For those of you who know me, and know me well, it comes as no surprise to you to know that I was a child actor. Oh yes indeed. Appearing as the cute little boy with the bicycle asking the man at the car dealership if he had “one of those 94 Grand-Am SE Sedans with air” (not to mention a big bit about the fact that the car had a REAL CASSETTE PLAYER!), or as the younger brother in a sitcom pilot who kept saying “I don’t wanna wear no pants!” (referring to the snow pants his sister was supposed to make him put on…of course!), or the personal favourite moment: the moment that actually cemented both in my three-year old mind and into the minds of my parents that I was meant to be a performer…
It was the Nova Scotia Drama League’s annual “All-Star-Fantasy-Frolic” (say that five times fast); the show was Annie, and I was playing a little apple seller boy on the street during the scene when all the homeless people sing “We’d Like to Thank You”. My father was a member of the band, playing the drums, and I believe that is how I got involved in the first place. So, it was the end of the show, the whole cast had done their curtain calls, and were exiting as the band was doing the “play off”. The lights were going down, and there I was standing all alone at the front of the stage, totally oblivious to the fact that my fellow thespians were no longer there with me. In my memory of that moment, which is actually one of my most vivid early memories, I was actually scanning the large audience to see if I could spot my nanny/babysitter, who my mom had told me was coming that night. There were so many people, and I remember looking over all the faces and seeing all the strangers that had just watched me do something on a big stage. The only time I had ever gotten people to watch me before was when I conducted shows for my parents in the living room, as I’m sure many performers had done when they were young children. It was an unforgettable experience, and I still think about it every time I stand on stage during a “call” and look out into the applauding audience.
Believe it or not, I am not just delving into the past, but rather thinking about it and how it relates to my present. This coming week, we at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo will be presenting Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Le Songe”…also known to English speakers as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. If you will bear with me and take a wander back to your high school English course, most of you may remember the different groups of characters in the play:
There are the Lovers: Lysander, Hermia, Helena, and Demetrius. As well as the other Athenians; the queen Hippolyta, the king Theseus, and Hermia’s father Egeus
There are the Fairies: Titania, Oberon, Puck, the page boy (or in our version: Puckette), and the other fairies
And finally, there are the Artisans (the ones who want to put on a play for the royalty): the carpenter Quince, the joiner Snug, the weaver Bottom (he’s the one who gets turned into a Donkey and Titania falls in love with him), the bellows mender Flute, the tinker Snout, and finally the tailor Starveling, played by yours truly! (In the second cast at least)
For all intents and purposes, this is a typical ballet; dancing to music. However the music is different for the different characters. For instance, the Lovers dance to the classical music by Mendelssohn, most of which was selected from the incidental music to his opera version of the play. The Fairies dance to odd electronic music, to give them a magical, otherworldly feel. The Artisans…well that’s just it…. We don’t really have music per se. I mean, there is the occasional “soundscape ” that we may have in the background, but for the most part there is none because we have dialogue. That’s right, you did hear me correctly. Dialogue
But speaking in a ballet you say??? That’s preposterous! Well, under normal circumstances, you would be correct, however these are not normal circumstances. Of course there are no long soliloquies or epic monologues worthy of Shakespeare himself, but our voices and other acting skills do get a fair bit of a workout. There is a slight bit of dancing that we do, both during our “performance” for the royals and when we are hypnotized by Puck. Apart of that however, it’s us and our expression, with no steps to hide behind.
I have to say, it’s been a very different process, but a very rewarding and fun one. There is a certain amount of freedom that we have as to the type of character we create (within the confines of what we have to do in a given scene, of course!), and I’ve found it to be so much fun to concoct a ballet persona that actually gets to speak from time to time. He’s a little shy, and nervously fidgets with his hands all the time, his voice sometimes cracks, and he also likes to sneak up on people and awkwardly stand there with no regard for personal space. When he has to audition for the part of the lion in the play against Snug…he screams. Like a little girl. And to answer your obvious question; yes, we are supposed to be funny!
So here I go, entering this last week before summer holiday, really looking forward to our (the second cast’s) chance to have our premiere in “Le Songe”. Wish us luck, because I know we’ll already be having fun!