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Old 08-10-2019, 10:52 PM
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How do stage actors do what they do?


In long-running productions, I mean. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane did The Producers for over 2500 performances. How can actors, even though acting is what they do for a living, do that many performances without landing in a padded cell somewhere? How do they keep their focus? How are they able to switch it off and not wake up screaming dialog in their sleep? If I hear a song twice in a day, it's an ear worm for the rest of the week.

A related question: How is an actor able to go from reciting the same dialog every night for 2500 nights to learning new dialog for something else, without totally fucking it up? It would seem that the old dialog would intrude into the new. If I run into trouble speaking Spanish, I tend to revert to French. Not the same thing, I know; I just can't imagine having that much focus.
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Old 08-10-2019, 11:00 PM
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I guess it becomes routine after a while and, well, they're actors. Feigning is what they do, so what's feigning focus ? Must be even more tiresome for musicians who can go forty years having to play the same songs that made them famous back in the 80s, every single concert.
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Old 08-10-2019, 11:02 PM
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How do people do anything well? Practice, innate skill and determination - it's no big secret.

With that being said, stage acting is obviously one of those careers that can't just be a paycheck. On some level, you have to love the work itself. I've hard many actors talk about the way they feed off the audience's reactions, reading them to adjust their performance moment to moment. Great actors can direct an audience's emotions almost the way a conductor controls a symphony orchestra. When it's done well, the emotional payoff for the actor who truly loves the work is indescribable to anyone who hasn't had that experience.
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Old 08-11-2019, 01:04 AM
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It may be a routine, but it's never tedious. They don't trudge onto stage like they're heading down into the mines. They make it interesting by trying different things each night, subtle changes in intonation or comic timing can be enough to see if audiences respond, so it's an ever-refining process.

There's a good chance that in the last few shows of the run is a great time to see a play, especially a comedy or musical, because they put much more gusto into it and throw some caution to the wind with their choices.
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Old 08-11-2019, 01:35 AM
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I never really acted. But I danced on stage all thru college. I was in a semi-pro dance company. No matter how excited I was for our new season and new dance choreography by the time dress rehearsals were happening I was sick of it. This is how I knew I couldn't go pro. Those that did obviously could deal with repetition better than me.
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Old 08-11-2019, 03:23 AM
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Actors in long runs do take rests, and the understudy plays the part for one or more nights. I don't know how often that would happen in a very long run though.
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Old 08-11-2019, 07:19 AM
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What amazes me is how the good actors make you believe they're saying what they say for the very first time. Heck, even not-so-great productions on the semi-pro level can have such moments.

On the other hand, I've sung in various choirs and choruses over the years and it never felt tedious. Tho I do wonder how many times Mick Jagger has sung Satisfaction since the 60s and if he ever hates singing it.
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Old 08-11-2019, 07:26 AM
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I've heard that often, when a fan goes up to an actor at a convention or whatever and quotes one of their memorable lines, it's totally unfamiliar to the actor, because it's been so totally displaced by their roles since then.
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Old 08-11-2019, 07:34 AM
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Which reminds me of something else I've wondered - how often does something in a script prompt the actor to learn more about the subject? Or are they just words to be memorized...? I don't mean research for the role, but rather curiosity about a topic or event.

For example, when there's something on Big Bang Theory about the Higgs Boson, how likely is it that one of the actors would have wondered about it and did a little reading? I'm guessing probably not likely at all, and my engineer brain can't understand such a lack of curiosity.
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Old 08-11-2019, 07:46 AM
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I thought about this after seeing Hamilton.

From the very beginning ("How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore...") and all the way through, every performance was delivered with such authenticity and energy that it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Even though they'd just performed it the night before. And the night before that.

I cannot imagine being able to accomplish that.


mmm
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Old 08-11-2019, 07:58 AM
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There are always things that keeps you on your toes: someone blows a line, a cell phone rings, something breaks, the trained dog poops on stage,* etc. You have to be alert or you'll create problems for the whole production.

I know that when I did community theater, each show had enough variables that it kept you on your toes.

*This happened when Lucille Ball was starring in Redhead. No one was sure what to do until Lucy asked for a mop and bucket. She then went on stage and started cleaning, pausing to say, "I really need to read my contract more closely."
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Old 08-11-2019, 08:06 AM
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Great question, I have always thought the same thing.

