On a recent visit to London, I managed to watch 3 plays. One was a performance of Shakespeare's 'The Merry Wives of Windsor', by young actors from the Globe Theatre Company. The second was Shakespeare's 'Titus Andronicus' by the Royal Shakespeare Company which had a galaxy of well known stars on stage, including one senior person who is perhaps one of the top contemporary Shakespearean actors in UK. The third was a production of the highly acclaimed Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, showcasing phenomenal physical acting, stunning stagecraft and the latest theatre technology.
While each play had its own merits and was truly entertaining, what stood out for me as the most memorable and satisfying experience was the first play by the Globe Theatre Company. There were no stars. Only actors, totally committed and aligned to the play. They worked in perfect unison and sitting in the audience I experienced the play as a whole, and the brilliance of Shakespeare, on the lawns of Wadham College, with three simple tents that made up the set.
Titus Andornicus showcased brilliant physical theatre and some astonishing set and light design. However, I found myself distracted by what was obviously occasional additional flashes of self-projection by the stars. The audience responded to these flourishes with applause, but it took attention away from the play and the characters, to the actors themselves.
The Lion King was superbly entertaining, but every now and then my attention drifted from the play and the characters to the technological brilliance.
The purpose of the productions was to entertain the audience and all three productions acheived that purpose admirably. But the most complete theatre experience came from the young actors of Globe Theatre without the stars, and without the aid of advanced technology.
Similarly, in the very challenging theatre productions that are part of the "CorporateTheatre" workshops, a team were everyone is involved in the process of co-creation comes up with the best performances. Teams where a senior person takes charge on the basis of her hieararchy, or when there is a person who everyone looks up to for direction by virtue of having performed on stage somewhere, or having attended a theatre workshop before, very often end up delivering less. In such cases, the team places the onus of leadership on one person and expects most of the decisions or instructions to come from them.
This truth was reinforced very powerfully during the recent World Cup Football tournament, when after the finals, the headlines stated: "Portugal had Ronaldo. England had Rooney. Uruguay had Suarez. But Germany had a Team" !
This in no way detracts from the role and recognition of star performers to a team's effectiveness. At the end of the production when the participants in the workshop are asked who were the extraordinary contributors to the team's success, they have no difficulty in identifying the stars. The person identified as the 'star' may not have been doing a major role from the audience perspective. In one production featuring the execution of a freedom fighter, the 'star' contributor was standing as the lifeless scaffolding from which the hangman's noose was strung. She was the one who had, according to the team, made the most significant contribution to the success of the production.
As has been emphasised several times in my blog posts (www.theatreforlearning.blogspot.com), recognising and rewarding star performance is important. As long as the team has a significant say in deciding who were the star contributors, the stars as well as the teams get motivated and energised.