Posts Tagged ‘ performing ’

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.

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Audiences – a vital ingredient

Theatre does not exist without an audience.  Live performance of any kind is only really performance if it is being watched – if not, then it might as well be a rehearsal, a game or a private jam session.  This is not simply due to the ego of those acting, singing or dancing, but it is a result of the vital role that audiences play. 

At any theatrical performance, the audience can enhance or detract from the production on offer.  Mobile phones, flash photography and random talking can be distracting (sometimes dangerous) for the cast and irritating for fellow theatregoers.  A badly timed noise can break the spell in a tense or moving moment, puncturing the suspension of disbelief that has been built up and reminding everyone that they are, after all, watching people pretending to be other people in a small, dark, warm building with mildly uncomfortable seats. 

For the actor, the response of the audience can be vital.  Continue reading

Cooling down

It has been just over a week now since the final performance of Hot Mikado, and I am still getting people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed the show.  Part of this was due to the standard of the performances, apparently, but part of it was because the show has a real fee-lgood factor.  Bright colours, lively music, a happy ending and even (in our production) a shower of confetti during the finale – all ingredients which added up to a cast having great fun and audiences leaving with big smiles on their faces.

We didn’t please everyone, of course, though you never do.  But I had a fantastic time, we had a lot of laughs backstage and we heard a lot of laughs coming from the auditorium.  The highlight for me was the act one finale, which was a sequence where for all intents and purposes I stopped being my character and was simply ‘a gentleman of Japan’, merrily celebrating the impending nuptials of the romantic leads and/or reviling Katisha, the older woman.  It was a joyous explosion of music and dance, and I always looked forward to the moment when the men strutted out with their tambourines, heralding a shift in time signature and hot, hot gospel.  The various facial expressions in the audience were a joy to behold, changing from horror (there must be many people who had traumatic tambourine incidents as children) and puzzlement at first to excitement and exuberance as we worked towards the finale’s climax.  Dancing my bright orange socks off and exclaiming ‘Joy, joy, joy!  Joy reigns everywhere!’, I could not help but grin, and I’m certain our enthusiasm spilled out into the audience.

Joy really did reign everywhere around.

We are gentlemen of Japan!

What happens if you cross the satirical wit and sparkling melody of Gilbert & Sullivan with flashy waistcoats, tap dance, close harmony and a whole bucket of Brylcreem? You get Hot Mikado, that’s what you get, and that’s what I’m doing all this week, up at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury.

I play a fellow who delights in the name of Pish-Tush, the coolest Gentleman of Japan (or at least, that’s how he sees himself). I spend much of the show either sneering at the other characters in disdain or dancing my bright orange socks off – some of the time, I’m even doing both, which is an exciting challenge. The musical style of the show is rooted in the 1940s, with blues, swing, scat and scorching hot gospel combining to give the score an uplifting ‘zing’. The ‘Three Little Maids’ sing their number beautifully, in a close harmony arrangement which sounds like an Andrews Sisters number, and Katisha, the femme fatale, displays an amazing gospel voice which utterly blows me away even as Pish-Tush mocks and sneers at her.

I’m fairly certain that this show gives me more to do than any other recent show, even though Pish really is the most minor of the principals. In addition to a male trio where I take the top line and a quartet where I take the bass line (a ridiculous range from top note to bottom note is required!), I’m involved with all of the chorus numbers which gives me a wide variety of harmonic and choreographic challenges – my heart races so fast at the end of the first act, simply due to the high energy of the dance routine, that I worry for my health. Thankfully, I sit the big tap dance out (it’s really not in my skill set), and instead provide backing vocals for the number as I kowtow to the Mikado (the only person Pish-Tush remotely respects). My head is spinning with everything I have to remember, and there are still a couple of tricky corners which I’m not 100% confident about. Seven syllables of ‘Swing a Merry Madrigal’ will probably haunt my nightmares forever – how hard can it really be to sing “Hey bob-a-ree-bob swee-dee-pow”? Harder than you’d think! Still, exhausting as it is, I’m absolutely loving it. Putting it on before an audience for the next five days will be a complete and utter joy.

Singing Librarian flashback: Trying to make an entrance

In most shows, every performer will make at least one entrance, unless they are on stage when the lights go up and remain there until they are no longer required, which would be a sad state of affairs.  It may be as part of a group, or as an individual.  It may be unobtrusive or it may be spectacular.  It may be from the wings or it may be from above or below the stage.  Sometimes, and perhaps trickiest of all, it can be from the auditorium itself.