I saw Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief musical with my students from school and it is a very cute, funny musical(funnier than the book in some ways) and I think the laughter from the crowd and the fun reactions would keep it fresh.

If it pays well, I could do it.

I mean, Tom Jones sings "It's Not Unusual" every show and makes it seem special. That's more annoying when you've done it thousands of time.
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Old 08-11-2019, 09:48 AM
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On the other hand, I've sung in various choirs and choruses over the years and it never felt tedious.
See, I'm the opposite - after a month of practicing a song, I just *have* to sing something else and never listen to that song for a while else somebody will die ; even if I'm not necessarily happy with the result of my singing the song or I haven't quite found a solution for that fiddly bit or this technical difficulty. I'd really, emphatically rather we find another song with similar fiddly bits to practice with.
Which is why I don't join choirs

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Old 08-11-2019, 10:00 AM
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I remember a Billy Joel interview where he talked about how his mind wanders while he’s performing since he’s been doing the same songs for decades over and over. His example;
“It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday”
(I wonder what I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow)
“The regular crowd shuffles in”
(Either eggs&bacon or pancakes)
“There’s an old man sitting next to me”
(Oh, definitely pancakes)
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Old 08-11-2019, 10:07 AM
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by the time dress rehearsals were happening I was sick of it
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Originally Posted by Kobal2 View Post
after a month of practicing a song, I just *have* to sing something else and never listen to that song for a while else somebody will die
Still, performing something for an audience over and over again (a different audience each time) is probably way more bearable than practicing the same thing over and over again.
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Old 08-11-2019, 10:09 AM
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I asked of a performer how they keep things fresh after so many repetitions. He replied, "That paycheck on the dressing table every Friday is a real motivator."
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Old 08-11-2019, 11:02 AM
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Still, performing something for an audience over and over again (a different audience each time) is probably way more bearable than practicing the same thing over and over again.
For me, the bolded part was the key: no matter how often I said the same line, I kept in mind that the audience was hearing it for the first time. Also, audience feedback was never the same and definitely had an impact on the performance (it helped that the vast majority of my work was done in small, non-proscenium theaters).
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Old 08-11-2019, 02:01 PM
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I remember a Billy Joel interview where he talked about how his mind wanders while he’s performing since he’s been doing the same songs for decades over and over. His example;
“It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday”
(I wonder what I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow)
“The regular crowd shuffles in”
(Either eggs&bacon or pancakes)
“There’s an old man sitting next to me”
(Oh, definitely pancakes)
That was my guess; they just go on autopilot to a large extent. It's like driving to work in the morning- after 10 years of working in the same place, a lot of it was muscle memory, and while I wasn't asleep at the wheel, there wasn't too much conscious thought going on with being in the right lane at the right time to catch the right exit, etc... I spent most of my actual conscious thought watching out for the other cars and listening to the radio.'

I imagine it's very much like that for a performer who's performed that role a thousand times- they don't have to really think about most of it- just pay attention to whether the drummer's off pace (or whatever it's called) and adjust accordingly.

Every career's like this- there are aspects you just do by autopilot, and aspects you really have to think about.

And to keep the Billy Joel analogy going, I suspect most listeners would rather hear the version polished by ten thousand repetitions than him experimenting anyway.
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Old 08-11-2019, 02:48 PM
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Now, if I were Billy Joel doing Piano Man, I'd get bored (and think "WHY did this drivel become my biggest hit? Why couldn't it be "We Didn't Start The Fire"?)

But performing a song you wrote and love, or acting in a role you love... it's great fun! A couple of times, I did the same role over and over, and loved it.
I think I imagined myself as an audience member and thought "Oh, man, this is going to be SO much fun tonight..."

So my answer to the OP would be "How could stage actors NOT do what they do?"
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Old 08-11-2019, 03:20 PM
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I think it would be hell a stage actor. It is my thought of one of the worst jobs on earth along with chef or musician. Doing the same thing over and over again with hopefully as little craziness as possible. I vast prefer jobs where every day is completely different. I once said that to a PA on my tv show who was an broadway actress as her passion and disagreed for many of the same rreasons people have mentioned so far she fells she can get more into the character after playing them multiple times and then as the other actors make different choices she can react to them so the performance is different to her each night.
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Old 08-11-2019, 04:34 PM
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I've heard that often, when a fan goes up to an actor at a convention or whatever and quotes one of their memorable lines, it's totally unfamiliar to the actor, because it's been so totally displaced by their roles since then.
I was working on a semi-amateur film set, once, and we got a star from the 60s or 70s to come in and she was complaining her head off that we didn't have a teleprompter and that she had to remember her lines (harumph!)

