The End of the Show (or How Actors Deal with Change)

Unlike films, novels, music or poetry, theatrical performance has a shelf life. At a certain point in the course of any play – whether it be a one-night performance to raise money for charity, or a three-decade run of Les Miserables on Broadway – the show must come to an end. It’s quite rare for a show to be “recorded” fully for the sake of posterity  – there are too many things involved. One would have to record where every prop was placed, the timing and emotion of every line, breath, thought and movement of each actor, the lighting cues, the sound cues… it all gets very complicated, and there is no perfect way to hold to all of this together properly. And so it happens that plays, and each production of them, tend to fade away over time, living only in the memories of the cast and crew who put it on, and hopefully, the minds of the audience members who took it in.

The ending of a show is something that professional actors become accustomed to over time. As one show is winding down, another one is starting ramp up, with line-runs, rehearsals and performances already on the horizon. If there is no show coming up, there is always the dreaded prospect of auditioning, and trying to find the next job.

Things aren’t quite the same for our community actors. The end of this show means that the next time they’ll be on stage might not be for a little while, and there is no plan of action for them in terms of their next acting “gig”. Still, the end of a show for one of our community actors is so much more than just the end of a show. I was talking to Tracy last week about what she feels she’s learned through The Elephant Man. She told me that she looks at it like this: when she first started with The Bench, she could only say lines with other people helping her, like in the chorus of Wonderful, last spring. Next up, she tackled her own characters, in Transient Voices, but she had to have a script in front of her to help her with both remembering her lines and her characters. Now, as we bring The Elephant Man to a close, Tracy is receiving accolades left, right and centre for her work with the four(!) characters that she’s playing, all with her lines completely off-book, and her characters coming to life in front of the audience. Professional actors and directors who have seen the show have said that she’s fantastically convincing, and that her work is honest and deep.

More important than all of this, though, is the fact that Tracy (and all the actors, really) is brimming with confidence. The work that takes place during the rehearsal process and performances doesn’t end with the last show this Saturday. It continues in the lives of each person we’ve worked with, as they are affirmed and encouraged to pursue their goals and dreams, carried on the back of the incredible work they’ve done with The Bench. It’s important to learn from every experience that we have in life, whether it be a speeding ticket or a university course in biology. Professional actors tend to take learning experiences from one show and apply it to another, but not always in their personal lives. The depth to which our actors have learned, and will be learning, because of their experiences with The Elephant Man, cannot be measured in performance alone. You have two chances left to see what I’m talking about, tonight and tomorrow at 8:00pm, and then it will only be a memory in the minds of cast, crew and audience, and in the lives of those we’ve worked with.


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