Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to soak in all the applause onstage or to be the unsung hero of the backstage the decision to act or to tech is a hard one. Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself to make the decision:
1. Where can you best serve the story?
At our core, all thespians have the desire to bring stories to life. As an actor, I have jumped in to help with set movement, costume, props because I was there to help tell the story. Similarly, my former roommate and best stage manager ever has had to play up to four characters (hello college Shakespeare) because our company was too small for a full cast. Theatre is the most collaborative art form; we all should strive to set our preferences aside to make sure that we tell the best story possible.
2. What will help you grow as an artist?
If you have played Simon Stimson in Our Town three times might I suggest that for the fourth you ASM (and no, I don’t mean the onstage one). Though every show is a new production and allows you to approach acting in a different way, sometimes the best way is to get offstage! You can see theatre in a more holistic manner if you are not always so focused in on your character. Similarly, by acting when you typically are designing or directing, you allow yourself to focus in on one character’s choices. This helps me as a costumer–by acting, I exercise my character-choices muscle and help myself see the individuals that make up the company.
3. What brings you joy?
Ultimately, if you do not have fun running around in utter darkness for ten seconds trying to change scenes or if getting up in front of two hundred people to bare your soul, then don’t do it. While you should never rule something completely out before trying it, we call it a play for a reason: you and the audience are meant to enjoy it. There are much easier things one can do and be miserable than theatre. And this can change as you grow as an artist. You might start acting and end up going into design instead (like I did).
Experiencing multiple views of the theatre allows you to be a more well-rounded artist. There doesn’t have to be a true “either-or” if you go about it with an open mind. If you are looking for a black and white answer to this question, this is the closest thing I can offer: