.

    Until 75 years later, after some dance archivists, through contacting some survivors of the day, or their children, grandchildren, associates, painstakingly reconstructed the costumes and dance steps, etc.

    When it came to the Kennedy Center in Oct of ’89, not only did I go, I literally rushed down to the box office in DC the day the tix went on sale, so necessary was it to me to see this ballet that my 7th Grade music teacher, Rose Scozzafava had totally sold me on.

    Got to that one if it ever happens again. Rent an old PBS version.

    As for poetry readings. Come on, Ty. How hard can it be to find one of those?

  4. Thanks, Jay. And yes, poetry readings would be somewhat easier to come by, I suppose. But I happen to be very picky in regards to poetry, so a lot of the modern readings don’t do anything for me. I give myself a small pass here only in this regard; I can experience the poetry of someone on paper at home before I go to a reading. Ergo if it seems too unenjoyable I don’t go. I cannot use that excuse for myself for opera or ballet, so I remain guilty of skipping those things.