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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Xmas Blog #7: Operatic Creation

Creating a new opera production is exciting. It's awesome fun. It's tiring as hell but at the same time, quite invigorating.

Creating isn't what a lot of folk think it is. One doesn't sit at a desk thinking deep thoughts and wait for an inspirational "AHA" and then start creating. In my line of work, as stage director and producer, creating means moving in and out of what could be described as procrastinated, pragmatic, imaginative bursts of work.

It comes as a surprise to me that many of my colleagues (and certainly most of my friends and neighbors) don't know - or understand - that a stage director "creates" the staging they see in a production. Many have described to me what they think I do. It goes something like "so you tell people where to go onstage?".

Sure. That's what us stage directors do. Traffic cops. You go here, you go there, watch out for the pedestrians of the chorus...   Not quite.

There are a few who don't understand that when I say it takes me many, many hours to stage an opera that that means those hours are spent in PREPARATION to the staging rehearsals. Then there's the actual hours of staging with the cast members. That takes about 100 hours, depending on the schedule. That doesn't include any time spent learning the opera, translating the text, researching the period or source materials, collaborating with the designers, making any cuts, planning the schedules, etc.

Some people even think that the singers themselves decide what they'll be doing onstage. I imagine rehearsals like that:

Mimi -- So, I'll walk in the door with my unlit candle and walk over toward you and then faint...
Rodolfo -- Okay, just don't get too close.
Mimi -- Okay, then you'll help me to the bed?
Rodolfo -- Sure, fine, whatever.

Imagine the Act Two chorus of same show deciding where they should be. It'd be chaos!

So, there's planning involved. It's a big dialogue between you and the composer and the librettist that happens in your head. Usually two of the three are dead. That's actually a lot of fun, commiserating with those dead guys!

But what about those "bursts" I mentioned?

Bursts is an apt description, I think. I read somewhere that creative people are at the same time lazy and energetic. True of me. I'll rest up, not do anything, waiting, storing up my energy. And then, out of the blue I'll start in on the work and six hours later I'll notice I've not had anything to eat or drink and my bladder is making itself known to my consciousness. Time literally flies!

I procrastinate as well. I don't procrastinate on the thinking about the staging. In fact, my mind is almost always on a show when I'm in this mode. I think about it making ice cream, shopping at Target, watching Netflix, at the movie theatre, where ever I might be. Some part of my mind is contemplating either a specific scene or an image. But I wait and wait until the energy arises and then I start work -- crack open the score and put pencil to paper.

My imagination is balanced by my pragmatic nature. I let my imagination go wild, even beyond what I could possibly do. If I want Tytania to go to sleep, then she should levitate up into a tree while snow falls. That's the image. Now, how do I get that to happen on the actual stage? Sometimes it's important to not even see the actual staging, but to replace it with flights of fancy. I describe my wishes - to myself and others - sometimes as "in the Disney animated version, such and such would happen". But I don't have Disney money and opera isn't CGI animated by Peter Jackson's minions. That would be nice, though.

So I move in and out of my fantasies and season them with my pragmatic sensibilities.

Currently, while writing this blog, I'm definitely in the PROCRASTINATION mode concerning the prep and staging I need to do for the upcoming A Midsummer Night's Dream rehearsals that start in just a FEW DAYS!!  I've finished staging Act One, and am currently in the midst of Act Two. Editing this blog (which was actually written, like all the Christmas blogs about a week ago) is a big help to my work process. It's actually a break from thinking about Midsummer. Now that this one's basically good to publish, I'll get a fresh glass of water and start in again. At least, that's the plan.

If I get through Act Two, tonight will be spent seeing THE HOBBIT!!

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