It can be a strange feeling as an audience member when your safe, comfortable area on the other side of the footlights is invaded by a show’s characters.  It can be just as strange for the performers, entering into a strange limbo area that both is and is not part of the world you inhabit on stage.  For me, this has been part of the routine in four shows (that I remember, anyway): Grease, Kiss Me, Kate, Rodgers With an H and most recently West Side Story.  In Grease, the two gangs made their first entrance zooming down through the school hall’s central aisle and singing the rude version of Rydell High’s school song.  In Rodgers With an H, logistics meant that occasional entrances and exits had to be through the auditorium to avoid colliding with other performers, though this was a very short distance, so didn’t really matter all that much.  Kiss Me, Kate involved slightly longer in the auditorium, as I appeared there at the beginning of ‘Cantiamo D’amore’, singing rather high notes very loudly in a ridiculous costume before joining the rest of the chorus on stage. All three presented their own challenges of various kinds, but it is the most recent example, West Side Story, that is the most interesting.

Regular readers may recall that I played, somewhat improbably, both Officer Krupke and Doc in a production of the show in August.  In addition to the joys of changing costume and make-up (as well as voice, stance and so forth) between characters, the staging of the show presented fun and games in the second act.  At this point in the plot, the main characters have been scattered following the disastrous rumble which kills off two of the key players in the tragedy.  A-rab and Baby John, members of the Jets, encounter one another in the streets and share some of their anxieties before they are rudely interrupted by the arrival of rubbish policeman Officer Krupke, who wants to see them ‘hauled down to the station house’.  This entrance was made by crashing through one of the sets of auditorium doors about 20 rows back from the stage.  A blow on Krupke’s trusty police whistle and a yell, and I then had to lumber down to the stage ready for a brief scene threatening the boys.  Before long, they turn the tables, cause him to tumble and scarper.  A little bit of comic peering around, and I then had to repeat my entrance in reverse, lumbering back up through the auditorium and out through the doors.  Then I had to race down through the foyer and bar, punch in an access code to the dressing rooms, race along the corridor to my own and change into Doc as quickly as a jolly quick thing, but that’s another story. 

By now, you may be wondering what the point of this tale is, anyway.  Other than the possibility of falling down the steps in the dark, or treading on an usher, which I very nearly did, what challenges could this entrance possibly present?  It is worth noting that this is one of my favourite ever entrances due to its high impact value, but it was actually the moments before the entrance which caused difficulty, and largely due to factors beyond my control.

The trickiest thing about making an entrance through the auditorium is timing, as it would spoil the illusion to betray your presence too soon.  And timing depends on being able to hear the action on stage, which is not always easy through a thick door.  Noise on your side of the door is therefore not particularly helpful.  Distant sounds of activity from the box office can be screened out, but other interventions are harder to deal with.  And other interventions there were, from someone who should have known better and from a member of the paying public.

The first was from the person who should have known better.  As I approached the door to the auditorium for one performance, it opened and out came an usher, who began to speak into her mobile phone before the door had fully closed behind her, organising her shopping trip for the next day.  She didn’t move very far from the doorway, and seemed utterly unconcerned about the presence of a young chap in a hot and heavy police uniform complete with truncheon and whistle.  Even after drawing the curtains around the door area which prevent light from leaking in, it was still a struggle to hear the Jet boys over the travails of her socioeconomic life.  I don’t know how long it took her to work out which shop was the best meeting place, and whether they should have a coffee first, but these important decisions must have been made at some point between my dramatic entrance and dramatic exit.  Now, never having been employed as an usher, I can’t be sure of these things, but…  Surely…  Surely, a job which requires you to be present in the auditorium at a live performance is a job where your mobile really ought to be switched off?

A couple of performances later in the run, and another effort was made to sabotage the entrance, but this time from a member of the paying public, who can be granted some leeway for having been kind enough to part with some hard-earned cash to watch the show.  On this particular occasion, I was in position a little earlier than normal.  As I waited for the action on stage to approach my entrance point, a gentleman appeared from the foyer area, having evidently felt the need to spend a penny or two.  He stopped in mild confusion when he saw me and asked whether I was about to go on.  Why, yes, I was.  I did have to wonder what else he thought I’d be doing in the corridor.  Was I listening, he asked.  Yes, I was.  He kindly volunteered to wait until my entrance to regain his seat, and I duly thanked him as I pressed my ear to the door, knowing that my cue was coming up, grasping my truncheon and positioning my whistle in my mouth.  There was a brief period of silence in the corridor, as the dialogue approached the crucial juncture, then he spoke again with astonishing insight, though a definite lack of good timing.  “It must be very difficult standing out here trying to hear what they’re saying.  Do you have to –”  Sadly, I don’t know what it was I may have had to do, as A-rab gave my cue line just as my new friend made his own speech.  Do I have to deal with many people talking when I’m trying to listen to something else?  Do I have to struggle to get into character when surrounded by heavy blue curtains?  Do I have to train hard to look quite so ridiculous in a uniform?  Tempting though it may have been to answer whatever question he wanted to pose, there was only one course of action that I really could follow.  As ever, I burst through the door, whistle blowing, and entered the scene.  However, I couldn’t help but reflect upon how easily everything could have been disrailed.  A loss of focus, concentration and character could so easily have followed, and certainly would have done if the lovely man had succeeded in drawing me into conversation.

Sometimes, making an entrance can be complicated by the most unexpected things – people.  But what would an actor do without them?

Quirky, but unspectacular

The writer of Book Calendar, a blog about books (among other things) from an American librarian and keen reader, tagged me with one of those memes which encourages bloggers to reveal random facts about themselves to the world.  So, first the rules of the meme, and then the results chez Singing Librarian.

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Mention the rules.
3. Tell six unspectacular quirks of yours.
4. Tag six bloggers by linking.
5. Leave a comment for each blogger.
6. There is no sixth rule, but I feel there really should be.

So.  Unspectacular quirks.  That’s an interesting one, as I tend to think of quirks as being fairly remarkable things, but remarkable does not necessarily equal spectacular.  I also need to make sure that I haven’t mentioned them before, as that would break the spirit, though not the letter, of the meme.

1 – Although I really don’t like tomatoes (or tomato sauce, or tomato soup or even Heinz baked beans), I am very fond of pizza.  Chicken, or pepperoni, or mixed meat, or ham and pineapple, or even vegetarian, pizza is great as long as it doesn’t have actual slices of tomato on it.  I’m told that the vile fruit contains some important nutritional thingummies, so I even feel vaguely virtuous when I eat it.

2 – I can survive quite happily in a messy office or bedroom, but there are certain things that just have to be tidy.  CDs for instance.  My cast recordings are arranged alphabetically by composer, then by show, then (if necessarily) chronologically by recording date for multiple recordings of the same show.  Releases by individual artists are filed alphabetically and classical recordings are arranged by composer.  Sometimes Sir Arthur Sullivan causes a minor problem as I try to define a line between classical and musical theatre, but otherwise my mind feels much happier with everything in the correct order.  I even rearrange CDs in shops if somebody has carelessly put something back in the wrong place.  It is important, though I have no idea why, when my general environment is approaching a state of entropy.

3 – I hate being late for anything, and have been known to make my watch run a few minutes fast in order to avoid this possibility.  Work, church, rehearsals, parties, it really doesn’t matter.  I will arrive early, and if necessary take a walk or three around the block until the appointed hour has truly arrived.  I am gradually managing to acclimatise to lateness, though, and will no doubt become spectacularly unreliable in a decade or two.

4 – My general male inability to remember what clothes people may have worn recently is quite pronounced.  A few days ago, I was wandering through the supermarket and realised that I had no idea what colour shirt I might have been wearing, as it was hiding underneath a jacket.  I don’t think this was a typical senior moment, just a demonstration of just how little impact clothes make on me.

5 – On stage, my most notable quirk is that I’m not a fan of either curtain calls or follow spots, which are often beloved by most performers, whether amateur or professional.  I find both of them rather embarrassing, perhaps because they are impossible to explain within the world of the show.  Singing and dancing can, if you accept the conventions, flow from heightened emotions, but follows spots really can’t.  I was very pleased that my ‘Soliloquy’ performance lacked a follow-spot – the lighting man and the director decided that it would ruin the song, which it certainly would have done.  Curtain calls are also odd things, particularly if a solo bow is called for – I always feel awkward, as it feels as though I am rudely demanding applause from the audience.  And yet, as an audience member, I generally appreciate the chance to clap my favourite performers loudly, and even give a cheer if I am particularly excited.  Double standards…

6 – I am far too indecisive.  It has taken me a very long time to post this because I could not decide what to put as my sixth unspectacular quirk, so in the end I decided that indecision itself had to go here.  Some people could argue that my inability to make a decision is actually a rather spectacular quirk, and I will indeed sometimes go out of my way to avoid making a choice.  I’m not talking about the really big decisions in life, though they don’t come easily.  I’m talking about the little ones.  Which book to read next, or what to have to drink.  Even whether to have anything to drink at all.  These things can bring me to a dead halt as my brain refuses to work with me, so a meal out can be a strange form of torture to my soul, albeit one that has a delicious aftertaste.

