Theatre Information

Learning From Failures On Stage

By • Dec 17th, 2008 • Category: An Actor's Advice

When things are going poorly, or worse, in a show, there is a very powerful temptation to go numb, and shut out everything except your own responsibilities.

This is natural. You are with a cast who mostly does not care, the technical aspects have not gone the same way two nights in a row. Somebody has quit, and their replacement is even worse. Certain lines have been forgotten every single time. Everything is terrible. You do not want to bail out on the production, but you want to feel no pain either. Quite understandable. I have been there.

But a serious actor must resist this temptation as much as possible. Not merely because it is the “right thing to do.” It is the smart thing to do, if you are at all concerned with improving your craft and learning anything. (Which of course you are concerned with, right?)

As is the case with many other endeavors, failures on stage can teach us more than successes. Granted, because it is a performance, having your name attached to a failure can be embarrassing. I am not suggesting you spread the word far and wide that the show you are starring in is a disaster. That is just being silly.

Yet while you must be in it, take it all in. Examine what is not working. Without losing your temper too much, determine what every shortcoming is, large and small, and then try to deduce what it is that is causing them.

Did the actor not prepare enough for the role? Were they miscast? Were the responsibilities of everyone involved in the show not made clear enough? Did the director not do enough/too much? What is the overall attitude of people involved in this show that prevents them from wanting to do better?

Many other questions, and answers thereto, can come about, from show to show. Even if you are never certain what exactly went wrong in every aspect of a flop, the simple act of trying to determine why your show did not succeed will open your mind and stretch you imagination. In so doing, you can take what you determine with you to future experiences, thus helping you avoid the same missteps, assumptions, and overall failures that you witnessed others commit.

I have done this, and I cannot tell you how valuable it sometimes is. The information I have garnered while being in an occasional flop has allowed me to offer advice to pull later shows up into acceptability that might have otherwise gone down in a small amount of flames.

Even in failure, there is a chance to learn.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.