THE THESPIAN ART OF MULTITASKING

Reads: 282  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
Actors and singers are academics who have spent years and years trying to perfect their craft.
Imagine the wrath of singers when they see cashiers without any college education getting on TV and becoming pop-stars in shows like American Idol.
And still, it is the most wonderful profession on Earth when it works well.

Submitted: June 12, 2013

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 12, 2013

A A A

A A A


The tenor hits the high note just as he climbs the Cadillac. He is King Arthur in a contemporarily historical opera production, displaying the battle for the mythical sword Excalibur, He sings complicated music that musically contradicts what his soloist colleagues and the chorus are singing at the same time. Still, he has to keep track of what he is singing himself. He has to follow the conductor’s rhythm and tempo. The orchestra plays fast tones, four sixteeth notes per beat and the conductor can’t really slow down his beat. So, the soloist has to be in time with the two hundred other people or go crazy. That is not all he has to think of. While trying to be in time with the rest of the ensemble, he has to be in full control of his breathing skills. He has to use his support, relieve his throat of pressure, breathe in right and open up his pipes and mouth in order to produce high C’s that seem effortless. Not that they are. Any high note takes lots of physical power. While he is singing, he also has to act his part. What is his character doing at that moment? Making it believable is something he not only has rehearsed for six weeks, but also worked on in the half year preceding the rehearsals when he was working on his lines. Before that he went to university to study how to do that. All so that the viewer can have a great time. King Arthur has just received a wagonload of slaughtered prisoners. The director has him walk on that big steel wagon as he is singing these lines. He has to climb up carefully, singing his high notes, following the conductor, acting out his rage and sorrow and making sure he does not fall off. That is still not all. Today, the make-up department has been unusually generous with the display of artificial blood on the extras. So much so that drops of liquid actually has dripped upon the wagon. The tenor has to sing, act, follow the conductor, keep his balance and watch out for slippery spots. There are other issues. His heavy sword keeps on slipping out of his grasp because of the metal glove and his pants are so tight that they cut into his groin. Still, the tenor has to make the climb on the wagon seem effortless. So much so that the audience doesn’t notice that he is working hard. This is just the beginning of the performance. From that perspective, a three hour show actually seems quite long. That myth about the difficult diva has an interesting background: many big stars have become so aloof because they have been mistreated when they were not famous. The stupid questions from people not involved in theatre can make a thespian bite his fist. “You mean there is more to it than singing?” Accordingly, the soft core of an artist that is necessary has to be combined with a very tough exterior. What really is a very humungous challenge is keeping cool in such a situation. Learning how to display emotions in front of a jury of very critical directors is tough. So many artists work up that shell of a diva just to protect themselves. Maria Callas, Michael Crawford, Kathleen Battle: they are all examples of people who were mistreated early and then developed a huge ego in order to become strong. In addition, you have the fact that a celebrity loses his privacy and that the press think they own you. The press will ask you a question while you are the way to the bathroom or having a private conversation with your wife. They will laugh in your face as you cry. The afore named stage situation of the tenor straddling the Caddie is not an unusual description of a show. An actor or singer that has to fight himself through a show. A performer with a big role has an average of two or three hundred direction commands, created by choreographers, conductors or directors or all three, that the artist has to follow during a show, while remembering a thousand lines. There is nothing glamorous about that. They will not consider your emotions, but you have to give them emotions all the time. That will drain you. The stage manager will, in a big show, call twelve different departments an average of three hundred times by the clicks of buttons and microphones right on musical cues in order to produce the needed result. He will tell the stage hands when to lower sceneries, the sound people when to play musical tracks, the light department when to light which lights. He will give the singers light cues for their entrances, he will tell the stage hand when to pull the curtain, when to raise the podium or when to push a cart. Many of these people don’t read music and all things on stage happen on musical cues. If there is no music, they happen on line cues. Most things that are moved or done on stage are so big, they have to be coordinated. The stage hands have to warn the actors not to stand in their way, for instance. A play or an opera is meant to entertain the audience, make them think or feel something special or contemplate their own life or feel good about themselves. But the fact is that an average chorister has in a big show maybe four to six costumes and sometimes has to completely change costume in one minute. The costume dressers have to prepare, with name tags and signes chairs, two hundred costumes for fifty singers. It is called Show Business, not Show Charity. That is the reason why a lot of artists become divas. Because they get tired of bullshit. What about the actors and singers themselves? They have spent four to eight years in college and gone bancrupt paying for it learning the phonetic pronounciation of Italian, English, German, French and Russian. They have learned speech technique and vocal technique, hearing and musical theory, acting, dancing, walking, moving, preparing a role, centre of gravity, conducting and make-up. If they are straight actors, they also have learned theatrical history and have taken improvisational classes. Actors and singers are academics who have spent years and years trying to perfect their craft. Imagine the wrath of singers when they see cashiers without any college education getting on TV and becoming pop-stars in shows like American Idol. And still, it is the most wonderful profession on Earth when it works well. So, when that tenor walks the stage and climbs the wagon or you see that cool baritone hitting his high notes while holding the girl in his arms being raised on a podium ten feet above the stage: remember that he does that so well only because he probably has rehearsed not only that well, but also countless other productions to boot. After all, he only wants the audience to think it isn’t hard work. It should look easy. Fred Astaire only made it look easy when he danced. Any great artist will make you forget that it is hard work. Not that stage work isn’t fun. It is the most fun you can have, next to laughing. But the mind is alert and at full throttle. Especially when the make-up department has been a little too generous with the artificial blood. What you need then is a large quantity of thespian multitasking.


© Copyright 2019 Charles EJ Moulton. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Editorial and Opinion Articles