Singing Librarian flashbacks: Shouting!

One of my favourite lines in The Pajama Game comes from the female chorus during one of the songs.  The leading lady has been denying that she has feelings for the factory’s new superintendent (in a musical, a sure and certain sign that she most certainly does have feelings for him) and states “When I fall in love, there’ll be no doubt about it, cuz you will know from the way that I shout it!”  The girls wait for the slightest of moments and respond “You’re shouting…”  It makes me smile every time.  And shouting has become something that my stage personae do an awful lot of.

It all started many years ago when I was in Sixth Form (post-compulsory education at age 16-18 for my non-British readers), back before mobile phones were ubiquitous and before we got all dotcommed up.  One of my subjects was Theatre Studies, and one of the plays we were studying was Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.  Our teachers wisely decided that one of the best ways to get us to appreciate the texts we were studying from as many angles as possible was to get us to perform them.  I was due to be directing My Mother Said I Never Should, but one of the other guys dropped out of school and I was transferred over to play Torvald Helmer instead.  Now, I have always been somewhat quiet and rather reserved, and this would soon present quite a problem for us.

Torvald is a character who finds himself hemmed in by societal expectations and ideas of the roles men and women are meant to play (he is affected just as much as his wife Nora famously is, though perhaps not so dramatically) and for much of the play, his emotions are kept under wraps as he acts out what he believes is expected of him.  However, after a shocking discovery, he snaps and confronts his wife over her actions.  Actions which probably saved him from ruin, but actions which were not following society’s norm.  Brandishing a letter, I was supposed to storm in and yell at her. The lines were something like “What is this? Do you know what is in this letter?”  When we first reached that point in rehearsals, I walked into the room, caught my leading lady’s eye and opened my mouth. And we both laughed.  We did it again, I got a word out, and we laughed again.  This continued for some time, until we had recovered and the director had got rid of her desire to shoot us both.  But the scene refused to work.  I could not summon up the reserves of anger and desperation required and the shouting was pathetic.  We spent an age thinking of things that made the real me angry, but the best we could come up with was a list of minor irritations (incorrect apostrophes or Mystic Meg, for instance).  We avoided anything like eye contact to reduce the laughing which still happened from time to time.  Gradually, something began to happen.  I stopped worrying about the fact that me shouting was not an occurrence that cropped up in real life.  I started getting in to the scene.  The director put in a lot of work with us.  A lot.  And the moment began to work.  In performance, it definitely worked, to the regret of one of our teachers.  The next morning, he showed us the bruises from where his colleague had grabbed his arm in shock at that point – a combination of being swept up in the drama and being shocked at the volume and level of anger that was coming out of the quiet young man who was destined to become the Singing Librarian.

If we then fast-forward over a decade in which I acquired a couple of degrees, a small collection of email addresses and a job at the Library of Doom, we come to Kiss Me, Kate.  I was playing the small role of Ralph, the stage manager of the show-within-a-show.  Having stage-managed in real life, I know that those who do this job are, when the show is running, normally very quiet (when the audience is not present, on the other hand, stage managers often need to make themselves heard…).  Ralph, however, was anything but.  Most of my lines were shouted, as he got cross with the ensemble, some uninvited guests backstage and the leading man and lady.  Indeed, the whole show began with me shouting – I would wander on to stage with my clipboard, notice something was wrong, gesture to the men in the fly tower to remove something and shout a sarcastic “thank you!”  The pièce de résistance came in a scene with the two main actors, who were arguing backstage.  Ralph came running on and delivered the line “Will you be quiet!” at the top of his voice.  The very top.  No holds barred.  Then, a few seconds of silence filled with a glare, and at a perfectly normal volume “There is a show on stage.”  It is probably the funniest thing I’ve done in a show so far, and was a marvellous challenge, as the three of us had to remain completely straight-faced.  The line got louder and louder through rehearsals and the show week – I kept checking that I wasn’t going too far, and was told to keep it up, so I did.  I rather lost my voice after the show was over, but it was worth it.

