Rehearsal ups (and downs)


Rehearsals for amateur shows are strange things, often.  You never quite know what the atmosphere will be like as a great many different people gather together for a common purpose, some more enthusiastically than others, to create and improve a show.  A wonderful time can be had by all, in which very little is achieved, or a great deal of work can be done by a group of moody people, or anything in between.  The exact mix of people present can affect matters – is a cast member sick?  is the wardrobe mistress present, taking measurements?  is it the choreographer’s night off?  A particular moment can stump everyone and consume the whole rehearsal.  Some people are kept busy all night, while others can (if things are badly planned, or good plans go awry) sit around doing nothing.  You can have a collective breakthrough or a collective nervous breakdown.  As April ended, I had a particularly interesting rehearsal experience.

At the very tail end of May, I’ll be in a show about the wonderful Richard Rodgers, to be performed at the Whitstable Playhouse (book your tickets now, all who desire to see it).  It’s a strange show for me, as I’m playing said Mr Rodgers in a sort of featured capacity, which means that I don’t tend to be on with the ensemble very much other than at the beginning and end of each act, where I lead the cast in song.  However, as I have been asked to be at almost every rehearsal, I have stood in for missing members of the male ensemble, to the point where I know the words and choreography for almost every number, often with slight variations according to which particular man I’m standing in for.  This is a great deal of fun, but can be rather confusing.

As part of the show, I sing Carousel‘s fantastic ‘Soliloquy’ part way through Act Two. This is a privilege and a challenge, as it’s an incredibly powerful piece which has to be truly acted and truly sung with all the heart and soul that the performer can muster. It scares me and excites me at the same time, and there’s one part which I know I’m not getting perfectly right. It’s just seven words – ‘the way to get round any girl’ – and I’m working on it, I really am. I refuse to listen to a recording of it, as I want to do it my way, not John Raitt’s way, not Gordon MacRae’s way and certainly not Edmund Hockridge’s way. I shall just have to keep plunking the line out on the piano until it finally sinks in properly.

So there I was, the second time I’ve done this number in rehearsals (and only three days after I first rehearsed it with the director and musical director). I sang the line, which wasn’t perfect but wasn’t off key, and heard a voice at the side of the room saying “that was nearly right.”  It was the oldest member of the ensemble. I felt like turning round and telling him that I was well aware of its ‘nearly’ status, that I was struggling with it and would do my best to reach his standards of perfection in every rehearsal. I felt like making a similar comment the next time he had to sing. I felt like deflating like a tired old balloon, my confidence in the number punctured. But I didn’t. I carried on with the song, though I fluffed the next bit of business due to having been pulled out of my train of thought by his comment. I gathered momentum again and continued to the end, to be greeted by a cheer from the rest of the cast. That was lovely, unnecessary and heartwarming. A little later, a couple of the ladies in the cast were angry when they realised that I’d heard the man’s comment. They expressed the opinion that his words were completely out of line, and thought I should have stuck my fingers up at him, but I’m a terribly refined young man, so that had not crossed my mind. I am do pour everything I have into the number, and the comments I’ve received suggest that it’s showing in a good way, which is very exciting.

Less exciting is what happens after I finish the song. Both times I’ve really done it as if in performance, it has had an unexpected side effect. A huge headache, of the sort that makes me feel as though the back of my head is about to explode. The feeling lasts for a few minutes and is horrible – though not as horrible, and certainly not as messy, as it would be if my head really did explode. It’s probably worth it to give the best performance I can, but it’s also strange and perturbing. I don’t recall getting any singing-related headaches before, not even belting out the first tenor parts in Carmina Burana or Rutter’s Gloria, which both reach into higher parts of my range than ‘Soliloquy’. A little research suggests that it’s a result of being an untrained singer, and thus not knowing how best to control my voice. I had best remedy that.

Having experienced discouragement, annoyance, encouragement and pain within a few short minutes, I was then paid another big compliment by the ensemble (who, it has to be said, have to work a heck of a lot harder in this show than I do). During the coffee break, a group apparently accosted the poor director and said they were unhappy with the end of the show. Why? Because they thought I should be out front on my own receiving applause for my hard work. Now, I hate curtain calls. I find them embarrassing and awkward. But that was incredibly touching to hear. I left the rehearsal feeling as though I was floating. Believe me, people involved with shows don’t normally complain because somebody else is in the spotlight too little. Quite the opposite, in fact. To know that my talented co-performers esteem me enough to ask that a fuss is made of me at the curtain call is absolutely incredible and strangely humbling.

It was a strange rehearsal for me, emotionally. I suspect it’s one that I’ll remember for some time. Standing in for ensemble members is a lot of fun, singing the songs is a joy, but the mutual respect, support and encouragement top everything else.  Perhaps I’m just letting my ego get the better of me, but the evening’s actions made me happy.  Rehearsals can be funny old things, but sometimes, just sometimes, they can be uplifting.

  1. Mr Oldest Member of the Ensemble should keep his comments to himself! What an unhelpful man.

    I’m glad the other members of the cast were supportive and encouraging, though. It’s lovely when people you like and respect so obviously like and respect you too, so I’m not surprised you felt happy!

    Hope you find a way of singing the solo without getting the horrible headache.

  1. February 21st, 2010

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