Thursday, January 31, 2008

Great big ball of operatic fluff

No, seriously. It is. But fun fluff, with lots of gorgeous singing, in our shiny new venue at the Hemmens Cultural Center. Chicagoland folks should all come check it out!

L'Elisir d'Amore (The Love Potion)

A Comic Opera by Donizetti, Sung in Italian with English Supertitles
Presented by the City of Elgin

Ticket prices: $40 Main Floor and $30 Balcony

Saturday, February 9, 2008 at 7:30pm
Sunday, February 10, 2008 at 3:30pm
Hemmens Cultural Center, 45 Symphony Way, Elgin, IL
Box office: (847) 931-5900

Nemorino believes the only way to win the love of Adina is with a magical love potion. Dr. Dulcamara sells him a bottle of cheap wine that he calls “Tristan’s Magic Love Potion.” Of course, the wine is not magical but Nemorino believes it is, especially when all the young ladies are after him. What he does not know is that his uncle has died and left him millions! With one drink, he gains the confidence he needs to win Adina’s heart and the opera ends with the celebration of the Love Potion.

Elgin OPERA’s Gala Event will be held at the Hemmens from 6:00-7:00 pm on February 9, 2008 and from 1:30 – 2:30 on February 10, 2008 and will include a Pre-opera lecture, Champagne toast, Hors d’Oeuvres, silent auction and opportunity to meet the Mayor of Elgin, Ed Schock, and meet the cast following the performance for the additional price of $40. This is event is tax deductible.

The Enchanted

(partial repost from my LJ, 1/2/04, regarding my first production in Chicago)

So. I'm playing a French schoolgirl. One who's about 10 years old in the 1930s, to be precise. Needless to say (well, if you haven't met me IRL, not entirely needless), casting for this show was not exactly based on physical type.

That said, it's involved a WACK of exploratory, workshoppy physical work in order to "create the bodies" (the phrase our director uses) of characters ranging from 10-year-old schoolgirls to ancient spinster ladies, all played by a bunch of 20- and 30-something actors. Some of it is work I've done before, or similar to it, but quite a bit of it has been shiny new stuff for the toolbox. I cannot tell you how much I've missed that.

It's doubly challenging here, as the goals of this process can sometimes seem contradictory. We need to be true to our physical reality, but still be these people who should be physically so unlike us in many cases. The characters need to be absolutely honest and not "put on" in that "I'm going to be a little kid now" way, yet in many ways they're written as types to the point of archetype and almost to the point of caricature.

There's also been acres of verbal discussion, especially at the beginning, which is often something I'm not terribly comfortable with, because I'd prefer to try different ways to do than to say "How am I going to communicate this?" This has been a really good balance of discussing the text just as text, tho, with a few key thinking hooks for what we would then do with it. The kind of thinking I usually prefer to do on my own, because I get frustrated with trying to shove concepts into spoken words that I invariably feel are inadequate. I had some of that here, but not as much. Plus there was a lot more room to free associate and say "You know, that reminds me of such-and-such a concept," and feel like people were finding it more useful than usually happens. A lot of that is the nature of the play itself, which is more philosophical exploration than conventional drama.

I established my Enormous Geek credentials right off the bat by mentioning hyperspace geometry at the first read-through. *sheepish g* But it was relevant. It was! It really could be connected to something written by a French proto-existentialist playwright in 1931! And how cool is that? Plus now I've got the director reading Surfing Through Hyperspace, which is just one of the more fun books ever and a fantabulous layman's intro. Once again back to reasons why I love theatre people being similar to why I love fen – both groups reject the idea (otherwise quite ingrained in our society) of certain fields of knowledge being the province of specialized professionals, and intrinsically too hard/boring/whatever for the rest of us. Which is why I've felt perfectly comfortable bringing up associations with various motifs from folklore and mythology on top of it. *g* I just have to love a play that allows for both that and responding more than once to a fellow actor's statement with "Well, yeah, if you're only looking at three dimensions."

Mind you, that kind of brain munchies I can get any time. All I have to do is throw out a feeder idea on an email list or LJ and watch it go. ;-) But it's always fun to have new and different munchies.

