Sunday, February 26, 2012


Last week marked the beginning of staging for La Calisto. It was our second week of "break" from school (the previous week was when I was in New York performing Theory of Flight), but it would be more accurate to say it was our second week without classes, as 273 Bloor St. West has been bustling with activity, from the orchestra concert with Leon Fleisher as conductor and soloist to the auditions for next year's students to our week of rehearsals.

These rehearsals are much like what I experienced when working with Yale Opera. We begin by reviewing each act with with a read- and then sing-through, attended by our Italian diction coach, as well as the usual crew: the director, music director, répétiteur/other music director, stage manager, and two assistant stage managers. Then we move into staging. Those needed for the scenes in question are called for a several hour block. Rehearsal props approximate those that will be used on stage, including full skirts (which means that all of the ladies playing ladies are robed in these candy-pink polyester taffeta concoctions). We're rehearsing in one of the smaller performance spaces in the building, Conservatory Theatre (yes, Canadians spell things strangely) and the outlines of the set are taped onto the floor. The performances will be in Koerner Hall, which you can see here in a photo I stole from the internet:

A pyramid of steps (a ziggurat, if you will--there's fifth grade coming in handy!) will be built in the center of the stage and turned on an angle. Sheets of cloth will be hanging from the ceiling, designed to evoke trees, upon which lights and images can be projected. We'll be in Edwardian garb. I haven't seen my costume yet, but when we were measured the other day a few students saw some of the sketches. I've heard that Mercury will be in a driving outfit and Jove will be in a tuxedo, and Diana has a riding/hunting outfit. In my mind, this makes Calisto and the other nymphs a little like the Gibson girls below--independent to a degree but still hemmed in by society--but I guess I'll see soon enough. Oh yeah, and then there's the bear costume. No word on that either!

And, true to the original executors of this opera who spent a sizable chunk of their budget creating a real fountain with real water on their 1651 stage, it seems as if there will be some stunning magic. I don't want to spoil the effects for those of you coming or get in trouble for revealing such things beforehand (I don't know that I would, but I'd rather avoid it), so perhaps they shall wait until later. Since we're not in the space yet, it's all in my imagination anyway! And it really is funny how far that will take you. After a couple of days rehearsing with the taped outlines in Conservatory Theatre, the steps began to feel real, and when I see the space in my mind, it is in 3-D. I was wondering if I were just a little too enthusiastic about this whole endeavor when the person playing Diana mentioned to me that she sees them that way too. Guess we're all going a little crazy!

While we're "on stage" working, even at this early juncture, we rely on a whole host of people on the other side of the room. Two people are playing continuo, the director is directing us, the stage manager is writing everything that we're doing down on little sticky notes that are positioned and repositioned any time something changes, and the assistant stage managers are I think doing the same thing, plus carrying out other tasks and making everything happen. They're perhaps a little like unicorns: they possess magical properties of amelioration and healing, but you never see them at work because you're too busy pretending to drink out of an imaginary fountain. Well, perhaps that analogy was stretched a little, but the gist of it is that putting on a stage production requires an enormous amount of work, much of which is behind-the-scenes and is deserving of at least as much applause as the folks on stage with flapping mouths.

My favorite part about the staging process is the act of uncovering the character. No matter how hard I try to explore all the nooks and crannies when studying and preparing a role, new surprises emerge when they step onstage. All of a sudden, patterns of words take on new significance, perhaps certain phrases that I felt pointed to action are now more lethargic: new impulses are discovered. It feels a little like what I imagine sculpting to be--you start with a block of stone and, slowly but surely, the figure emerges. It's so much fun. This director's style involves both freedom for the actor but also incorporates (at least here) a fair bit of physical comedy and/or specific physical gestures, which require exact timing, so often we'll begin by feeling our way into a scene and then continue by sharpening and refining edges.

Thus far we've made it almost to the end of the second act. Classes start up again tomorrow so we'll be relegated to evenings two days a week and Saturdays again, though I think all of us would rather remain immersed in staging. I know I would! That and voice lessons and I think I'd be happy forever.

And when I haven't been in rehearsal, things have been sometimes chaotic at home. On Friday, I wasn't called in for 10 am rehearsal for the first time all week, so I decided to make bread (a pain de mie). It was a dreary, sleeting day and I had just put the loaves in the oven and went outside to take out the trash and recycling from the basement before eating lunch when... the door was locked! And I was locked out! And the bread was in the oven! And the cat was inside! And I had to be at rehearsal at 2:30! And I didn't have any money or my cell phone! Luckily I was wearing shoes and a neighbor I'd met once before was home; she was able to help me get Comrade MM's phone number, who told me to take the taxi to her workplace where she gave me her keys and taxi fare, and I was able to get home just at 2:00 to see the house safe, the bread perhaps salvageable for croutons, and the cat alive. Though I did slip when I was running inside to get some more money for the taxi and bruised my hip and hand. And I didn't have time to eat lunch and I was so hungry. It was a long, long day.

And in the meantime, Our Paulie of Many Diseases (at one point diagnosed as a bacterial infection, yeast infection, roundworm, and ringworm) has donned a cone of shame. It seems he doesn't have ringworm but the verdict is out on the cause of his suffering (perhaps a food allergy? ear mites, if the last culture was faulty?), so he has to wear a cone until he gets better. He is rather miserable about it.

Here he is on my bed, surrounded by the detritus of yesterday and looking rather morose:

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