Cast BondingBy Ty Unglebower • Nov 2nd, 2011 • Category: An Actor's Advice
This week I went to Washington, D.C. to see a production of Les Miserables, now on its American tour. It had its pluses and minuses as a production, but as I told my sister, who attended with me, as we were leaving the venue, one of the strengths was that I could tell how comfortable with one another the cast was. A sense of community permeated the performances.
This may not be as obvious to everyone. I have no superpowers, but my particular personality combined with over a decade of theatre experience has provided me with a fairly decent instinct about the cohesiveness of a cast I am observing. I’m not 100% correct, I am sure, but I feel confident that I usually am. And where I have sensed a cast that sees itself as a community, or sometimes even as a family, a good performance almost always is a part of the package.
Some of my very best experiences in theatre were plays in which the cast was close-knit such as this. “Cast bonding” is the term many insiders use, and although that has a corny connotation to many people, it really is an apt term. And it doesn’t always take place.
Now I have said many times before that cast bonding is not a prerequisite of giving a solid individual performance. One should not wait for it or expect it before turning in one’s best work in a show. Not all casts of great productions have made personal connections with one another off stage. Good theatre is good theatre. And yet to me, having a high quality theatre experience is like traveling about 5 miles; if you are determined, you can walk the distance, and you will get to here you need to be. But wouldn’t most of us much rather get in the car and drive the five miles, so we can spend our energy on enjoying wherever it is we are going? I know that I would.
Which is why I advocate cultivation of cast bonding, at least among the lead roles, whenever possible. True, it cannot be forced. But if it can be derailed or prevented if one isn’t open to it. So I advise you to be open to personal connections with cast mates outside of performing and rehearsing. By no means become distracted from the work you should be doing in the play itself. And if someone seems unwilling, do not distract them with your attempts to connect. But try to be accessible, and willing to accept the social connection that can arise when people spend so many evenings together.
Such bonding builds trust. It increases the amount of fun being had. And it establishes sympathy between cast mates, which in turns make a person more likely to want everyone else around them to succeed. And when that happens, a cast looks out for one another, instead of things being every actor for himself.
Don’t get me wrong. I am an introverted man. I don’t do a whole lot of approaching of strangers, and I can appear cold and standoffish, especially at the theatre among people I don’t know. I won’t spearhead something myself, but I always remain willing to get a drink, or a meal here and there with cast members. I in fact am in favor of having two cast parties; one at the very start of the show, to break that ice faster, and the traditional one at the end of the run. (Though as of yet nobody else I have run into in theatre does this.) But the point is, despite my sometimes distant and aloof nature, I am keenly aware of the benefits of getting comfortable, and even becoming fond of those with whom I perform.
Look, you are not always going to like everyone you work with. It may not be possible to enjoy the company of every cast member in the green room. But trust me, if you think it is in any way possible to participate in the community feeling among your cast, and get to that moment of “bonding,” your production will reflect it. Maybe not in the way that a textbook can explain, but dedicated actors who enjoy the company of one another create a transcendent quality that adds that extra glow to a performance.
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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.