Theatre Information

Performing in Simultaneous Shows

By • Dec 16th, 2009 • Category: An Actor's Advice

The actress Cynthia Nixon made history in 1984 by being one of the few known people to be in two Broadway shows at the same time. Both directed by Mike Nichols, the shows The Real Thing and Hurlyburly appeared just two blocks from one another, allowing Nixon to walk back and forth as needed between the two theatres.

An entertaining trivia fact about an obviously rare circumstance. But the conditions don’t have to be this extreme to make being involved in multiple shows unwise.

I will allow for it in some circumstances. For example if one has gained a part in a show near the end of the run of another show. There may be an early rehearsal for the second show that overlaps some of your later rehearsals of your current show. This is tolerable, so long as the more current show has priority during a conflict. But I’d advise no more than two weeks overlap between two shows. I experienced this once, in college. I was in make-up for a tech rehearsal while doing the first read-through of my next show. An odd experience, but the schedules evened out after that. (Mainly because it was the same theatre.)

Yet the reasons to not overlap are far more compelling.

To begin with, acting with one’s maximum talent requires one’s maximum attention, throughout as much as the rehearsal process as possible. If your various rehearsal schedules are bumping into each other so much that you have to coordinate which one to go to when, it means, without fail, one or more of them is being blown off at any given moment. And the minute you feel you can blow it off to do something better, even if that something better is another show, you have divested yourself, in spirit, from the production.

Schedule nightmares aside, being in so many different venues over such a short period of time doesn’t allow you to evolve your character as well. As with any relationship, an actor must spend as much time as he can just “being with” the character. True, you sometimes will have more than one part in a single play. But when that is the case, you at least have the common bond of the play’s arc. When you are playing several characters from several different productions, none of them are getting the attention they deserve. Your time becomes a generic session of memorizing lines and blocking, with less substance to it.

And finally, it is a bad idea to do so much because of your cast mates. Even if you feel up to the task of tackling several rehearsals at one time, not everyone is going to adopt that philosophy. Your scene partners may require, (and indeed, deserve) a considerable time commitment from you, so as to get a working relationship underway as quickly as possible. Not to mention to develop the dynamic between your respective characters. If you are not there for weeks at a time, this can’t happen, and respect for those with whom you are performing prohibits such flippant use of both your time and their time.

Many associates of mine have been in several shows at once. One guy’s record is 4 at the same time. (I don’t know how it was possible, so don’t ask me.) I enjoy working with them. They are good actors. I just think they would be better actors if they poured more into one show, instead of pouring just enough into several shows at any given time. A jack of all shows, but a star of none.

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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.

3 Responses »

  1. I just got done doing this. Though not originally by choice. Last April I had promised a dear friend I would reprise my role in a Christmas show he wrote which he wanted to do a full staging off (I had been in a staged reading of it three years before). I promptly forgot about it and when August rolled around I auditioned for a local production (in DE) of “A Christmas Carol”. I did it because my daughter was auditioning too. It was three weeks into “A Christmas Carol” rehearsals before my friend called. The production schedule worked out (friends show was one night only, the night AFTER the other closed).

    But I did run into several rehearsal conflicts including missing final dress for the friends show. But in this case it all worked out. I am exhausted but both shows were successful.

    Still, I agree with you. I would not recommend it!

  2. I just finished a 2-show overlap. Between tech & production for one and rehearsals for the other, I had a 17-day stretch with only 2 nights off – tough on my long-suffering husband, and I had to miss 1 or 2 rehearsals for the 2nd show, including a blocking rehearsal.

    The only other time I ran into this, I was in one show and costuming another that opened a week before the one I was in. Not as bad as trying to *perform* in simultaneous shows, but still hard enough that I wouldn’t deliberately do it again. (And thank heaven the cast I had to dress was small, and that both the director & producers were veteran costumers.)

  3. Thanks for comments, all. And Maureen makes an excellent point that I didn’t address in the column…performing in one show while doing major technical or backstage work for another, at the same time. I am almost never in a strictly technical position in a show, so such things tend to slip my mind. But from what you say, it certainly can be just as draining on a person!

    It did bring to mind someone I once knew who started directing a show while still performing in another. That also I would figure, would be too exhausting to be worth it in the vast majority of circumstances.