Actors and directors are always talking about listening, which is funny because half the time conductors are telling you NOT to listen. If you do, you’re likely to fall behind the orchestra and the music falls apart and the conductor makes faces. In non-singing theatre, in order to really engage on stage, you need to be listening to your scene partners and let your lines fall naturally. Acting 101. Well, I swear I’ve been listening, but every once in a while, I hear something I’ve heard a million times in a completely new way. Like a pregnant lady, I guess, without the expectation.
We performed The Glass Menagerie last Friday for about 100 high school students. I’m playing Laura. As a few of the lines came out of our mouths, I felt the profundity of them for the first time: “Say, you finished high school?” my Gentleman Caller asked. “I made bad grades on my final exams,” I said. “You mean you dropped out?” I stopped, “I never went back.” Wham. Tennessee Williams wants you all to stay in school. Did you hear that, students? Oh, I hope they heard it the way I did that day.
I’ve been listening differently, too, in the context of the various projects I’ve been working on simultaneously. Some Union Avenue Opera folks and I were at an elementary school performing Little Red Riding Hood the other day, and as we started singing, I realized that Little Red’s mother says a lot of the same things that Laura’s mom says in The Glass Menagerie. Fortunately for her, Little Red makes out better than poor Laura. And every time the Gentleman Caller tells Laura that “being different is nothing to be ashamed of,” I think of sweet, sweet Ferdinand who discovers the very same thing in UAO’s other children’s opera, Carmen and the Bull. He makes out better than her, too.
My parents heard my brother sing with the Atlanta Symphony Chorus last weekend. It was Bach. They found it fascinating that Bach would write an aria that lasts 8 minutes, but only has 2 lines of text. Why sing the same 2 lines over and over again for 8 minutes?
Maybe Bach wants us to sing and hear the same words in a new way each time, too.