Truth and Honesty in the Theatre

This essay first appeared on the Feb. 8 episode of Stageworthy.

We have an honesty problem in theatre, and I’m not talking about on stage, we talk a lot about truth on the stage. We want where we portray to be as truthful as possible. We pursue on the stage for a scene a moment to be as honest and truthful as possible. offstage, there may be many times when we feel like we can’t be truthful and honest. Think about a time when you were unhappy with the way that the audiences were reacting to a show or even you were unhappy with the turnout of audiences to the show, you felt like the show could have been getting more audiences but wasn’t getting the audience’s it deserved.

But could you say that? Could you post on social media about how disappointed you are? It’s pretty much understood that you don’t, at least not in a place where anyone but your closest friends might see it. You have to publicly remain positive. And if you’re frustrated about things happening behind the scenes, or if there’s something toxic happening in the rehearsal hall, whether it’s from the director or producer, or even another actor, can we call it out? Do we call it out? Do we talk about it, regardless of whether or not we should we often don’t.

We don’t talk about these things. And often, it was our theatre school experience that laid the groundwork for that silence. When I was in theatre school, I did not have a great experience. I wouldn’t say that my experience was toxic. I just wasn’t very happy. And part of the problem was that to be completely honest, I was one of those students that rode the edge of being cut from the programme. Back when that was a regular occurrence. I’m told we don’t cut people from programmes anymore, which is good. But it was something that hung over my head for the entirety of the three years I was at school. And I wasn’t the only one. All of us knew that we could be cut from the programme and that they wouldn’t have to give any reason. And their reasoning if they gave one wouldn’t be questioned. We went through our days in fear. And so if we saw problematic or toxic behaviour, we didn’t say anything. We learned not to rock the boat.

I’ve been doing this podcast for about six years now. But occasionally I’ll find out that somebody I’m interviewing went to the same theatre school that I did. And I would ask them as somebody who went to that school and really curious, I’d ask how their experience was, and they would get this frozen smile on their face. And they would say, Oh, it was great. But I could tell there was something not quite right there. And so we just gloss over it and move on.

And then afterwards, when the recording was over, I’d asked them again, about their experience. And I would hear stories about how their experience was toxic, but they didn’t feel like they could say that out loud, that they couldn’t call it out.

And so they just didn’t. And they tried to put their theatre school experiences behind them all while it taught them that the most important thing for them to do was keep their mouths shut.

How are we supposed to change things when we can’t talk about them?

It’s hard enough to be an artist without having to bottle up the truth without having to bottle up what you’re feeling like things are not going your way or when you’re being treated unfairly or where you just want to be able to admit that you’re disappointed in something like the turnout for a show, as I mentioned before, or a bad review. It’s hard enough to get a bad review for a show. And again, we don’t complain about that we take our lumps and we try to let it slide. Even though we want to respond. We don’t because that’s not how it’s done. That’s not professional. And so we shrug and pretend that it doesn’t bother us. But of course it does. But we can’t see that it does we have to remain positive.

And I wonder sometimes if the public, the people who aren’t artists see this and wonder if we’re being disingenuous. Do we seem artificial to them? Because we put on that brave positive face all the time? Does it make it difficult for the non artists to relate to us? Is that why muggles have this idea that so often portrayed in the media that we’re really fake people? I believe that people can sense when we’re not being honest. And when there’s something we’re not saying. And we know it too. It eats at us. I know what eats me when I do it. And I wish I could just say what I’m thinking. But I don’t because that’s just not what we do. And why isn’t it something we do? Why is that kind of honesty frowned on.

Why is it that if I get an unfair review, I can’t say anything? Why is it if if I had a bad experience in the rehearsal hall, I can’t say anything?

I wish I had an answer to the whole thing. I wish I knew how to fix it. But maybe if we talk about it, we can take a few steps towards fixing the toxic aspects of the industry, and also be a little bit better to ourselves. 

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