Alexis Milligan

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A Blog Post

“The same people, sharing the same space, telling the same story.”

There is a wonderfully simple theatre game (many people know it) called “Count to 10”.  All of the participants stand in a circle with their eyes closed and count to 10. Simple enough, but the catch is that only one voice can say one number at a time.

In playing this game the group of individuals must come together to count to 10. It isn’t about “me” saying “my number” when “I” want to, it’s about working together to achieve the goal.  It seems to me that the information that comes from playing this “theatre game” has a huge relevance to theatre but never has a chance to practically be applied. So, what is the knowledge that we can gain from this simple game?

Well, first and foremost this game puts us all on the same page; working together to achieve a unified goal. It goes beyond the single part and asks us to give over to the game, to listen to the group and trust that we can achieve the goal if we work together. The role of the actor is to search beyond “this is what I do”, that performance work is not about “the part that I play” but about what we achieve when we create and play together. It is something bigger then us, and goes beyond what “I” can accomplish as an individual.

But, there is one massive disconnect in the application of this principal to our theatre world – too many times we are in shows where we’re not all on the same page, truly knowing what the task is, and what game we are playing.

So then I look to my director.

To put trust in the director who is guiding you means you give over to the work. I will happily and quite delightfully count to 10 but what is our task in this scene? In this play? What is the game? What are playing at, and what do we hope to achieve, not only for us as the players, but also for the audience who are participating as witnesses to this game, to this story?

It might be that we don’t have enough time in rehearsals. It might be that we lack the awareness to let go of our individual work in order to give over to the whole, but if we are all playing a different game, if we are all only telling our part of the story then the audience is scrambling to put the pieces together, or they disengage because they have no reason to participate.

But they want to! They have bought tickets, paid money, to sit in a dark room and be completely desensitized; they are in the most powerful place of being ready to receive all of the information we choose to give to them. So we must choose to give them the best possible experience we can. As actors and as directors and designers and technicians, it’s not enough to just say my number when I feel like it. It’s not enough to ignore the massive responsibility we have to do everything we can to come together.  But, as individuals we must be brought together. We need to know the game, either collectively or through leadership.

A conductor conducts the symphony to lift the music off the page, but all the musicians have agreed that they will follow the baton. If the conductor says: “That note is out of tune”, or “I need the sound to be warmer” then I must tune my instrument, I must play warmer. I can’t say – “Sorry, I don’t tune that way”, or “I don’t do warm” because then I have basically said: “I don’t play this game”, so then – why are we playing? Is it only for ourselves? Are we only worried about the sound we make? Is there such a lack of trust in our own abilities, or the director, or the group, that the game (or the music) becomes too frightening to play?

But what if we give over to the work? What if our collective goal is to count to 10? What if we understand and trust that the actors, directors, designers, and technicians are all in the circle counting to 10 as well? Because the awesome sensation that ripples through the group when 10 is achieved is palpable and everyone reacts to it. We cheer, we celebrate, we are relieved and it becomes the best story ever!

Working hard to achieve something that is beyond our individual part can be the best story ever – if we can find the strength to let the game live and allow something as simple as the number 10 to become a living thing, and most importantly that we are able to trust that we will all count together


Also, this is an article written by Hugo Dann for Wayves Magazine, which prompted a lot of discussion about theatre and the role of theatre. It is a reaction to a production of Dr.Faustus recently produced in Halifax. It is an interesting perspective, and worth a read.


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