Acting (in) Company
The view is uncommonly clear from thirty thousand feet as the thin January air adds a gentle haze to New York’s vastness. As the city recedes into the distance, I turn towards the computer screen enlivened, intent on creating a space of rumination for what is to come; what has just begun.
Surrounding me throughout the cabin are fellow members of The Acting Company, whose faces jut out amidst the unknown passengers like spies in disguise. We smile knowingly at one another; like assassins confident of our impending coup. Perhaps it feels like that because some of these people are actually playing assassins; since we are in fact ten days away from opening Julius Caesar at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis as part of The Acting Company’s 2012 season.
I think the reason for the sly whimsy amongst us is that we have, in a short rehearsal period, put together a show that could actually be quite good, and the sense of complicity that has grown out of that is palpable. This all bodes well for what is the start of a 5 month contract involving multiple means of travel and confined spaces. Following a few weeks of shows in Minneapolis, the company begins a tour by bus throughout America.
For the duration of this period I will be documenting the experience with a series of essays looking more closely at what it is to be part of an acting company bringing theatre to communities across America. My hope is that in doing so I can examine the value of company and the benefits and setbacks in this day and age in the American Theatre.
For whatever criticism or praise one can say about The Acting Company, there is nothing like it in our country right now, and it is part of an age-old tradition of touring repertory companies bringing important work to people outside the big cities. As The Acting Company nears its 40th anniversary, I am excited to experience the company’s mission: bringing theatre to communities across the country who have limited access to high caliber professional productions of classic works.
I’m also curious to find out if there is any truth to the idea of a company. What gives The Acting Company the right to call itself a company? Does it serve a purpose anymore? And how?
I’m excited to discuss the all this because I’d spent the better part of graduate school literally dreaming about the possibilities inherent in collaboration and ensemble.
In school you spend 3 years developing deep bonds with your classmates and doing one show after another. This is what we now call training in our country, but this was not, as many of us know, what training always was. To train was to take part in a company of actors doing a repertory of shows. We don’t have much like this anymore, and The Acting Company is truly the last bastion that resembles anything akin to how great stage actors used to evolve and grow and take the temperature of the country’s need for theatre.
I suspect that we have lost something really essential about acting and the theater because of this. Acting and being an actor are truly not what I expected them to be when I entered into graduate school. Soon after finishing I came to realize, to my disappointment, that being an actor in New York is more often than not an incredibly solitary life.
Actors in New York, for the most part, build their careers on their own, as independent contractors. You audition alone; you often prepare alone, or with a few willing and patient friends; you travel alone to a new job; you do your job and return to the city in hopes of being plugged in someplace else, hoping that the theater you worked at liked your work, so that you can possibly get rehired to repeat the same process. This feels incredibly individualistic for a communal art form, and the irony is not lost on the itinerants who populate the profession. Yet, this seems to be the way things are, and any proposed antidote to this stratification comes up against innumerable realities and challenges.
In lieu of all this, the opportunity to experience actually being part of a company that calls itself a Company, and prides itself on just that, was something I’ve jumped at doing. I’m wondering if I’m going to feel the same way in a few months. I look forward to sharing the experience with you and opening up a dialogue about the values of company and whether or not it is a necessary component for making the best most lasting and soul-stretching theatre we can.