Learning to be a successful ensemblist is not only something you can do as a professional. Across the country, thousands of student actors learn the skills necessary to perform in ensembles in their school and youth theatre productions. We asked the ensemble of Orange County School of the Arts' production of The Drowsy Chaperone what they are learning from working on the show. Below are excerpts from some of their responses.
"When I found out I got into the ensemble of The Drowsy Chaperone, I was really excited, not only because it is such a fun musical, but because I realized that I had never actually been ensemble in a show before. I thought that it would be a really good challenge for me, getting to create my own character from scratch and pushing me to be more creative. Luckily our director, Mr. Barnhardt, led us through some exercises to help us discover our individual characters while working as a whole cast. Since this musical is a show within a show, the character building has an extra layer, because each cast member has to develop their actor character, as well as the role the actor is playing. We answered questions that give us insight on our characters’ backgrounds, and I loved having the freedom of being able to completely invent my own character’s story."
- Katherine Cotter
"The best thing I learned, I learned very quickly. Productive Optimism. I have always been an optimistic person. It is easy for me to see the glass half full. But being an ensemble member taught me how to use that optimism to better my performance, my self, and my life, both inside and outside of the show I was working on. And just that opened up a world of possibilities for me. Instead of moping around my house upset that I didn’t get to sing any solos, I poured my heart into learning my harmonies, because I was so lucky to be able to eventually sing them on stage. Instead of sitting around backstage grumpy and bitter that I wasn’t on singing that awesome solo, I was able to spend my time doing positive things, such as building friendships. I am able to spend my rehearsal time becoming a part of a whole, which gives me a wonderful place in a family, where I am using my talents to better the group as an ensemble."
- Natalie Laderer
"The show is like a lego set: the ensemble is the foundation, it creates the atmosphere necessary for a believable time period and location. Only then can you start adding the supporting characters and the principals and by the end you have a beautiful sparkling castle of a show. But without the base layer the castle, no matter how much hard work was put into the decorations, will crash. The ensemble is essential in order to build the finished product.
"Once and actor learns how to thrive in an ensemble they can thrive in anything. You learn how to work as a team and sacrifice the ideal of "stardom" for the good of the show. It is quite easy to fall into fraudulent performance. You slap on a phony smile and proceed to have nonsensical pantomime conversations with the equally inauthentic ensemble member next to you whenever there is a lull in the scene in focus.
"Yet true ensemblists know the freedom in using your imagination to create a new character entirely your own. Every show is a new opportunity for bold choices, imagined relationships, and ludicrous backstories! Ensemble acting is still acting. Plus, nothing is better than creating quirky onstage moments with your fellow cast mates: little inside jokes that not one audience member is likely to notice but are loads of fun."
- Ava McDonald