What I can't get online is the other side of the equation, the actual getting this thing up on its feet and seeing what it becomes. I could toss out a lot of the words that we've been hearing in rehearsal, but it won't mean much unless you can at least see what's being created as a result, if not be actually creating it. The core concept involves the tension between nature (in a very Rousseau sort of rationalist way) and the spiritual on one end of the spectrum, and man's order and the material on the other. Which makes it sound incredibly heavy, and yet the script almost seems like fluff. It's absolutely boggling. Then we weave the voice and physical work through it, and we've got ritual and stylized movement and entropy and…

And this is why I get frustrated with trying to discuss verbally. I'm sitting here at my keyboard wanting to fling gestures and sounds and thoughts at you that just plain aren't gonna fit in an LJ post. (And people wonder why I say I like to write, but don't self-identify as a writer…) I wish I could teleport you all here to see the show. Hell, I wish I could teleport you into rehearsals. There's so much in the process that can only ever be little glimmery glimpses in performance. And it's been years and years since I've truly had the opportunity to have a real process, to ask the questions and invest the time and energy in finding the answers, instead of plodding through everyone learning what to say and where to stand, and having a handful of insights that result in sparkly moments that never quite connect to anything.

The flip side of the process-oriented vs. product-oriented question, of course, is that I can't guarantee when all is said and done that the product will give the audience the experience we're aiming to have. You never can. But I do firmly believe you almost guarantee they won't if the show doesn't get to grow through a full organic process. (You had to know I couldn’t get through a WHOLE one of these without resorting to "organic." But I swear on any religious document you care to produce that the words "What's my motivation?" will never seriously pass my lips. Then again, that could be because I believe the first requirement of MY job is to answer that question…) The paranoia comes in when something with a fantabulous process gets me all giddy for months, and it leads people to expect a fantabulous show, and then they come see it and go "Huh?"

You can never entirely tell whether that's going to happen, but to the extent that I can, I don't think it's going to happen here.

Life is good

(repost from my LJ, 6/22/05)

It truly is. I love my hubby and my family and my friends and my home.

That said, however, every once in a while you have to let the insecurities out to play, or they're gonna wreck the carpet.

I love all those things above. I hate the nagging sense that crops up now and again, that I've played it too safe.

I watch college classmates play Buffy baddies or log seventeen zillion performances as Christine DaaƩ. I watch the college and just-out-of-college kids in J&H throwing themselves all-or-nothing into building their careers. And I can't help wondering what would have happened if I'd done things differently.

Maybe I'd be an actual working actor.

Maybe I'd be living in a cardboard box (as my floormates voted me most likely to do).

Maybe I'd still be cranking out legal gobbledygook 40 hours a week, leaving the house at 7:15 and getting home after 11 in order to do what I love and still pay the mortgage.

I know there's no way to know, and it didn't happen, so there's no point in dwelling on it. And I don't dwell. But every now and then, it bugs me. Every now and then, I kick myself for wasting those few years circumstances gifted me with, when I could have taken so many more risks and didn't. I wonder why the heck I didn't come to Chicago sooner.

I know I'm either what they want or I'm not. And in all honesty, I've always been mostly not, the girl nobody knows what to do with. (Just in case anyone's still wondering why I've latched onto Elphaba so hard as THE dream role these days...) As the butt gets bigger and the joints get stiffer, that's only going to get truer. But I should have gotten myself in front of way more of "them" by this time, to increase the chances of finding the ones for whom I am what they want.

I let the brick wall I hit in New York paralyze me for way too long. Now I'm scrambling to catch up. It's certainly not impossible that I still can. But it gets less likely every day.

Sometimes I envy my many friends whose hearts are in writing. Not that getting published is any easier than getting paid to perform. But the actual writing can be done anywhere, any time (assuming there is time, of course). Actors are the most insecure creatures on the planet -- even the healthiest of us! -- because we constantly have to beg others to let us do what we love, let alone get paid for it.

Where have all the singers gone?

(repost from my LJ, 12/9/05)

Interesting article: Where Have All The Singers Gone?

My reaction to Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway was not dissimilar to this writer's to a late-run performance of PotO -- I felt like the stage was full of people who had real voices in there somewhere that they weren't letting out. I couldn't even tell whether or not they knew how, although it seemed like they didn't. What's worse is that I was mentally contrasting them with the pre-Broadway tour I'd seen just two years before, with Robert Cuccioli, Linda Eder, and Christiane Noll. All of whom I therefore knew for a fact knew how to let the voice out -- but you might never know it from listening to Noll on the Broadway cast album! It was enough to make me start wondering if my memory of her voice in person in '96 was accurate, until cuts from The New Moon, a revival of a Victor Herbert operetta she starred in subsequent to J&H, started turning up on my Launch station, demonstrating the assured full soprano I was sure I'd heard in her Lisa (they hadn't changed her name to Emma yet). All I can think is that she was directed (like the King & I incident mentioned by Rebecca Caine in the linked article) to sing in a manner considered by Them What Was In Charge to be more "accessible." The result is that she sounds completely spineless -- which is exactly how the character of Emma is viewed by practically everyone I know who first encountered J&H in that form. She's not written that way at all, but I can't blame people for getting that impression when her voice has been gutted of its power.

Even at this level, I've been flat-out told at one audition to make it "less operatic and more Broadway." And in listening to what they encouraged, it didn't take long to figure out that they really meant "less Shirley Jones and more Kristin Chenoweth in the TV version." Considering that Kristin's rendition of "Till There Was You" on A Prairie Home Companion was one of the few things I've ever heard her do that I didn't much like, that sort of thing doesn't inspire me with confidence. Especially when what I was told to do it on was "My White Knight," the most full-out soprano number in the show! I don't want to hear a wispy Marian the Librarian, any more than I want to hear a wispy Emma Carew. Soprano jokes are identical enough to blonde jokes when we don't go around deliberately sounding like a bunch of six-year-olds!

That said, I'm curious to know when this article was written, because I do think sound vocal technique is at least on the way back to being recognized as an actual asset, partly as the general public is exposed to people like Idina Menzel or Norbert Leo Butz, who demonstrate (like the strong singers in the megamusicals of the 80s) that you can use sound technique in a pop idiom. There are options other than sounding like you should be wearing a horned helmet on the one hand, and sounding like your larynx has no access to your air supply on the other. I'm hearing singers again on recordings of newer shows, and I was despairing of that for a while. I still have hope that Rebecca Caine's comment that "my kind of voice is dead in musicals" is wrong.

Of course, one threat to the improvement trend is coming, ironically enough, from the renaissance of movie musicals, where the very "non-professional-singer" sound coming from the likes of Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger is repeatedly remarked upon as a good thing, and is rapidly becoming the standard of what people want to hear. Even in a quasi-classical score like PotO, where knowledgable critics and existing fans overwhelmingly trashed the bejeebers out of Emmy Rossum and Gerry Butler, but the new fans latched onto them as the gold standard. I wrote my own movie review intentionally judging them as pop performances rather than traditional, and I do still enjoy the movie. But it doesn't bode well for the future.

The conventional wisdom is that audiences won't accept classical technique because they don't "understand" it. Yet filmmakers use it for dramatic effect all the time. The exact same principles people are getting in a "subliminal" way in underscoring, and having no problem with, are what we're told they won't accept in the foreground. You don't have to understand what kind of soprano Renee Fleming is to feel the effect of her contribution to LotR. For that matter, people still watch The Sound of Music year after year. You think it matters if they "understand" Julie Andrews' voice?

Yes, some people hear a type of music they're not familiar with and just think it's weird, or fake, or whatever. But frankly, shoving unsuitable voices into it isn't going to change that very much. Meanwhile, in my experience a great many more people react positively -- even if it's "I don't know much about that stuff, but boy is it pretty," that's all it NEEDS to be. It's the myth of "elite" art that's getting in the way, not any actual incomprehensibility of the material.So, frustrating. But still hopeful spots too.

The View From Divaburbia

Or, Who Does This Chick Think She Is, Anyway?

Honestly? Nobody in particular. I'd like to be a full-time working actor, and moved to the Chicago area from Columbus, OH, in the fall of 2003 with that goal in mind.

And, well, not so much. Might still happen, might not. In the meantime, I pay the bills with a day job in a locale referred to herein as Office of Doom, and go where it sounds interesting and where they're willing to cast me. Sometimes it's musicals and operas in the 'burbs, sometimes in-your-face plays on the off-Loop storefront scene, occasionally little indie films nobody is ever likely to see. (Or background gigs in bigger ones. I'm in that panicked crowd in the Dark Knight trailer. Er, somewhere.)

I coined the term "divababble" for the actorly navel-gazing I periodically indulge in on my personal journal. I'm going to start this blog by reposting a few past divababbles that I kinda like and still think are relevant, and move on from there. Hopefully somebody will find 'em interesting. If not, well, a divababble dropping on the Internet with nobody reading it is still a sorting out of my own thoughts, and handy for that.

If so, welcome!