The Green Room: What can you learn from being in a flop?
Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Jon I suppose we should say at the outset that the definition of what constitutes a ‘flop’ is different for different people – what we’re talking about here would, I guess, be some kind of combination of bad notices, bad word-of-mouth, empty houses and perhaps closing earlier than anticipated.
Vivian I’ve learned many things from being in many flops. Firstly, friends are to be found on every production.
Peter At the risk of being pious: remain professional. Even if you’re in a terrible show.
Rosemary Stick together.
Ros Yes, stick together as a company. Every audience, no matter how small, is still an audience. And at least you’re in work.
John Remember that this is a job that pays money. It’s probably not your fault if it’s not good, so don’t worry too much – at least you can pay your rent!
Peter Don’t give up. Keep trying to improve.
Vivian Creatively speaking, failure can be a great help. To learn what doesn’t work can be as useful as knowing what works. It’s the opposite side of the coin.
Eoghan Plenty of writer friends of mine are big believers in writing until you finish, even if it’s all rubbish, because at least you then have something to work on. It’s similar to approaching work as an actor.
Jon I was in a very bad show at a major theatre and it was actually a load of fun. Once we’d got the terrible show out of the way each night, that is. What I’m saying is we used to get very drunk.
Peter I was chastised by other actors once for saying a show was terrible. But confronting the fact that it was terrible meant that I kept trying to make it better, whereas they complacently kept churning out the same rubbish.
Jon That’s a tricky one to negotiate.
Peter I was younger and more tactless.
Vivian To go out and act eight times a week in front of an angry or uninterested audience forces a tenacity, a compassionate stubbornness – qualities needed when you are out of work.
Albert This is when we just have to treat it as a job. I write my fee on my wrist so I can glance at it.
Jon It’s an important point, though. What I remember from being in the awful show I referred to was that it was important to keep reminding ourselves we still had to give it everything – even though everyone knew it was dreadful.
John It’s hugely depressing being in a bad show, though. The little person on your shoulder constantly going, ‘Eek, this is bad.’
Vivian It is very lonely, being in a show that isn’t doing well. Even with the comradeship of your fellow cast members.
Jon The awful part of being in a flop is the gradual realisation during previews that it is bad. That’s something that’s been magnified since social media came along – you might now have the experience of seeing 10 negative tweets and no positive ones within minutes of the curtain coming down on the first show.
Ros We all love a subdued press night party!
Peter Trying to persuade your friends not to come…
Ros Keeping company morale up…
Jon I’m so glad my experience I mentioned took place before everyone had smartphones. The idea of googling our terrible reviews at the party…
John I had an experience a couple of years ago at a press-night party where the producer read a bad review, got drunk and started reciting poetry.
Vivian It’s the idea of failure again and its relationship to creativity. And how can we ‘afford’ to fail in a capitalist society with anxious producers hovering behind each production. There is great money to be made and lost on a show. Therefore our relationship with failure becomes an anxious one.
Rosemary I’ve been in only one flop, but it was a joyous cast and bonding experience. It was a great show but the critics hated it.
Peter A really nice company can be fun even in a flop.
Jon I think socially it can be as much fun to be in a ‘disaster’ as a triumph.
Rosemary We were depressed for a bit, then we all just made a decision to have a blast.
Albert Remember that a lot of audiences enjoy seeing a good flop. I collect musical turkeys: Carrie, Fields of Ambrosia, Moby Dick… All great evenings and terrible shows.
John A musical turkey sounds like a good Secret Santa gift.
Jon In some cases it can be more depressing watching an unsuccessful show than being in one – taking your seat in the stalls of a big Matcham theatre with 12 other people.
Peter There was a famous production of Gone With the Wind with a horse that kept crapping. Noel Coward was reported to have told a friend: “Two problems could be solved at once if they stuck the juvenile girl up the horse’s arse.”
Albert I thought he said: “Cut the second act and the child’s throat”, but there we go.
Vivian To feel that you aren’t doing the best work, for whatever reason, ensures that the unspoken contract between performer and audience, the give and take, is never fully realised. It leaves you feeling rather bereft. And the audience livid, no doubt.
Eoghan It’s important to work through the mistakes. Ideally, those mistakes don’t end in a flop but, if they do, you can at least view it as some of the rubbish you need to put in before building upon it to create something better.