I'm not exactly when teleprompters are or aren't used but, when it comes to film, you're not just replacing the role with the next film, in the previous film the person really just read some text off a screen while being told vaguely what emotion to have, and then they left and went to the next job.

It's probably reasonable to say that 90% of acting, on TV and film, is simply to be comfortable in front of a camera and to be able to read off something like you're saying it naturally. If you can add a little bit of emotion on top of that, well you've achieved another 1%, now go hit the gym to get the remaining 9%.
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Old 08-11-2019, 05:06 PM
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Oh, and from my own (very limited, very amateur) experience on stage: Each role, it felt like I did it only once. All the rehearsals, every performance... They're all just the same performance. Even the ones which went extremely differently.
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Old 08-11-2019, 05:24 PM
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Just popping in to say that I haven't abandoned the thread; I just don't have anything to add, but am interested in the answers so far.
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Old 08-11-2019, 05:26 PM
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Now, if I were Billy Joel doing Piano Man, I'd get bored (and think "WHY did this drivel become my biggest hit? Why couldn't it be "We Didn't Start The Fire"?)
Someone asked him about that song in 1996.

I've heard him tell this story before. Piano players who play it when they seem him quickly realize the song is repetitive and not all that amazing. Billy Joel and other players usually lock eyes and he kind of nods like "Yep, that's what made me all that money..."
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Old 08-11-2019, 05:34 PM
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In long-running productions, I mean. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane did The Producers for over 2500 performances. How can actors, even though acting is what they do for a living, do that many performances without landing in a padded cell somewhere? How do they keep their focus? How are they able to switch it off and not wake up screaming dialog in their sleep? If I hear a song twice in a day, it's an ear worm for the rest of the week.
For the actors its actually easy. It's like being a musician, the adrenaline of being in front of an audience never really goes away and there is always something new to focus on because each performance really is different, if only in subtle ways. The human element keeps it all fresh. That and practice and discipline, just like any other performing art. I am not sure that I was actually that good of a director when I was directing, but I used to try to get to the point in rehearsals where everyone was sick of running the show as quickly as possible, because I felt like that was when we could start finding the really interesting stuff. Once you have gotten through the obvious the truth starts to show itself, and finding that truth can be really interesting.

Of course, we usually didn't have that kind of time, and finding the spontaneous fresh and obvious choices can be lively too. Acting is an interesting art form that way.

It's everyone who isn't on stage that has to worry about going nuts. I still have every line of dialogue and every song from Cabaret (my first professional musical) memorized. Fortunately I love Cabaret. And Little Shop of Horrors. But some of the less polished productions I worked on, or the one time I did a two week run of Brigadoon...torture. The things you do for a paycheck. I did read a lot of really good books this way though.

Quote:
A related question: How is an actor able to go from reciting the same dialog every night for 2500 nights to learning new dialog for something else, without totally fucking it up? It would seem that the old dialog would intrude into the new. If I run into trouble speaking Spanish, I tend to revert to French. Not the same thing, I know; I just can't imagine having that much focus.
Memorizing lines is a skill that gets better with practice. It's not actually like building muscles, but it's helpful to think about it like lifting weights. The more you do it the more you can do it. You just sort of compartmentalize.
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Old 08-11-2019, 07:08 PM
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Most Broadway actors would cut off their right hand for a 2500 show run. A part is a part.

Unfortunately Producers was the exception not the norm most Broadway shows are either limited runs with big time movie stars in the lead, or are not successful and close after a few weeks. So if you are fortunate enough to land a role odds are you’ll be on the street looking for work before too long.

Also, Broadway is dark on Mondays so everyone gets a day off once a week.


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Old 08-11-2019, 08:34 PM
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I see there are comparisons to live music acts. Most stand up Comedians you see have been doing the same act for 5 or more years. That’s why they HATE when their stuff is out online. The exceptions are the Chris Rocks and Amy Schumer’s of the world that hire teams of writers to develop a whole new set for them every so many years.