So there you have it, six quirks which may or may not be unspectacular.  Now for the tagging.

1 – Aphra, because even if the quirks are already known to readers of her blog, her explanations will be highly readable.  ‘Danger of eclectic shock’ is her tagline, and readers can certainly expect eclecticism.

2 – Helen.  I always enjoy reading her blog, but don’t comment as much as I should.  Musings here are generally concerned either with the act of writing or the actions of young Kiko, who I feel I know better than I know any toddlers that I actually encounter in everyday life.  Kiko certainly has quirks (in a good way!), so I can’t help wondering what Helen’s may be.

3 – mrspao.  I suspect that some, if not all, quirks could well be connected with either cats or knitting, but I’m interested regardless of whether this prediction is true. I should confess that I know mrspao in real life and knew her in a non-internet context before an internet one.

4 – Reed, who is one of the most articulate, amusing, readable writers I’ve encountered. Her writings are often on the subject of writing, and although I know she hasn’t blogged recently due to the perils of work/study/life balance, I’d love to see her do so again. With no obligation, of course. Feel free, Reed (and anyone else) to ignore my tagging. I’ve ignored a meme or to in my time.

5 – Music Man. Another currently silent blog, belonging to a fellow amateur thespian, though one further North than I.

6 – You, if you feel that you wish to share six unspectacular quirks with your readership.  I’m certainly interested (or is that nosy?) enough to read what you might like to write…

Finding my light

Every new show I do means learning new things.  Not just new lines, songs or dance steps, but new aspects of technique and stagecraft.  There is an awful lot to learn about doing theatre, or at least about doing it well, and I most certainly want to do it well.  My latest learning curve is to do with finding my light.

In our show (currently running) about the life and music of Richard Rodgers, I am frequently in a small pool of light on the stage.  Sometimes singing, sometimes engaged in a telephone conversation and sometimes addressing the audience directly.  It is considered important that the audience should be able to see me at these times, and the only way that will happen is if I can find my light.  I’m not quite sure how I have managed to go through quite so many musicals and operas without learning this, but it is something that I have struggled with this week.

Firstly, there is the exciting situation at the opening of the show, when the light is supposed to come up on me.  Only it didn’t on the first night.  It came up to my right and in front of me, as I had misjudged where it would appear.  I had to do an exciting little shimmy during the first lines of ‘With a Song in My Heart’ to get into position, which probably looked somewhat silly.  Even after my improvised movement, I wasn’t quite where I should be, but decided it would be too awful to try and move again.  There is now a little mark on the floor to show me where I should be.  I must just hope I can find it in the gloom!

Then, there was my misunderstanding about precisely where to stand.  I assumed that the centre of a pool of light was the ideal place to stand, but this is not the case.  As the lanterns are generally hung in front of the stage and the light is travelling downwards as well as towards the stage, it is actually wisest to stand right at the very front of the circle, where you can guarantee that your face (which, let’s face it, is probably what the audience most wants to look at in most cases) will be caught in the beam as it heads towards the stage floor.

There is a subtle art to finding light, which I am having to learn at speed.  It is important to be seen, but it is also important to be subtle about it, to move naturally into position without it looking like you are simply walking into the light, even if that is exactly what you’re doing.  The character should want to be standing there, rather than the actor.  It’s not easy, particularly trying to do it without looking at the floor, but there is one great help – heat.  Light, particularly the intensity of light produced by lanterns in the theatre, also equals heat, and this heat can be felt on the performer’s face if they look upwards.  There’s no guarantee that a warm face means that the top of your hair is caught in the light, but it’s a good indicator.

Stagecraft, whether it be finding light, covering for mistakes, adapting to different audiences, keeping in time with the musicians, projecting the voice or any one of a whole host of other things, does not come naturally.  It must be learned, and takes as much concentration as any other aspect of performing.  Now I know how to find my light.  Who knows what I’ll learn in the next show?

Cold taxis – cutting edge comedy?

