Ensemble actors, maybe because I was one in almost every show I’ve been in, are some of the most, simultaneously, appreciated and under-appreciated part of a production. To me, it almost goes without saying, that they are *the* most important part of a show. I can recall from many directors the speech; it must be something rote that’s provided from secret director meeting I haven’t been invited to yet.
“You guys make or break a show.”
“Without you, there’d be no show.”
“I am amazed at how talented every individual is,
I love seeing you grow into your own characters.”
I am not saying all of this isn’t well intentioned, because it almost always is. And it’s true. All of the above is some of the most true statements that can be said about an ensemble-heavy cast. Without them, there’d be nothing for an audience to enjoy. Sure, the leads can sing and most can dance, but there is this underlying need of support–both in musical harmony and through song/dance number that potentially sweeps their future life partner off their feet (sometimes literally).
I recently began working on the scene breakdown for Forum and came across an interesting pool of characters in the first 50 pages of the script. It’s one thing to know I need 12 ensemble actors in the cast, it’s another thing entirely when each of those ensemble actors is playing anywhere from 3-5 roles just in the first act. Ensembles can’t be great without appropriate support and direction, that’s why I’m doing a lot of pre-work now to ensure my i’s and t’s are dotted and crossed–to ensure my ensembles feel properly engaged with the show.
It’s one thing to cast actors and notify them you’ll be tossing things their way, but it’s another thing to tell people up front you’re going to be X, Y, Z and task them with getting into those characters. The fall for a lot of ensemble-heavy productions is when ensemble doesn’t actually know what to do in the scene, with their peers, and their own person. I hope to address this head on by welcoming and including them in to the early stages of blocking rehearsals–they will get an opportunity to character develop with their leading peers and production staff.
How great does that sound? Honestly extremely refreshing and I am looking forward to the creative talent that comes to Forum.
Now, with my own personal caveat because I’m not saying I’m the first one to come up with this concept. But what I am saying is observe the pitfalls you see in productions you’re a part of and avoid said pitfalls when you’re running a production. The above is an identified pitfall of a production I was a part of a few years ago, that even with the say I had–it didn’t matter to persons in charge and I feel like this only hurt the potential value of the show.
This post has been dedicated to those ensemble members who have no clue how to act or what to do–I feel for you because I was one many eons ago and I want to help avoid that with my ensemble actors. I’ll let you know how it works out come June 2019, ’til next time.