Where have all the actor’s gone?
- Joy G. Virata () - July 25, 2005 - 12:00am
Iwalked into Rep’s rehearsal hall for a rehearsal of The Emperor’s New Clothes one day and was greeted by my company manager with "We have a complete cast today." I ran to my director’s table and with great dramatic flourish yelled, "No! Do you mean it? Quick let’s start before this miracle suddenly disappears. (My husband hates it when I go dramatic like that at home. Exaggerating again, he says.) But I meant it. I was thrilled! I had a complete cast for the first time in three days!

I read somewhere that stress shortens life and for a long and healthy life one must either avoid stress (which is impossible unless you are part of the living dead) or learn to handle it well. So I have bought bookshelves of "how to" books dealing with stress, have bought tapes on meditation, and have taken meditation, Alexander and Pilates lessons. I have bought tapes for getting to sleep, and tapes for waking up, tapes for meditating while walking and tapes to keep you thinking positive thoughts about people all day. (I once bought a tape on how to increase your bust size through meditation which, when I was listening to it one day, caused an actor in a chair nearby to panic. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for me, it didn’t work.) But everything goes bust (no pun intended) when I walk into a rehearsal hall to direct a Children’s Theater production!!

It has always been difficult to direct an RCT production since I need three casts to cover every contingency: The possibility of four back-breaking shows a day; sick or injured players; or, and this is what blows away my stress-busting attempts, cast members who suddenly leave to do something else – in theater or otherwise. I don’t want to begrudge anyone, actors specially, the opportunity to earn a better living but I do wish they wouldn’t spring so many surprises on me.

This year has been a particularly tricky one – as it was in the days of
Miss Saigon recruitment (which, by the way, goes on and on and on like the Eveready Bunny.) This year it is the Hong Kong Disneyland recruitment that is threatening to add a couple of wrinkles to my brow – and not the proverbial ones either. I am proud that so many actors who start at Rep end up in productions abroad but, just as we lament the time and money spent on training doctors and nurses who end up serving other countries, so do I lament the time, energy and money spent on training actors for foreign productions.

However, just like the doctors and nurses, who can blame the actors when, with all their talent, they cannot make a decent living here? This time 10 actors came to me and, with sincere regret, informed me that they had accepted the Disney offer and could not join the cast of
The Emperor’s New Clothes as promised. I bid them Godspeed just as sincerely. (The "How to Stay Positive" tape worked.)

So I set to work recruiting new talent and trying to work in actors who had other acting jobs going, into some sort of a schedule – a schedule that was, by the way, further put askew by my choreographer being one of the Disney recruits. I won’t go into detail what this entailed in terms of extra hours needed for training new actors and relearning music and choreography. Suffice it to say that it became imperative that everyone sticks to a schedule.

This is when I encountered an interesting variety of reasons put forth for not being able to follow the schedule. These reasons were not unreasonable but they made my life a nightmare: 1) Rehearsing for another production; 2) rehearsals for another production were too tiring; 3) lost voice because of tiring rehearsals of other production; 4) too hard to park; 5) have a business meeting; 6) my mother’s birthday; 7) my father’s birthday; 8) my birthday; 9) my restaurant needs me; 10) my own theater company needs me; 11) my Aunt needs me; 12) school; 13) sick; 14) work; 15) TV taping; 16) have to go abroad for a week to visit my family; 17) have to go abroad for a week on business; 18) have to go abroad for a week to visit my girl friend; 19) had tooth surgery; and 20) my guinea pig died and I had to bury him.

There was a time when I would have had enough actors available to cover any contingency. Today I teeter on dangerous ground. So I meditate.

Anyway, the good news is that in spite of everything The Emperor’s New Clothes will open as scheduled on Aug. 6 with three good casts – thanks to the juggling expertise of my company manager, the patience of my assistant director, and, in the end, a talented cast who are willing to work hard to reach the level of perfection demanded of them. What more can any one ask?

Well, one thing I guess. I ask for a time when art does not take a back seat to everything else, and where actors can earn a decent living without having to go abroad. But then that is a dream for everyone in this country. So, until then, we will go from production to production, training new talent year after year, and wondering where the actors will have gone when next we need them.
* * *
The Rep Children’s Theater production of The Emperor’s New Clothes opens on Aug. 6, at 10:30 a.m. at Rep’s Globe Theater at Onstage in Greenbelt 1. Tickets available at the gate. For details, call 887-07-10.

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