Steven Sabel's Twist on the Trade: The Connections We Make


Steven Sabel

Steven Sabel

Writer



When not practicing government-mandated social distancing, actors tend to be some of the most social people you can find, both on and off the job. From standing in line to audition at a cattle-call, to table reads, to rehearsal processes, the entire world of creating theater or cinematic art requires actors to be “social.” Add to the mix the after-rehearsal bar gatherings, wrap parties, opening night or premiere galas, and closing cast parties, and you find that social distancing is impossible for working actors.

Sometimes black box theater and indie film projects call on actors to quite literally be on top of each other in confined spaces that have been converted into makeshift dressing rooms, green rooms, and performance locations. Factor in love scenes and the social connectivity goes through the roof!

There is still no telling how the COVID-19 lockdown will forever change the dynamic of artists creating their art in limited spaces with limited resources. Perhaps when the threat has ended, it will be business as usual for small storefront theaters and backroom indie film projects. Perhaps new mandates will require an end to the type of close-quarters we have all worked in from time to time. Only time will tell.

In practicing our craft, we find ourselves connected to so many other artists in so many ways: physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually at times. It will be interesting to see how much more cognizant we will be of the physical connections we have with each other in the Post Covid Age.

When actor life resumes, perhaps stage managers will have to be more tolerant of actors missing rehearsal due to illness. They will certainly be adding massive amounts of hand sanitizer to their first aid kits and more hygiene talk in their backstage etiquette speeches. Dressing room divas may find new justification for demanding their own mirror space now. Love scenes may have to forever be cut from all scripts, and shared props eliminated during virus season. Let’s not even talk about rented and borrowed costume items. Wigs? Yuck!

If you’re smirking about the wigs line, that proves our artistic connections will not change. Our mutual love, appreciation, frustration, and anxieties about our art will remain the same. Our ability to create new and lasting bonds with our fellow artists will remain with us. I have connected with most of my closest friends in life through my craft. Some of those people I may never work with again, but they will always be treasured colleagues and lifelong friends.

The personal connections we make as artists sharing our art run the gamut of human relations. Mentors, friendships, family-like bonds, lovers, soulmates, and even sometimes enemies can be developed through working on a project together. In my lifetime, I have witnessed no fewer than 10 marriages result from relationships developed during the artistic process, and a few divorces as well. On at least one occasion, a divorce of two people led to a second marriage for one of them.

Then there are those awkward connections; the ones we sometimes don’t know how to break. Thanks to social media groups, we all have a string of project groups we are connected to down the sideline of our pages. If your list is anything like mine, some of those groups date back years. Forming a group page can be very helpful during the project to share information, contacts, schedules, etc. Yet, once the projects are over, there the groups awkwardly accumulate down the side of your page.

Sometimes a project is so fun or so successful, or so full of great people, the members of the group talk about the group continuing forever, reviving the show, working together again, or having regular get-togethers that almost never happen. Instead, every once in a while, someone from a past group will post something about the new project they are currently working on as a promotional effort which leads to additional awkward moments for everyone still connected to group. Do you ignore them? Do you respond and reopen that can of worms? Are you suddenly reminded to leave the group, but then hesitate because you don’t want the person to know you left the group right after they posted out of the blue after three years?

Nearly 150 productions into my career, I’ve found it’s best to cut ties where there are no true ties, and not be false about being further connected where you truly are not. There will be other “best cast ever” experiences in your life. There will be plenty of groups to add to the sideline of your page. The true lifelong relationships will continue to exist without the aid of the group, the stage manager on the project, or the director who brought you all together. You will still have your fondest memories of the project and the best people involved.

While you’re shut up inside during this historically unprecedented time of isolation, practice a little social media distancing and clean up your groups list. Reach out to any artists you worked with before whom you truly miss, and then archive that group or drop yourself out of it to make room for new groups, new experiences, and new connections to come in the Post Covid-19 Age.

Steven Sabel
Steven Sabel has more than 30 years experience in theatre production, including more than 20 years in production management. He is an award-winning producer and director with more than 130 successful productions to his credit. He also served for 12 years as a community journalist and newspaper editor, and he has 17 years experience as a theatre arts instructor for adult actors and younger students: www.bardforkids.com. His independent production company, STS Productions, has produced successful theatrical ventures in a wide variety of venues for more than 20 years. In 2010, Steven founded the Archway Theatre, where he serves as producing artistic director.
As the founding artistic director of the Redlands Shakespeare Festival, Steven managed the creation and foundation of the organization from the ground up, and served as both artistic director and executive director of the thriving organization for nine successful seasons.