In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

So Do We all: Phyllis Pancella gives us a last look in the COSI FAN TUTTE rehearsal room

Mar 6, 2013 7:43:00 PM
By BLO Staff

Yesterday was our last day in the rehearsal room.  Next stop:  the Schubert Theatre!  My feelings about this moment in a rehearsal process have changed so much over time.  It used to be that I couldn’t wait to get out of the rehearsal room----usually windowless and stale, usually some inconvenient differences in dimension or layout that mean we’ll have lots of adjusting to do once we’re onstage, always the wrong acoustic.  And, since the time in the rehearsal room is when we are feeling each other out as an ensemble and feeling the piece out as nuts & bolts stagecraft rather than art, when we do the most stumbling around, the most trial and error (emphasis on error), the most breaking and mending-----it can be a minefield of vulnerabilities.  Too awkward.  Used to be I couldn’t wait to get onstage, especially in front of an audience.
Don’t get me wrong.  There’s a boatload of vulnerability that accompanies the raised stakes of being onstage.  But that’s the vulnerability that’s inevitably on the flipside of  power:  the power of impending live performance.  The one I’m talking about now is the vulnerability that is the other side of the intimacy coin.  We crave intimacy, but it can be rough to get past first impressions, past the stupid things we say when we’re trying to figure stuff out or remember things or experiment, past the tensions of a newly formed group of individuals who are simultaneously trying to make room for their autonomy, creativity, and priorities.  This is the time when everyone gets to hear the embarrassing grunts we each make in the midst of effort.  
But it’s this awkward intimacy, this often fraught connection in service of group creativity, that has become my favorite part of the work.  Is there anything quite like this kind of coming together of semi-strangers into a month-long Thanksgiving dinner?   Maybe a political campaign or the cruise ship “Triumph“.  But what we’re up to constructs and then dismantles itself many times a year for the duration of a career.  It is a very strange set-up, and creates a laboratory for studying human interaction.  It’s like a temporary zoo, in a way, in which animals from different territories and family structures are suddenly brought together into an artificial territory as a new family.  The first week, we’re basically sniffing each other and testing the zookeepers.  The second week, we’re working out how to share our food and play games together.  Just as we’re settling into a third week characterized by feelings of security and camaraderie, and we are finally figuring out how to maximize the advantages of our combined idiosyncrasies, we get put into a new territory.  (Uh….may be time for a call to the Metaphor Abuse Hotline….)
The rehearsal room period is when we have to learn about each other, because we all share the same space, the same bathrooms, the same lunch table.  We find odd little things in common:  Karen and I both like camping and reusing tiny containers; Stacey and I like pesto and Trader Joe‘s; Teri Jo and I like to make something out of nothing (prop garlic, anyone?);  Nicole and Caroline and I all enjoy thinking and talking about how the human mind works; and  Brett and I both see a 200 year-old stone wall and imagine the hands that lifted every stone.  This is where I discover that Matt is a genius at pie crust, that Paul could use “hirsute” in a sentence every day if he wanted to, that Caroline loves the color orange and will smile and mean it no matter how tired she is, that Sandy will give hugs to even the most awkward and bristly of colleagues, that David gets as excited about the Haymarket farmer's market as he does about hemiolas, that Tom makes quince jam from the fruit he grows in his front yard.
This is also where we find out who just got married, who’s about to get married, who did better the second time around, how different people feel about parenting, what it’s like trying to renovate a house while holding a family and international career together, what everyone’s amazingly colorful parents and siblings are like.  And this is where we get to observe process.  How early do people arrive to warm up?  Who dissects character before even learning the music, who has to learn some staging in order to completely memorize something, whose acting comes from their singing and for whom is it the other way around?  What do different people find funny?  Who finds discussions/arguments about text and diction (or comic timing, or vocal technique, or lunch) tedious or uncomfortable and who could do it all day?  How do we each define discipline, collaboration, respect, and experimentation, and what happens when those definitions clearly are at odds?  Oh, yes.  For a student of human interaction, and in the middle of a relationship story like COSI, that’s when it gets really interesting!
So, all of the people in the rehearsal room have come together for the same project, but  all come from different places and will move on to different lives and projects when this one is finished.  For me, the fascination is with the fact that this is absolutely the first and last time this particular combination of project and people will find themselves together in a single room----sort of like that amazing-but-unrepeatable meal you made from the weird combination of leftover beans & rice, dried up oranges, chicken breast, and an old gift jar of olive tapenade you had hanging around.  But things shift once we get onstage, and there is a reorganization of the temporary family.  We spend more of our time separate, preparing, girding our loins.  This shift is an exhilarating part of the process, culminating in the moment that the whole thing bursts forth from the stage into the laps of the audience.  But I’m glad we had our own private party for awhile, even if it was in a room with no windows and an acoustic that would make a lump of granite weep.  Hmmm….maybe I am ready to be in the theatre after all.
Just to give you an idea of the kinds of things we discover about each other in the rehearsal process, I went ahead and asked everyone who has been a regular part of this period a question that came up casually in several conversations:  What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?  I said they could respond as though they were starting over and couldn’t do opera, or as though they might make a lateral move in music and theatre, or perhaps as though they had all the money in the world but still wanted to work.  Want to try & guess who said what?

1. Paul Appleby                           A.
Elementary school teacher, tour w/ Dr. Who
2. Sandra Piques Eddy                  B. Tornado chaser
3. Matt Worth                            C.
 Opera director
4. Phyllis Pancella                        D.  Theatrical
5. Caroline Worra                        E.  ESPN
play-by-play, or the ministry
6. Thomas Allen                          F.  Elementary
school music teacher (chorus)
7. David Angus                            G.  Travel
8. Nicole Tongue                         H.  Carpentry,
painting (pictures, not rooms)
9. Karen Oberthal                        I.  Research
10. Brett Hodgdon                       J.  Lighting
designer, nature photographer
11. Teri Jo Fuson                        K.  Humanist
12. Stacey Salotto-Cristobal          L.  Research librarian
13. Rickelle Williams                    M.  Opera

Answers in next post!

Topics: behind the scenes, Brett Hodgdon, Cosi fan Tutte, david angus, from rehearsal, Karen Oberthal, matt worth, Nicole Tongue, Paul Appleby, Phyllis Pancella, Sandra Eddy, Sir Thomas Allen

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