If you plan on professional 'Alas, poor Yoricking' in the future, get real today.
Thursday, August 17, 2000
Although a very fortunate few would-be thespians, designers and technicians will make an immediate transition from the university to big-city professional theater, more of them will hone their skills in smaller rep houses or in community theaters of one sort or another.
A newly graduated director, most of whose actors have been enrolled in the drama department, may find it a bewildering task to schedule rehearsals around a lead actor whose day job requires her to be on call during the evening. And a designer who is used to working with computerized lighting systems, patch panels and wired grids may find it a humbling experience when he''s confronted with a dimmer board created with household dimmers, lights fashioned from coffee cans and a ceiling that''s about 18 inches above the actors'' heads. Oh, yeah, and another thing: Budgets can be deadlier than deadlines.
But, on opening night, when the cobbled-together production is actually pretty good, the satisfaction is that much richer. And with the profusion of local theater companies in the area, there''s no need to put off the challenges--and rewards--of experiencing theater in the real world.
Often it''s the theaters with the smallest staffs and budgets that offer the most opportunity for drama students to get involved and make their presence felt.
Gina Welch-Hagen has been directing shows at The Wharf Theater in Monterey for about 20 years, and she''s worked with hundreds of actors who are just starting out. She says there''s a personal growth factor inherent in working on a public stage.
"Many times [the young actor''s] biggest fear about being on a community stage is that they''re on a stage where there''s a paying audience coming to see them," says Welch-Hagen. "It''s not just an audience of friends and family. It turns into an experience in growing artistic self-esteem."
Also, without the safety net provided by schools or large institutions, someone working in community theater quickly learns the importance of teamwork. It''s far more difficult to cancel a performance or delay an opening night when it threatens the theater company''s usually meager budget. The show really must go on, and directors, designers, technicians and actors have to rely on each other to make that happen.
"They learn to be responsible for themselves on- and off-stage," says Welch-Hagen. "You''re working together as one to make the best artistic product you can."
Elsa Con, director of the Magic Circle Center in Carmel Valley, sees the benefits as going both ways. Not only are the actors and other people involved in the process getting hands-on training, they are also contributing to the health and well-being of the theater. In fact, Con says the theater is in the discussion stage of how to create an internship program that would formalize the relationship between intern and theater.
"I think an internship would benefit eve-rybody," she says. "People would come in and work under the supervision of someone else and really learn. It would help the theater in getting the student hours and it would give the student hands-on experience."
Even without a formal internship, however, simple participation in the production of a play on the "outside"--with all the challenges and limitations involved--provides a valuable piece to the learning experience. Looking back on her own past, Con puts it succinctly: "I feel that the most valuable learning experiences were actually doing things, instead of sitting round in a classroom and reading and studying about them."
Depending on how (and what) you count as a theater company, there are about 15 producing groups in Monterey County. Probably the most comprehensive list can be found on the Monterey County Theatre Alliance Website (www.pblum.com/mcta). We''ve listed a few smaller companies where your input might be most valuable. Call around to get a feel for what the groups produce.
California''s First Theater, Monterey: 375-4916
Forest Theater Guild, Carmel (summer productions only): 626-1681
Magic Circle Theater, Carmel Valley: 659-1108
Staff Players Repertory Company, Carmel: 624-1531
Third Studio, at large: 373-4389
Unicorn Theater, at large: 649-0259
Wharf Theater, Monterey: 372-1373