Hyphenation on Steroids

I did a class on the “nuts and bolts” of theater a couple of months ago. I invited specialists like fight choreographers, costume designers, stage makeup artists, etc., to talk about what they do and, in many cases, demonstrate their skills.

What was continually surprising was that each “specialist” was invariably skilled at several things. The costume designer started her theater career as an musical theater actress. The choreographer had just finished directing a show. And the makeup artist had more credits than any of them, having worked as an actor, musician, playwright, stage manager, and director.

In last week’s blog post I talked about the under-appreciation of actors. Beyond the fact that acting involves somewhat less tangible skills than other professions, it’s also worth noting that a large percentage of actors are actually multi-hyphenates -- actor-director, actor-singer-songwriter, actor-dancer-choreographer-director, etc. My favorite realization along these lines was when I found out that Bo Wilson, accomplished playwright, actor and director, also does voice work. That’s just an amazing number of hyphens to be able to incorporate into one’s professional designation.

Which brings me to PRELUDES, the show that is opening this coming week at Firehouse. Every single person involved with this show is a multi-hyphenate, sometimes dazzlingly so. This past week I was lucky enough to watch while, in a preview for my current Commonwealth Society class, musical director Susan Braden sang, played piano AND played drums during a performance (Susan is also a composer and puts on a one-woman show to boot…). All of the actors will be singing AND playing keyboards at different points of the show. And some, like Levi Meerovich, have skills out the wazoo: Levi sings, acts, plays piano, writes plays, and probably a half-dozen other things I don’t yet know about.

It’s inspiring to know that there are individuals in the world, even right here in sleepy little Richmond, that have so many vocations that they have the skills for. At the same time, it’s a little disheartening to realize that, for most, it’s necessary to develop multiple vocations because it’s nearly impossible to make a living at just one job in professional theater. Sometimes juggling many hats is following many passions, more often it’s scrambling to cobble together a living.

It’s hard to know what exactly to do to improve the lot for theater professionals but one thing anyone reading this can do: come see PRELUDES! You’ll be glad you did and the multi-hyphenates you see on stage will thank you.

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