Always remember that, as an actor, you are not going to the theater merely for entertainment or as a passive member of the audience. Much as an artist would go to a museum to study painting, you are going to the theater to study your craft. Theater affords actors the educational opportunity to study what is arguably the most developmental and challenging medium available. So how can you ensure that you fully take advantage of the opportunity attending a play presents?
1. Read the play. If the play has been published, read it before you attend the performance. Being familiar with the actual written play will inform your experience and enhance your understanding of the material as well as give insight as to the production’s interpretation and vision. Rather than spoil your experience by detailing the story, this will greatly enhance your experience.
2. Learn about the author and their work. Masterful playwrights like Tennessee Williams and John Patrick Shanley often write from personal experience. Research on the author can give invaluable insight to a writer’s work and what inspired them to write about these specific events, themes, and characters. Read the author’s additional works. This allows you to see how a play complements an author's overall body of work and can offer clues about an individual play or production. Just as an art student studies the lives, works, and time periods of artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, or Monet, we actors must understand our writers and what influenced them.
READ: “5 Reasons Modern Actors Should Study the Classics”
3. Find critical analysis on the play. Whether it is a review or a Wikipedia explanation of the themes and symbols of a play, reading about what others say can prepare you and put your mind in a thoughtful state.
4. Interpretation. Now that you have done your research regarding the playwright and their work, while you are watching the play, study how the director has interpreted it, how it has been staged, how it has been cast, and the performances. Some directors have a distinct vision, a different approach or perception of a play. You can see 5 different companies perform the same play and they may all have a slightly different interpretation. For example, the recent Tony award winning production of “A View from the Bridge,” originally written to be staged in a 1950's tenement apartment, was set in a boxing ring!
While watching the play, you might ask yourself, do the characters have clear and specific relationships with each other? Are they deeply related to their circumstances? Is the story being told in a clear and compelling manner?
5. Bring a friend! There is nothing quite as fun and illuminating as a lively discussion after a shared experience with a friend. It’s interesting to trade insights and hear someone else's impressions of something you have just shared seeing.
Attending the theater can be a fun, entertaining experience but never forget that, as an actor, you are there always learning about your craft and are actually a part of the action on stage!