At the ballet: three lessons from working, but not working

Los Angeles was a busy place this past weekend. Anime Expo was on downtown. A couple of miles away, the Music Center theaters were producing Indecent and a ballet called Mayerling by the Royal Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion.

And as we digested our Independence Day BBQs and many lay-people enjoyed long weekends, this is where I found myself: at the ballet.

More specifically, sitting in the rehearsal halls and green room in the theater, while dancers and actors ran around in costume, stretching, and generally preparing for several showings a ballet inspired by a historical event.

I had been cast as a cover for background actors. It’s exactly as glamorous as it sounds, which is to say it’s not. It basically works like the runner-up for Miss America: If one of the other actors cannot fulfill their duties, then I would get to suit up.

Given the opulence of the costumes and the delight that the other actors took in being glammed up in period costumes, wigs and tiaras, I doubted I would see stage time. (I was right.)

Even though I didn’t perform, I learned a LOT watching the inner workings of an elite touring ballet company. Here’s a few lessons from the weekend:

    1. Respect each other. Before each rehearsals, and especially before rehearsing especially difficult or dangerous choreography, the ballet master would remind the dancers to “take care of each other.” Back stage, our small crew of local actors were also afforded similar respect. Having worked background on a TV/Film set, this is not always the case. There, you are separated from the main cast and sternly warned not to speak unless spoken to. Here, everyone chats as equals.
    2. A professional stays calm in chaos. While downtown, I was able to take in a performance of Indecent. During that particular show, an earthquake started to rumble through the theater about 20 minutes into the performance. The actors were asked to leave the stage for safety, and they calmly excited while the audience began to murmur in panic. Several minutes later, they resumed the show – and the actors took their places and began as if nothing had happened. If they were as shaken as we were, you wouldn’t have known it. It is a testament to their professionalism and craft that those actors were able to pick up where they left off and bring us, the audience, back into the show with them. (They earned their standing ovation and then some.)
    3. Attitude is everything. While working this ballet, there were four actors designated as “covers.” All of us showed up just like the rest of the cast and crew. We were prepared to go on if needed. Sometimes people would forget who we were or ask what our role was on the show, and I would joke “I’m your biggest cheerleader.” And when we were released, many of us stuck around to watch the first act (when all of our fellow actors got their stage time) before heading home.

I loved getting to be a tiny, invisible part of this production for the education it afforded me. And also for the world’s largest tour t-shirt they gifted me…(pictures to follow)


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