The Good, the Bad, the Actor

I had the pleasure to catch an exclusive performance of Upright Egg Theater Co.’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream this weekend, performed at Harmony Park as part of a wedding of two company members, and it was one of the most joyous productions I’ve ever seen. There was magic in performing in the woods, by a lake, in the waning heat of summer.

There was a standout performance in the show, Jeremy Pickard, who’s in town working on Venus (a play about energy) in collaboration with Upright Egg. He’s Venus’ playwright and co-director, but in this instance he was actor, playing Peter Quince in a way that I never envisioned–sickly, henpecked, neurotic–and the result elevated every performance around him. He was emanating energy the other actors gorged upon; he gave freely, and his energy was reflected back to him twofold.

He was a treat to watch in an already delicious production, but he stood out, as I’ve seen the opposite happen: one actor’s leaden performance drags the entire production down to where even the most tolerant audience can’t follow. I am a forgiving audience, and in the podcast I give every artist a chance to explain and defend their art. It is then their job to prove it in practice. I want every show to succeed–I want actors to give knock-out performances, the tech to dazzle, and the script to move me in ways that I can barely articulate.

An actor torpedoing a show is one of the most depressing experiences you’ll ever witness; everyone involved is hurt, and the public nature of theatre results in a lot of questions: Why was that person cast? Did the director not see what was happening? Should I see a show by these people ever again? The first two questions people like to speculate about, but the answer to the third question is the most important: “No.”

I’m laying blame on an actor, but it could be anything else: one aspect off-kilter and the whole production’s in jeopardy. Directors lose more sleep fine-tuning their productions on the hope they’ll come out in serviceable form then I ever will as an audience member backseat critiquing. But there’s no telling which idea will ignite the imagination while another lies ignored, and as gratifying as it is to see an actor giving their all and succeeding, it’s conversely terrifying to witness the opposite.

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