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Old 08-11-2019, 09:58 PM
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Master Thespian: Oh, Baudleaire, I’m afraid we’ve played this acting thing too far. You’ve made worm’s meat of me! Adieu.. adieu.. remember me. Look! The face of death is near! And so.. I flail!

Baudelaire: Master! I have killed my protege! How.. how.. how.. how will you ever forgive me..?

Master Thespian: [ stands ] Very good! I was merely acting!

Baudelaire: So was I! I’ve fooled you again!

Master Thespian: No! It is I who fooled you! For I am dead.. and merely acting alive!

Baudelaire: Genius!
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Old 08-11-2019, 10:26 PM
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Someone asked him about that song in 1996.

I've heard him tell this story before. Piano players who play it when they seem him quickly realize the song is repetitive and not all that amazing. Billy Joel and other players usually lock eyes and he kind of nods like "Yep, that's what made me all that money..."
Excellent breakdown of the song in that video. Limericks. Who would have thought that if he hadn't brought it to our attention?

NAF1138: Thanks! I was hoping someone with deep experience would chime in.
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Old 08-11-2019, 10:39 PM
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I remember a Billy Joel interview where he talked about how his mind wanders while he’s performing since he’s been doing the same songs for decades over and over. His example;
“It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday”
(I wonder what I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow)
“The regular crowd shuffles in”
(Either eggs&bacon or pancakes)
“There’s an old man sitting next to me”
(Oh, definitely pancakes)
I heard something similar about Barbra Streisand. Supposedly, when she's belting out some incredibly intense phrase, she's usually wondering if she should have Italian or Chinese for dinner.

But the point of that supposedly is that after you master your material (you perform it so well you CAN'T make a mistake), you can dismiss the part of you making the effort. That actually FREES your performance, and you get new insights into the material from your subconscious.
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Old 08-11-2019, 10:59 PM
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I never really acted.
Oh, really?
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Old 08-11-2019, 11:13 PM
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^^You're very funny!
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Old 08-12-2019, 05:44 AM
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No matter how mind-numbing it may be for a theatre actor to put in the same performance of an entire play in front of a live audience and their fellow actors 100 times in a row over the course of season, I'm sure it pales in comparison to how mind-numbing it is for a film actor to put in the same performance of a single scene in front of a blue screen and a tennis ball 100 times in a row in the course of a day.
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Old 08-12-2019, 06:06 AM
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Most Broadway actors would cut off their right hand for a 2500 show run. A part is a part.
On long running shows, you also have vacations and changes to the cast. Mrs. Cheesesteak worked on Beauty and the Beast for 5 years, and not a week went by where there weren't changes to the cast or the backstage crew so you had people subbing into roles they were taught but don't perform all the time, and backstage crew that are learning the ropes.

It is a challenge, though, keeping on top of your game. The Mrs. would get supremely pissed at actors who phoned it in, she'd get home and I'd hear "That lazy so'n'so, you call that crap a tour jete?" She was very aware that in the audience were people for whom this show was a huge deal, this might be the only Broadway Show they ever see in their lives, or could be the show that turns them into a lifelong fan of live theater.

I'll also point out, that once they learn the show, there is no line of dialog that an actor has to say more than 8 times a week. A McDonalds employee can say "Hello, welcome to McDonalds, may I take your order" that many times every 15 minutes for their entire shift.
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Old 08-12-2019, 06:26 AM
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How do people do anything well? Practice, innate skill and determination - it's no big secret.

With that being said, stage acting is obviously one of those careers that can't just be a paycheck. On some level, you have to love the work itself. I've hard many actors talk about the way they feed off the audience's reactions, reading them to adjust their performance moment to moment. Great actors can direct an audience's emotions almost the way a conductor controls a symphony orchestra. When it's done well, the emotional payoff for the actor who truly loves the work is indescribable to anyone who hasn't had that experience.
In Spain, pretty much any bit that's not sung is subject to morcillas*, improv added on the fly. Coming up with those requires the actors to remember where they are (if touring) and to pay attention to the audience (whether touring or in a fixed location).

There was a comic (Eugenio) who became famous for a delivery which went beyond deadpan and into ready to be buried; when asked about it, he said "it may be the first time you hear that joke, but it's the zillionth time I tell it."