After that, my fate was sealed.  Shouting is required, certainly in any shows I do with the same people as Kiss Me, Kate.  There is a standing joke that I am only allowed to audition for shouting roles, and some of my colleagues will check with me that shows involve shouting before they will come.  I have shouted in anger, fear, and frustration.  I have shouted to make myself heard.  I have shouted at the whole cast, at street gangs, at ship’s captains, at drunkards, at loved ones and at the world in general.  I have been disguised as another character simply in order to do some shouting.  I have become almost as much the Shouting Librarian as the Singing Librarian.  And yet, I still do not shout in any other context.  Here follows a rundown of my post-Kate shouting highlights:

My Fair Lady. Freddy Eynsford-Hill is not known for shouting.  So he didn’t shout.  But the director still wanted me to shout because in rehearsals it’s such fun, and because he thought the chorus would miss me yelling at them.  At the end of ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?’, he wanted the chorus to leave the stage for a reason, rather than just wandering off because they weren’t needed any more.  So, enter the Singing Librarian from stage left.  Having already made one brief appearance as Freddy, I was heavily bundled up in a big coat, a hat and a scarf in the guise of a market manager.  On I wandered, and saw the chorus making a mess of the place.  Wanting to get on with closing up, the market manager got them out of the way the best way he knew how – by shouting.  “Go on, get out of it!” or something along those lines.  A little pointless, but it made the director and the cast happy.

Rodgers With an H.  Poor old Richard Rodgers found Larry Hart rather frustrating at times, and ended up shouting at him at one point.  You could probably also call some of my singing in the ‘Soliloquy’ shouting!

West Side Story.  Both Doc and Officer Krupke shouted.  Krupke did so from the back of the auditorium and came charging down the steps, ranting as he went.  He was a loud character in general, but much of his volume came from blowing his police whistle rather than the shouting.  Doc, on the other hand, was a gentle soul.  But he interrupted the young Jets as they were attacking and (arguably) attempting to rape Anita – this was too much for him, and he snapped.  Several members of the cast reported that his lines “You make this world lousy” (angry, but quiet), “Get out of here!” (big shout) were among their favourites in the show.

Then there were two close-but-no-cigar shows.  First, Titanic.  Harold Bride was another gentle soul, bless him.  However, while he was desperately sending out the CQD distress call, he was interrupted by somebody. “Go bother the captain!” he snapped.  Unfortunately, he was talking to the captain.  Oops.  This wasn’t a full-blown shout, just a moment of irritation with a slightly raised volume.  Then, there was Aladdin.  The Genie had a big BOOMING voice and was considerably louder than the other characters on stage.  I know this created exciting issues at the sound desk, but I’m not sure that it really counts as shouting.  More like extreme projection.

The Pirates of Penzance.  Good old Major General Stanley (emphasis on the ‘old’ there).  He was a feisty man (even if one reviewer described my take on the character as ‘in declining health’) who was determined to get his way, and really didn’t care how many pirates or policemen he had to shout at in order to do so.  A particular highlight was his frustrated yelling of “yes, but you don’t GO” when the policemen were singing a song about going off to fight their foes but doing nothing about it. 

And now I’m rehearsing for two different shows to be performed over the next two weeks, which are like unto musical chalk and cheese.  Unsurprisingly, I’ll be shouting in both of them.  Prez in The Pajama Game has a bit of a short temper.  This is due, I think, to his perception that nobody takes him seriously.  Which is fair enough – nobody does take him seriously, and they are quite right not to.  He shouts at a few people when they doubt him, and he also shouts a bit when giving speeches.  I suspect nobody has trained him in the art of projecting his voice. Christopher, my delightful character in When Midnight Strikes, on the other hand, gets just a touch emotional when it appears his life may be about to fall apart.  There is, I think, a potential for violence in him which runs relatively close to the surface, but is kept under control.  It begins to emerge vocally as the evening progresses. This can cause a bit of difficulty – my fellow cast members are not used to me shouting, and some still find it funny due to the contrast with the mild-mannered Clark Kent-type demeanour I try to carry off when out of character.  But that’s fine.  We have a week to get over the amusement factor.  That’s got to be long enough. Surely?

I honestly don’t know where my reserves of volume come from, and cannot advise people on how to unlock their inner shout.  However, I am sure that a large part of it comes from breaking through inhibitions and just plain going for it.  Far too much practice means that I can shout without it hurting my voice the way it did in Kiss Me, Kate.  Again, I can’t explain it, but there is a definite need to be careful when shouting.  It’s probably a good thing that I don’t indulge in day-to-day shouting.  I save it for its proper place – on the stage.


Related posts:

    • Trish
    • March 6th, 2010

    I like the sentence “We spent an age thinking of things that made the real me angry, but the best we could come up with was a list of minor irritations (incorrect apostrophes or Mystic Meg, for instance).” 🙂

  1. I’m very glad you don’t “indulge in day to day shouting”!

  2. I really am going to have t organise a trip down to see you one of these days. Perform, I mean. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy meeting the real SL, of course.

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