Playing Doctor Bartolo

A post-production review:  Opera with a pinch of improvisation!

Photo courtesy of Dajana Kovac.

It is said that the best way to move on from one project is to start another and that was certainly the case after performing in TITCo’s production of Into the Woods. With Tessitoura’s production of Barber of Seville I had a month to learn the lines and music for the part of Doctor Bartolo.  The production had its difficulties; for starters there are many difficult passages to sing, which at times (especially for the Count and Rosina) was the equivalent of doing vocal gymnastics.  The dialogue lines (replacing the recitative, or sung dialogue) were also adapted and completed with about a month to go.  Finally, the director also had to pull out of the production and so Harry (playing Don Basilio) took on the role of stage director. Thanks to his general direction and character tips the scenes took shape, but the performers still had room to contribute and suggest possible moves and expressions.

These difficulties actually brought out a freedom in the performers.  The best part of being involved in this show was seeing how my fellow performers and I managed to adapt to either someone not remembering a line or trying something different.  Couple that with three very different venues (2 churches and a medieval barn) and every performance was unique.  An example of this was when Sam, who played the Count, wanted to change the joke name he gives my character.  Rather than calling Doctor Bartolo ‘Barbaro’ (Italian for Barbarian) he went with ‘Fartolo’, which makes more sense to English audiences, and got a big laugh on the night!

The final example I will give was certainly not scripted but worked because of how the cast reacted to the situation.  My character is getting a shave. Brendan, playing the barber Figaro, has shaving foam at the ready and is motioning it slowly towards me like a parent would ‘train’ food into their child’s mouth. I reacted by leaning back in my chair… my plastic, basic chair… SNAP.  I hit the floor.  There is an uproar of laughter from the audience.  I, both as a performer and character slowly get up, bewildered, helped by Brendan.  I try to stay in character, blustering, knowing that if I don’t I won’t be able to stop laughing myself.  Meanwhile Rebecca playing Rosina has swiftly replaced the chair.  Finally the Musical Director announces we will go from a certain figure in the score, and we carried on.  Blatantly a gaff had occurred but it was handled beautifully by the cast and the audience loved it.

It was a pleasure to be involved in a production with such on-the-edge energy about it, with such a talented bunch of performers!

 

Playing the Baker

A post-production review

Performing the Baker with Teresa Bray as Baker’s Wife and Jemma Brown as the Witch.

The Invitation Theatre Company has completed the show run of Sondheim’s Into the Woods.  So, how did it go?

From an overall perspective I have to congratulate everyone involved on what has been a tremendous undertaking and has provided local audiences the opportunity to experience this fairy-tale extravaganza in the intimate setting of the Wharf Theatre. As it turns out, a Sondheim musical requires a lot of dedication both musically and dramatically and a lot of hard of hard work has gone into this production.  Then there’s the set, costumes, lighting and sound effects needed to make this fantasy realm come to life.

This production was a journey all of its own.  The director modified the script considerably, making cuts in order to reduce the running length of the show.  This worked but did mean that some plot or character elements were missing.  The cast was guilty of poor attendance thanks to holidays and other show commitments.  This meant there were perhaps only a handful of rehearsals when the entire cast was available before show week.  Another unexpected issue was that our young performer playing Jack could not legally perform the show for 6 nights in a row.  Luckily, a drama student who had previously performed the role was able to learn it in super-quick time.  Finally, this is a very challenging production musically.  Not only are the vocal lines repetitive but with subtle changes each time, some sections are rhythmically and melodically unpredictable.  For ensemble numbers such as the Act I Prologue and ‘Your Fault’ you really have to know everyone else’s part as well as your own.

How did the part of the Baker evolve? During the final rehearsals the director praised my energy during one scene. That stuck with me.  Playing an Everyman character doesn’t lend itself to putting on any particular character traits but it made sense to me to convey his emotions by engaging with them.  So if he is nervous, provide that nervous energy.  If he is joyful, express that joy.  So in a sense, he becomes a focussed version of me rather than a character of his own.

The Baker, like all the characters who venture into the woods, goes on a journey.  It was important, especially with script cuts, to really show changes in his mood or character during the scenes.  In short order, he starts off relatively content, but becomes nervous and cautious when he starts his journey into the woods.  When he starts retrieving items to make the witch’s potion he becomes emboldened.  This is an important change as the Baker’s Wife needs to see the changes in him by the time they sing the duet, ‘It Takes Two’.

In Act 2, the second journey into the woods turns far more serious.  Again, expressing the part with sincerity and energy are key.  The main change here is showing his dependence on his wife before then having to achieve things without her guiding hand. To quote the character:  “It was my wife who really helped.  I depended on her for everything”.  I really liked developing this relationship and made sure that during Act 1 and the first part of Act 2 he can be seen looking to her for reassurance or moral support.

