I think one of the the greatest sources of anxiety people have of dying is that nobody will know that they’re gone. Everything they did, everyone they loved, everywhere they left a mark that they existed– will be quietly replaced and life will go on without a hitch. After all, that’s what Life on This Earth does. It adapts. It evolves. It survives.
One of the most important lessons I learned early on in my performing career was this:
Strive to be irreplaceable; never let them discover that they can do it without you.;
Now, we all know that nobody is irreplaceable. Particularly in Theatre, everyone can be replaced. That’s the nature of Show Biz. What I learned was to be talented, fun to be around, thoughtful, conscientious, responsible, energetic…. Be the performer that has the director saying “Where can we put Kevin.”
I’ve gotten roles in my career for a myriad of reasons– many having little to do with my talent: I was over 6 feet tall, I didn’t “swish” when I walked, I was a bass/baritone, I could grow a mustache in a week, I wasn’t timid about a kissing scene…. But more times than not, the reason was that the director just couldn’t imagine NOT having me in the show. I was fun to work with, I had an appropriate sense of humor, I knew my lines and blocking, I had performing chops, I got along great with techies and staff without coming across as a brown-noser….
I am now in semi-retirement from performing. By “semi-” I mean that have stopped in order to be a stay-at-home Dad, but I plan to return to performing after our kids are all off to college. I’ve done three professional roles in the last 15 years– all as a favor to buddies in a jam. I don’t audition anymore and I don’t look forward to EVER going through that dog and pony trick again.
After we moved back to the Wichita area in 2006, my family and I started appearing in a yearly local production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” put on by Wichita Children’s Theatre. They’re been doing it ever year for almost 30 years now. I play the Dad, Janelle plays the Mom, and our kids have played a variety of the kids’ roles. It’s a great family tradition. Now, Nicholas is too old for BCPE, so he and I have begun appearing in WCT’s annual production of my adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.” I’ve played Fezziwig and Ghost of Christmas Present, Nichols was Marley last year and this year he is Nephew Fred.
I sit back during rehearsals and just observe the kids. It’s amazing what you can learn just by being quiet and watching. I’ve kept notes over the years and plan to develop them into a video project about auditioning and basic acting: How to find your light, how to walk quietly backstage, how to check sightlines, that sort of thing.
I’ve also become aware of a phenomenon that is very unique to my situation. Let me start out by telling you that I am rather shy. I don’t like attention drawn to me unless I’m onstage and playing a character. When I sit in the audience of one of my shows I make it a point to NOT have the theatre announce that the playwright is in the audience. I just want to enjoy the event like everyone else. But that’s not always possible.
During the course of rehearsals of A Christmas Carol, the cast gradually becomes aware that I am the “Kevin Reese” that wrote the script they are reading from. Adults will usually come right out and ask if I’m the playwright and then comment on the adaptation (there’s really very little “me” in the script– it’s 99% Dickens. Most of my work was in streamlining the story for an hour on the stage.). The kids are far more entertaining! Their reaction usually varies from distant glued stares from across the room to coming up and telling me all of their favorite parts of the show. There’s an amiable young fellow in this year’s cast that reminds me of the Chris Farley character on SNL that would interview various celebrities and get all tongue-tied. Very cute!
I’m rambling, but the point I set out to make is that no matter what career you find yourself in– strive to make yourself irreplaceable. Develop the whole package and whoever gets you will want to keep you around forever.