Do performers need to like musical theatre outside of ‘the job’?

How many people like their job? Let’s be honest, there’s probably plenty of you out there who really don’t. For many people, what they do for a living is precisely that: a way to make a living. They’re there for the paycheque and that’s that. Some people however, are lucky enough to make a living doing what they love. God knows I’ve spent countless hours on supermarket check-outs, hearing that incessent ‘beep, beep, beep‘ long after my working day has ended. I’ve also done my fair share of shifts behind the bar, standing on aching feet and watching other people happily socialising through that wonderful medium of alcohol, while calculating how long it’s going to take me to clean up their mess after closing time. Now though, I’m very fortunate in that I’m able to make my living by combining two of my passions in life: writing and theatre.

Those who work within the theatre industry are also part of that lucky percentage of the population. Their days are often long and phyically/mentally exhausting and each one brings with it a degree of uncertainty – who knows if tomorrow will be the day you walk into the theatre to hear that your show is posting its closing notice? There’s also the demand that the fans put on their time. Considering all of this, along with the fact that most – except those few at the very top – will receive a pretty average wage, and you wouldn’t be amiss for wondering why they go through it. The answer is simple though: because they love it. I’m not an actor and I can’t sing, but I know the joy I get from writing and the rush I feel when an article is published and I know that there are people out there reading my words. Whether they agree with them or not is besides the point: they’re still reading it. Being on stage must be a similiar experience, but intensified tenfold. Standing there before an audience of thousands, putting everything you have into a performance and seeing that audience stand up and applaud you for it at the end – how can you not love that?

Actors are all about diversity and experimentation, and theatre offers many opportunities in that respect. There are so many roles, so many musical genres…it doesn’t even have to be musical theatre. The West End is booming with plays which are doing very well – just look at The Mousetrap. This need to stretch those acting abilities can also have the opposite effect though, with many actors fluctuating between theatre and other mediums such as TV. If you love to act and you choose to take a role in a musical theatre production, is that love of acting enough on its own or do you need to love musical theatre as well?

I interviewed Les Miserable’s Hadley Fraser last year, and questioned him on previous comments he’d made about not wanting to be typecast as just a musical theatre performer. He was quick to assure that he did enjoy working in musicals, but it wasn’t the be-all-and-end-all of his acting ambitions. Outside of ‘the job’, Fraser admitted that he didn’t listen to musical theatre as his musical interests lie elsewhere.

I know he’s not alone in this: I’ve encountered many other musical theatre performers who don’t spend their time outside of work going to other shows or playing cast albums at home. Should they be though?

Alfie Boe caused ripples of consternation in 2011 with comments he made on the radio, in which he confessed that opera “bores me stiff”. Opera may be his world when he’s up on stage performing it, but you won’t find him in the audience anytime soon. When he was on a young singer’s course at the Royal Opera House, part of it included going to watch Opera at Covent Garden – Boe would ‘take a pillow, find an empty box and lie down to go to sleep’. People were furious with Boe about it, but why? Okay, perhaps he should have taken a little more care with his words; it was hardly an ideal advert for the industry which pays his wages and he must have known the effect these throwaway comments would have. Still, where is the law that says you have to live and breathe the genre you work in?

Does it affect their performance? No. I’ve seen both Boe and Fraser onstage and loved them both. Once they step off that stage, it’s their business how they choose to spend their time. A teacher isn’t expected to go home and start lecturing next-door’s toddlers about World War II. A nurse doesn’t roam the streets after a hospital shift, looking for kids with grazed knees. A banker doesn’t go home and start gleefully counting how much money they’ve made – oh, wait.

My point is that, as much as you enjoy a job, it doesn’t have to take over your life. Many musical theatre performers are completely wrapped up in their world, and that’s great if it makes them happy. For those who have interests elsewhere, that’s great for them too. As far as I’m concerned, as long as they deliver on the stage then that is all that’s important.

By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)    

19th January 2012

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