Listen to Your Elders

Rebecca over at GreyZelda Land unearthed this story about the unearthing of a code for being a healthy member of a theatre company, a code inscribed on yellowing paper buried in the personal papers of a deceased actor and found by the executrix of her estate in 2001.

You may recognize the actor in question. She has one of those fabulous utilitarian faces that puts her in that “I totally know her, couldn’t tell you where from” category. As a matter of fact, she graced the cover of a book called “Who is that?”, dedicated to those performers that toil in secondary roles but never take the lead. Character actors. Workhorses. The actor was Kathleen Freeman, among the shows she worked on were The Lucy Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Singin’ in the Rain, The Fly, eleven Jerry Lewis classicsthe list goes on and on…and on. Seriously, check out this career. Kathleen trained in the theatre.

Her parents were in vaudeville, and so this code of ethics originated from an early exposure to the theatre, which was apparently catching. The code was written in 1945 as Kathleen, in her early twenties, was establishing a small theatre in LA, a group that was to become the Player’s Ring, a popular theatre-in-the-round that turned out a lot of West Coast acting talent, Jack Nicholson among them.

Her company’s list of theatrical rules-to-live-by is tremendous, it’s like a guide to maintaining a healthy and harmonious theatre company. Here are a few of the highlights:

– I shall play every performance with energy, enthusiasm and to the best of my ability regardless of size of audience, personal illness, bad weather, accident, or even death in my family.

– I shall not let the comments of friends, relatives or critics change any phase of my work without proper consultation; I shall not change lines, business, lights, properties, settings or costumes or any phase of the production without consultation with and permission of my director or producer or their agents, and I shall inform all people concerned.

– I shall respect the play and the playwright and, remembering that “a work of art is not a work of art until it is finished,” I shall not condemn a play while it is in rehearsal.

and my personal favourite…

– I shall forego the gratification of my ego for the demands of the play.

Great stuff, and a must read. Click through to Rebecca’s site for the list in its entirety. If you’ve worked in theatre for a while it will totally resonate, if you’re just getting into it the code will prove invaluable. It’s a solid foundation built by people in it for the long haul.

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