Working together, supporting each other, accomplishing something as one.
This year’s theme for the Alabama Thespian State Festival is “be a pop of colour on a dark stage.” Upon hearing that theme, the first thing that comes to my mind is a theatre ensemble. An ensemble bringing a script to life, onstage actors, offstage crew, directors, designers, all working to create the world of the play. A pop of colour on a dark stage.
But the idea of ensemble is more than that. It’s more than being a group. It is more than the traditional stage roles. Ensemble is more than: “We’re the leads. We’re in the spotlight. You, ensemble, are behind us, with your character category names: Doctor, Teen, Man #2 or worse, you category-less huddled mass stage left with your matching choreography and your matching costumes. You, you, ensemble. Also-rans. The lessers.”
No one is less in a true ensemble. No one is less. Ensemble is more.
What does that mean? Ensemble is more? When you come together as a true ensemble: working together, supporting each other, accomplishing as one. Fun fact. Ensemble is actually the french word for together. When you do that, work together, support each other, accomplish as one – added features start to happen. “Yes and” starts to happen. More starts to happen.
Ensemble builds the skills you need for the rest of your life. Communication skills. Learning how to talk to people. Collaboration skills. Learning how to work with others toward the same goal. These are the things you’re working on in your troupes. These are important forever skills.
I was talking once with a teacher in Florida who was working on drama project with some NASA personnel. The guy from NASA said his engineers needed drama exercises because they didn’t know how to talk to anyone. Can you imagine being so smart and not being able to communicate?
It is work. It’s a skill to be able to communicate. “Because your idea sucks” is not an effective method of communication. It is a skill to be able to collaborate. To brainstorm, create, and execute with others without wanting to kill someone, or make someone cry is a skill. And being in a thespian troupe, in drama classes, these are the perfect places to work on this.
Ensemble and the act of theatre has the possibility to change lives. What happens in high school and middle school is some of the most important theatre out there. You have the opportunity to let someone know they are not alone.
Being a true ensemble: working together, supporting each other, accomplishing as one – this allows someone the freedom to change. The freedom to be who they truly are. The freedom to let go of fear.
Ensemble secures a safe space. This is a culminating concept on top of building skills and changing lives – we need to have a space where we can feel safe to do all that. And we need people around us to make us feel safe. Ensemble is more. No one is less. Everyone belongs. Everyone is on the same page.
We also need a safe space so that we feel secure to fail. This may be the most important thing you do as an ensemble. We often fear failure because usually there’s someone right there ready to point or laugh or highlight how much we have failed. Failure is so important in the creative process. Here’s a secret: Creative people aren’t special. They just know that failing is a necessary step in the process – how do we find the best solution if we don’t fail 10 times, 100 times, 10,000 times first? We have to try, fail and try again. If we fail and give up, what possibilities are we missing? To be in a safe space, in an ensemble who know the value of support, who know the value of failure, is so important.
So why is ensemble more? Ensemble builds. Ensemble changes. Ensemble secures.
Theatre doesn’t last, it’s fleeting. That’s the beauty of it – it’s live and in the moment. But it is only a moment. Lines are said and then they’re gone. Opening night comes and goes. But how you treat each other, how you work with each other, how you support each other, how you listen to each other, how you communicate and collaborate, how you secure a safe place for those who need it, that will last forever. An ensemble is all parts together, and only works when every part is cohesive. Where no one is less. Ensemble is more. You have the opportunity to do just that. Make your ensemble more.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
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