It was a pleasure to perform such pieces as No-one is Alone, Your Fault and No More.  They are beautifully written songs and it was a treat working with my fellow performers to bring this to life.  Thanks to choreography we were set in our positions and could concentrate on expressing and vocalising the characters.

Verdict Into the Woods is deceptively difficult and requires a lot of hard work and focus to pull off. The Baker is no different in that sense. He requires attention throughout the show and doesn’t really have a lot of off-stage time.  For this reason I’m happy the run is over.  It has been a wonderful experience, one I’m delighted to have had, but now it’s time to leave the woods.

Playing Escamillo

A post-production review:

Photo from the dress reheasal taken by Stewart McPherson.

So it happened. The dust has settled after an incredible week performing in Bristol Opera’s production of Bizet’s Carmen.  So, how did it go?

Since March, the part has continued to evolve and my interpretation alter, partly organically but also thanks to input from fellow performers and friends such as Thomas Woods (playing Don Jose), Herbert DesLauriers (choreographer and dancer) Charlie Monk (Director) and John DesLauriers (friend).  Their advice was truly important, just as the time I had to myself to interpret and adapt the part was crucial.  And so let’s see what happened next…

Character Visualisation:

For me, the one word that represents Escamillo is ‘Focus’.  He has had to believe and demonstrate that he is the best bull fighter to earn his reputation.  He then wonders through the mountains alone and to the bandit camp, all to win Carmen’s heart.  This is one very driven and confident man!!

I still envisioned singled-minded modern footballers such as Ibrahimovic, but also Christiano Ronaldo, who seems to believe first and foremost that winning and personal image mattered most of all.  I would also add to that mix, the character Stacee Jaxx from the musical and movie ‘Rock of Ages’.

In this, the world-weary character has become a stereotype of a rock and roll star unable to escape what his fans expect of him.  His legend precedes him wherever he goes, so much so that he barely needs to react and those around him still respond wildly.  This last visualisation came when working with the rest of the cast and using trying to create the character’s physical attributes suggested by Herbert. For him, less movement in general added to his persona and emphasised any grand gesture he made.

Character Physical Adaptation:

John mentioned that it is easy to over-analyse this character.   In a sense, you cannot overplay him.  He is an all-testosterone alpha-male action hero.  I freely admit I could never reach those heights, and I do not have Escamillo’s confidence or drive to do so.  I used the brilliant reactions of the chorus to build on the character’s ego, but had to find another way to bring him life.  Herbert’s advice was brilliant in this way.  He talked about how to walk, with chest and libido leading the way. Standing tall and keeping gestures to a minimum.  When I continued to have problems adapting however, he saved his best advice to last –   only do one thing at a time.  This means when he walks, he walks.  When he uses a hand to gesture, he is expressing one thing, when he turns his body, he is turning.  This gave the character extra gravitas.

One final help was viewing the excellent photos taken by Stewart Mcpherson.  I looked through and in some photos I could see Escamillo whilst in others I saw a generic principle on Broadway with shining eyes and a wide grin that felt totally inappropriate!  From this I modified my on-stage actions.

Character Vocal Adaptation:

This was the area I was least worried about.  I could sing the part already and as John said, if you concentrate on the character the voice will take care of itself.  What I needed to work on was projection.  I was given some great tips by Thomas.  There are exercises I worked on to improve supporting my voice, but visually this all about focusing on getting a personal message to someone in the backrow of the theatre.

The Good:

I feel like the character evolved before and during the performance week and had a stage presence. Thanks go to my other performers for providing me with the reactions to build from. It gave me the flow I needed to enjoy the role and I came off the stage buzzing every time!   The greatest moment came after the final performance when I was asked to pose for a picture with two members of the children’s chorus. The idea that I have helped inspire them into perhaps performing again gives me great joy!

The ‘Oops’ factor:

Apart from minor moments, faults such as my large size 12G feet continuing to look a little penguin-like I have two confessions make.  Firstly, I do not condone using bathroom cleaning wipes on your face!  I have learned (did there really need to be a lesson?) that this is not healthy and have been treating my face kindly ever since whilst the burn and peeling subsides.

Secondly, on the final night after leaving the smugglers’ camp I tried to exit the stage but could not find the opening to the curtains.  After a moment’s panic I crawled underneath.  I hopefully didn’t break any audience member’s spell!

War of the Worlds

Performing as Young Journalist in Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds as part of a 2016 The Invitation Theatre Company (TITCo) production.

This is quite an intense show to watch and listen to as it takes place during an invasion of the Earth by martians.  I sang the song Forever Autumn but for the most part was a cipher through which the audience could follow along with the plot.  The biggest stars of this show are undoubtedly the orchestra/band and lighting crew.  The music holds it together and both parts add such a lot to the atmosphere!