That is certainly true of us in Theatrix. I took the time to count how many nationalities we have had in Theatrix Phuket in the past four years and we are from over 20 nations. Among us are Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews as well as plenty of non-believers. I’m sure we sit all over the political spectrum too, and yet we band together to do this wonderful thing we call theatre.
To me, one of the most wonderful things about theatre, and I would say this is truer of amateur theatre than professional, where it can be done just as a job, is the collaborative quality of it and the camaraderie that is born from that.
I want to take a moment, now that I have used the dreaded word ‘amateur’, to define it, because an amateur production is not necessarily amateurish. It can be, but not always so. Consider that all the Athenian productions were put on by amateurs who performed and prepared plays once a year and then went back to their regular lives afterwards. They created some of the greatest plays ever written and a standard that is still used to judge and evaluate plays today.
The word itself – amateur – literally means someone who does something out of love. So when we say that someone is an amateur, we are merely saying he practises his art out of love and not for money. However, when we say something is amateurish, we are indeed saying it is second rate.
But back to theatrical collaboration. Theatre is perhaps the most collaborative of all art forms, considering that it needs a writer, a director, actors, set designers, costumers, props people, light and sound technicians, makeup artist, promoters, marketers, front of house staff and more. All these people donate their time and services out of love, and that, to me, is one of the most fulfilling things about theatre. In totally opposite parts of the world where I have done theatre, people inside and out of our theatre group have described the team as a family, and it is just that.
It’s quite common to hear people lament that there isn’t enough community in Phuket and I can sympathise with that feeling. However, slowly but surely I see a community developing around our theatre efforts, real friends who volunteer their time and services, who enjoy getting together to work, or to party, or to perform, or to practise. We really are a family and I love it.
There is also a community of those who love what we are doing as audience members and get to as many shows as possible. Without that wonderful human touch and connection in doing something so worthwhile, the creation of art, I think I would have gotten restless long ago, but as time passes, I just get more and more inspired by our community and what we can do together.
To go deeper into this point on collaboration, actors must work together without any one of them feeling he or she is the star. Every actor has their moments onstage and it is every other actor’s job in that moment to do whatever is necessary to make them look good.
Michael Caine, who starred with Sean Connery in the wonderful movie The Man Who Would Be King, said of Mr Connery that he had never worked with an actor who went so far out of his way to make his co-star look good. Connery was not so immersed in his own performance that he forgot that a quality product is the sum of its parts, plus those indefinable magic moments that happen organically between actors who are dedicated to teamwork and collaboration.
Several professional improv teams that I know of make it a habit, no, a ritual, that each actor pats each other actor on the back before going onstage, meaning, “I have your back.” That is one of the wonderful things about improv: it’s a team effort and it’s everyone else’s job to make the others look good.
This collaboration doesn’t stop with the actors either; a director may feel strongly that a certain scene needs a particular lighting effect and he or she proposes it to the lighting designer who might know how to achieve that effect in a very different way than the director imagined. And so on down the line in every direction.
What finally happens onstage is never the result of any one or even any group of people. It’s the actors who get the credit but an actor who is really honest with themselves knows they couldn’t have done it without the costumer, the props person, the light and sound technicians, the director, their fellow actors, their sponsors and more. And of course, the ultimate collaboration is that when we perform, we collaborate with the audience to create an evening we hope no one will ever forget.
In a world that is increasingly polarised between sides that refuse to compromise and see eye to eye, I think what theatre does and gives us is an example for how we could learn to cooperate, despite all our differences, by concentrating on the things that we all care about, by accentuating our common points and by treating the differences as, well, minor. I think it would be a better world if we all did that, don’t you?
We at Theatrix are right now collaborating among ourselves and with others to bring you a dynamic show you won’t want to miss: The 39 Steps by Patrick Barlow. I’ll write about that in next month’s article, but in the meantime, please schedule yourselves to come and see it at Underwood Art Factory on the evenings of June 1 and 2.