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!
So here I am, sitting at home in good old Beausoleil once more. After spending three whole weeks in Torino, Italy, and gracing the stage twelve out of fifteen times while there. Not to mention rehearsals and orchestra runs, costume fittings and bus rides. Oh, and let us not forget Christmas and New Years, with three more shows at home in Monaco thrown in for good measure. But that all happened before January 3rd… and it is most definitely not January 3rd today. Nope, it’s the 16th in fact, and I here I am, finally ready and organized to head back to work: with one half of my second season with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo already behind me.
For the past twelve days, I have been spending my (I think) well deserved vacation time in the UK, in the place that is in my mind, far and away my favourite place on earth. London. Now, I could go on and on about the shows I saw (I spent a lot of time in my other favourite place on earth: the theatre!), and the places that I visited, but you could read about London just about anywhere. No, my trip to London got be thinking about something else, something that struck me very hard after I saw my first of six shows I saw while in London. It was Les Miserables. Possibly the longest show I have ever seen in my life, but it was still great. What struck me wasn’t the actual show so much as what occurs after it; the bows, or “curtain call” if you will.
Now, I have had some experience in musical theatre and in opera before, but most of my experience is in the dance world, and I have to say, that we dancers really like to milk this “curtain call” event for all it’s worth. However, at the end of Les Mis, I really wanted to show my appreciation for what was one of the most spectacular and moving shows that I have seen in recent years, but they all bowed once…and that was it. I was expecting bow after bow after bow based on the audience’s response to the show. It never came, they waved goodbye to the audience and shut the curtain while the orchestra played on, but it did not raise again.
On my walk home, I started thinking about curtain calls in different theatrical disciplines, and more importantly: recognition of the artists involved in any given production.
It all begins when you first arrive at the theatre. You have to pay for a program. Now, that’s all fine and well if you want a big, glossy book with pictures from the show that you can take home as something to remember it by…and maybe this is just because I am a performing artist as well, but I don’t really care about the pictures, but I will buy a program anyway, because it’s the only way to know who is performing what roles, and to get a background on the artists you’re about to see on stage. But I look around and see that a lot of people do not spring the 7 to 10 pounds to know about the people and background of what they’re about to see. With me, by the time intermission is over, I know everything about these people: where they trained, what other shows they have done…just a little bit about their professional life and their accomplishments as artists. I feel like I appreciate the show more because of this; I feel like I know them, even just a little.
And after the show, the performers bow. This is actually not as many people think, the artists taking in the admiration of the public. In actual fact, we bow to thank the audience for coming to watch us; giving us several hours of their time so that we can make them laugh or cry, or just show them something that will make them go home and think that it was money well spent. It’s a thank you for letting us do what we love in front of you.
Which brings us to the fine, fine line of a curtain call: How much is too much?
There are people in most shows who seem like they can clap forever, and depending on the audience, sometimes these people will, which means that the stage manager (the one in charge of everything backstage, and also gets to gauge the audience’s reaction to tell whether or not the company should take another bow) will keep sending the curtain up, letting the bows go on and on. I have been on both sides of the curtain for these never-ending calls…on one hand, if you’re in the audience and you absolutely loved the show, and you’re giving it a standing ovation, you love being able to communicate that to those on stage and to see their smiles as they hear and see how much you enjoyed their performance. However, if it was alright, or not the greatest thing you have ever seen, you feel badly to watch the performers keep bowing and to not clap for them.
As a performer, it’s great to hear that an audience enjoyed themselves…but very often it’s late at night, you’re tired, you’re wearing tons of make-up, and you’re hot. You want to have a shower, take off your make-up, and go home.
The worst feeling is to be on stage and to see people in the audience leaving the theatre (which happens if it goes on for long enough), and it’s almost embarrassing to be up there, still bowing while you feel that half the audience doesn’t care. This happened often in Italy, where I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or maybe they really didn’t like the show, but some people left when we were doing the very first full company “call”. There is a line between being sensible and disrespectful though. Take one moment to appreciate what the performers have just put themselves through for you, is all I’m saying.
Now, I know that my two points of view don’t really agree, but these were the things that I was wondering on my way home from Les Mis. For those who care to comment, let me know how you feel about the issue.
Having said all that, I won’t be taking another curtain call for about a month…but it’s back into the studio tomorrow, to begin rehearsals once again (some of it for totally new material, which I’m very excited about!). My muscles have sat around for long enough, it’s time to whip them back into shape for the second half of the season ahead!