Posts Tagged ‘ performing ’

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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6 essentials for life upon the wicked stage

Now that I’ve got a few months before I start rehearsals for any stage performances again (though there are a sprinkling of concerts over the coming months), I thought I’d share some things which are invaluable when messing around on stage.

A good anti-perspirant deodorant.  The level of sweating that goes on under those lights on stage is truly astonishing, and can have many adverse effects.  You can shine inappropriately, you can feel (and eventually smell) unpleasant, you can find things sticking to you when you’re trying to do a quick change, and sweat can affect microphone packs.  I find that most deodorants simply can’t cope with the demands of the theatre, which combines physical exertion with hot conditions and acute anxiety.  Hurrah for the Mitchum brand, which I have found to be very reliable indeed.

Five minutes.  Just a few moments to yourself to think about what you have to do, where you have to be, and what order things happen in.  Whether checking through a written list, or walking the show through in your head, it helps with relaxation and concentration.  It also ensures that all necessary props, costume items and the like are in the right place, as you check each one as you come to it on the list.  A clear head and the ability to concentrate can get you through untold disasters as the show goes on.

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Acting like a duck

You keep paddling like the clappers,
Just keep paddling with your flappers,
While seeming to be dreaming and calm.
Just beneath the surface
You may struggle to get by.
But nothing can deter you
If you hold your head up high.

So sing a mother and son pair of ducks in Honk! as the ugly duckling learns to swim.  The image of a duck or swan gliding serenely across the water while its legs are working nineteen to the dozen beneath the surface is particularly apt for theatre.  No matter how polished a performance the audience may experience, you can guarantee that backstage is complete chaos, involving many people whose existence would surprise the paying punters in the audience.  Actors may be dashing about at breakneck speed, changing costumes and locating props.  Crew members all in black will be changing microphones, getting sets into position, acting as crowd control, clearing the stage of hazards, grappling with velcro, safety pins and gaffa tape.  There’ll be a deputy stage manager constantly whispering into his or her headpiece to communicate with cast, crew, lighting people, sound people and more.  Miles of electrical cable coil like snakes around the building, clothing rails are hidden in the strangest places, the sewing machine is very rarely turned off and at any given point, several people will be in the middle of a nervous breakdown.

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