* lit "blood sausage". The cheapest possible form of meat-like product, it's very little meat and a lot of filler, yet adding a bit of it to an otherwise-meatless dish can improve that dish a lot.
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Old 08-12-2019, 06:36 AM
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It is a challenge, though, keeping on top of your game. The Mrs. would get supremely pissed at actors who phoned it in, she'd get home and I'd hear "That lazy so'n'so, you call that crap a tour jete?" She was very aware that in the audience were people for whom this show was a huge deal, this might be the only Broadway Show they ever see in their lives, or could be the show that turns them into a lifelong fan of live theater.
When I saw The Lion King, the actor playing Mufasa was phoning it in. Everyone else was having a fun time leaping about, and this guy was just reciting words. Quite disappointed by that.

On the other hand everyone in the Aladdin stage show was amazing. The show itself was mediocre, but the performances were not at fault.
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Old 08-12-2019, 06:48 AM
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No matter how mind-numbing it may be for a theatre actor to put in the same performance of an entire play in front of a live audience and their fellow actors 100 times in a row over the course of season, I'm sure it pales in comparison to how mind-numbing it is for a film actor to put in the same performance of a single scene in front of a blue screen and a tennis ball 100 times in a row in the course of a day.
But Kubrick's been dead for a while, now!
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Old 08-12-2019, 07:06 AM
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I'll also point out, that once they learn the show, there is no line of dialog that an actor has to say more than 8 times a week. A McDonalds employee can say "Hello, welcome to McDonalds, may I take your order" that many times every 15 minutes for their entire shift.
For me, the kind of job that had me doing the same thing over and over again during the course of a working day (like McDonald's employee, or assembly line worker) would land me in a padded cell way quicker than being a stage actor doing the same show night after night.
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Old 08-12-2019, 08:57 AM
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In long-running productions, I mean. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane did The Producers for over 2500 performances. How can actors, even though acting is what they do for a living, do that many performances without landing in a padded cell somewhere?
Of course, some people CAN'T do it. Some don't have the ability to maintain that focus.
These people are known as "unemployed actors." If you aren't a professional who can keep it up, you will rapidly find yourself replaced by someone like Matthew Broderick, a consummate professional who CAN maintain the focus.
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Old 08-12-2019, 09:03 AM
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It's an innate talent. You either can do it or you can't The ones who can do it very well totally amaze me.

If a great movie actor never gets on stage, it's because they can't do it, or they can't really get along with doing a show with other people.

For a totally jaw dropping experience, catch Avenue Q. How do stage actors play off of puppets, totally ignoring the one or two other people on the stage speaking for and manipulating that piece of felt? I couldn't do that in a million years.
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Old 08-12-2019, 09:41 AM
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I don't have a ton of Tonys or anything (just six) but if you find a role/ensemble cast that you enjoy working with, it's hardly work. Plus, it's a labor of love. Once you can read your lines like the back of your hand is actually where the fun really starts. It's been said already, but changing inflections, adding words and overall having fun with a role really makes a difference!

Any stage show I did and my job of tour guiding in college all boiled down to the same thing: memorizing and reciting the same lines over and over, but doing it in such a way that it was new every time.

As for keeping the energy level up, I just told myself "This may be the thousandth time I'm doing this action, but this is probably the first time they're seeing me, so act like it."
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Old 08-12-2019, 03:56 PM
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While you're feeling sorry for stage actors, give a thought to the musicians whose job it was to play into microphones to record songs back in the day before electric recordings. Think Edison cylindrical records. Everything was mechanical, and the most they could record at once was 12 or 13 copies, and depending on the number of copies wanted they could finding themselves playing the same song literally hundreds of times. I understand that this would sometimes come close to rendering them bonkers.
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Old 08-12-2019, 05:08 PM
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I wonder how many times Mick Jagger has sung Turn Me Up.
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Old 08-12-2019, 11:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Beckdawrek View Post
^^You're very funny!
You should see me dress.
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Old 08-13-2019, 08:42 AM
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I wonder how many times Mick Jagger has sung Turn Me Up.
I think you mean Start Me Up.
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Old 08-14-2019, 10:15 AM
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I think you mean Start Me Up.
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Old 08-14-2019, 10:44 AM
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I love acting. I love stage acting. I was asked to help out a "learn to act" group by being in the class as a bit of a "ringer" and the teacher said that "You can tell she REALLY loves it and that should come across". The energy from the audience, their reactions, those are new each and every night, and that just feeds you.
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