Most theatrical productions include moments which mean more to the performers than to the audience – lines or bits of business which, for whatever reason, acquired particular resonance during rehearsals or performance.  Sometimes it may be because someone was struggling with something, so it becomes a shared joy when a moment finally works.  Sometimes it’s a choreographic moment which is universally loved, so that the wings get crowded with cast and crew watching every night.  Sometimes there’s a funny rehearsal story attached to a particular line.  And at other times, there is no reason for it at all.

In My Fair Lady this week, it is my lot to deliver one of this production’s lines, a line which many in the company find extremely funny indeed, and yet none of us can work out why.  The line is this zinger:

Eliza, it’s getting awfully cold in that taxi.

Not exactly comedy gold.  My character, the perfectly useless Freddy Eynsford-Hill, is only in this scene in order to get Eliza off the stage and allow her father and the chorus to launch themselves into ‘Get Me to the Church On Time’.  It is dawn, so it would be rather cold, even in a taxi.  There are numerous ways I could say this line to make it funny, and I have experimented.  There’s the suggestive, the teeth-chattering, the whiny.  Rather than spoil the scene with any of these, we are going with a simple statement of fact, yet the first time we reached the scene in question with the whole cast present, it provoked chuckles, giggles, titters and outright laughter.

This has continued to be the case and as the dress rehearsal is in only a few more hours (that’s all the time we’ve got…), it is surely now a problem.  Nobody can put their finger on why the cast are amused, including the director and others in positions of authority.  The only explanation that has been forthcoming is from the lovely chap who plays Alfred Doolittle, who says it’s because it’s “just so good”, which really doesn’t explain things.  Unfortunately, he is on stage as I deliver that blasted line and struggles to maintain a straight face.

It may just be my imagination, but I’m sure the tension now mounts among the cast as that line approaches.  We know we can’t laugh and we know it’s not funny, but that makes it so much worse.  The last time we did  the scene, in the last full run-through (which you have to treat almost as a performance), even I was struggling to keep a straight face and I never, ever, corpse in performance, no matter how ridiculous the scene might be.

You can guarantee that the whole cast will remember that one line for years to come, while the rest of the lines, harmonies and dance steps fade away.  For a few dozen people, those few words will live forever.  All we have to do now is make it through one dress rehearsal and six performances without laughing at them.

Questions are asked and answered

There is a meme going around, as I’m sure you’ll have noticed, where bloggers interview one another, and end up giving really quite interesting (or in my case, really quite long) answers.  I think the beauty of this meme is in the nature of who is doing the interviewing.  It’s not people that the bloggers know in their day to day life, who would most likely be fishing for particular bits of information that they already know.  It’s also not people completely disconnected from them, who would end up asking entirely generic questions.  These are people who know their interviewees through the blogosphere, a curious form of social interaction which is simultaneously very open and very reserved, as each word can be chosen, pondered and held back.  All of us leave a whole number of gaps in the narrative of our lives as we blog away, and many of the questions and answers I’ve seen have been filling in some of these gaps, which the blog authors may have been entirely unaware of.

So the meme has been floating around, and I’ve seen it whiz through the periphery of  both the comics blogosphere and the theatre blogosphere, and now it has entered the realm of the blogs that I read more regularly.  I finally decided to be brave and ask for some questions following the questions that Aphra posed to Reed.  Reed, or possibly her ever-present Editor, posed five questions, and warned me that they “are all prompted by the fact I am a NOSY woman”.   As a result, this is probably one of my longest posts ever.  If you really don’t want to know about the real Singing Librarian, look away now and come back in a few days when I start wittering about something less personal.

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Having a junior moment

Once people enter middle age, whatever that may be, they seem to feel entitled to put any lapses of memory or outbreaks of bizarre thinking down to a ‘senior moment’.  I’m not sure what age allows entry to the senior moment club, but I’m fairly sure I haven’t reached it, being a spring chicken of 28.  My intriguing memory lapse at last night’s concert must therefore have been a junior moment.

There I was, happily singing the man’s half of ‘I’ll Know’ from Guys and Dolls, when I suddenly realised I didn’t know what the next line was.  I couldn’t stop, and although the music was on a stand nearby, I had no idea where on the page I actually was.  Nobody could have rescued me, so I just had to smile and keep singing.  Anything.  Any old words until I reached a point where I knew exactly what I should be singing and when.  Unfortunately, the point I was aiming for was also the point where my duet partner comes back in to the song, and I could see in her eyes that she wasn’t sure that I’d be on the right words by this point.

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