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Experience Preferred

August 13, 2013

Like most actors, I do not like it when fellow performers try to direct me, particularly in ways at odds with those coming from the actual director. That does not mean, though, that I am not always gratified to get advice and constructive criticism from the more experienced people I work with.

I am now in the midst of my first speaking role in a professional stage production, a landmark in my acting adventure that began less than a year and a half ago. Our five-member cast varies in age from 16 to early 40s, but in terms of formal training and past time on stage, I am the least experienced member of the cast. I am very proud of my work and feel I have grown considerably through the process, but each of these individuals has had something to teach me. It’s essentially a master class for which I’m getting paid.

One actor in particular has been a godsend for me. She plays my wife, so we have several one-on-one scenes together, and throughout the rehearsal and tech process she has offered me all sorts of tips. This has been done in a spirit of professionalism, friendship, and a true desire to help me be a better actor. Some of it has involved the basics of professional theater, about which a lesser person might choose to roll her eyes and snark at the new guy. Instead, she has mentored me without a trace of condescension.

Those of us who go before crowds of strangers to make someone else’s words come to life face so many vulnerabilities. Lines and cues can be missed, props can get misplaced or break, lights can fail. But there’s a special vulnerability to being new to performing, and working with experienced professionals. It is so easy to feel lost, out of place, outclassed and even outcast. But unlike those on-stage vulnerabilities, we new actors can control these vulnerabilities. It is as simple as deciding how to respond to our more experienced peers who want to help us.

I could have chosen to get flustered or defensive or angry. This would have hurt me, hurt the production, and been cruel to a potential mentor whose only interest was in making me better. Those options never crossed my mind. Instead, I took her offer of assistance and learned from it, as I have learned from the other members of the cast. (And no, I have not felt odd about taking tips from our 16-year-old star. She may have been alive fewer years than me, but she has been on stage longer. She is a peer, not a child.)

Because of how I chose to receive these offers of aid, I am turning in a stronger performance. I am a better actor. And these colleagues have become friends. What better result could there be?

Peter Sig

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