Actor-Musicianship – Combining skills to communicate more meaning.
What is Actor-musicianship you might ask yourself? To be an actor-musician you need two things, one: play a musical instrument, two: be passionate about acting. But it’s more than that…
At school, we are taught that musicians sit in the pit below and the performers are up on the stage. But why? Why constrain ourselves to the parameters of established theatrical norms. Speak to any actor, director, playwright alive today and they will tell you theatre is for the now. For the moment we are in. The moment we stop pushing the boundaries of what theatre can, and should be, is the moment it dies. Theatre by its very nature MUST BE RELEVANT!
Is Actor-Musicianship a relevant art form? Well, let us look at the practicalities. As more and more of us get our storytelling fix from Netflix, who wants to go to the theatre anymore? What reason do we have to get out. There is no doubt that numbers of theatre goers, especially in Hong Kong is dwindling, and this means directors are looking to cut costs. It’s a simple idea, take the musicians, the actors and make them one.
Now you’re thinking well, that’s depressing, well it is, and it isn’t. Let’s take a look at London or The West End, where Actor-musicianship is at the forefront of a steadily progressing, and wholly exciting (and still relatively new) artform. Look at the shows such as Once, War Horse, Buddy, or John Doyle’s take on Sweeney Todd starring Patti LuPone. All of these shows on in 2019 use to varying degrees the actors as instrumentalists as well as singers and dancers.
To say that actor-musicianship is about cutting costs does it a huge disservice because it isn’t even that new as an idea. Take the character of Feste from Twelfth Night. If that’s not a character begging to be given a lute or a wooden flute, I don’t know who is?
Music has always been a fundamental part of theatre. It creates atmosphere, tension, emotional weight and allows the audience glimpses or deep dives into a character’s emotional state. Actors are masters of using their voices and bodies as tools to convey emotional meaning. Even a simple prop if used correctly by an actor is just another tool to convey sentiment. So why not give them another tool, why not give them tools that by their very nature are designed to create sounds that cut to an audience’s emotional core.
If you have never seen a play or musical that uses actor-musicianship, I urge you to go and find one. Find out for yourself how this artform might go some way to inspire a whole new generation of theatre practitioners and goers. If you play a musical instrument, pick up some acting skills, and vice versa. I urge all young artists to broaden their aspirations and career opportunities and learn to be innovative, it’s what performance is all about!
If you are interested in becoming professional, be sure to look into the many London or USA based drama schools offering BA (hons) degree courses in Actor Musicianship.