Tag Archives: insight theatre

Say it again

My friend who is pregnant for the first time excitedly told me a few weeks ago that she’s experiencing everything in a new way. I was kind of jealous.  It’s fun to experience life differently.  I think it wards off complacency.  With the coming Spring and my artistic pursuits, though, I guess I shouldn’t be jealous.  As it turns out, I’ve been noticing things too.

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.

See how the glass shines?
The Glass Menagerie at Insight Theatre Company. Photo © John Lamb.

My National Anthem

Not surprisingly, participating in a production of Man of La Mancha can make a person spend some time both on and off stage in serious consideration.  Yes, consideration of intention, body language, facial expressions, lines, lyrics, and other actorly things, but also consideration of things like freedom of speech and religion and dreaming big, big dreams.  Don Quixote may call them Impossible Dreams.  Others might venture to label them American Dreams.

I'm only thinking of him

Laura Ernst, Conor Dagenfield, Elise LaBarge
Insight Theatre
photo by John Lamb

After Thursday night’s performance, when provoked, I explained that I couldn’t be out late because my next day’s activities included singing at a Naturalization Ceremony.  A friend of a friend’s ears perked up.  He had been to Naturalization Ceremonies before.  He understood how powerful they can be.  He even repeated something he overheard after one.  “My favorite part,” this new citizen said, “was when they got to the National Anthem.  I’ve heard it plenty of times, but for the first time, it was mine.”

Armed with that story, my Man of La Mancha considerations, and my collection of America’s Favorite Songs book, I walked into the Federal Courthouse on Friday morning.  I’d already been to several Ceremonies, and knew the joy of singing the Star Spangled Banner to 50-something new Americans.  The audience is like no other.  They seem to listen with a distinct kind of open heart.

This Friday, though, I started to sing, and very few people were listening.  No, not listening, but singing.  They had considered seriously, made an oath, and now they were singing.  The man who announced to the court minutes before, “I am from Ukraine.  I start new life now,” and the Bosnian housewife, and the Indian engineer and the Moldovan couple…they and all their fellow citizens were giving it a go.  They were making it their own.  They were singing the National Anthem with me.  And they should, oh, they should have been singing.  Starting that very moment, it was, after all, theirs.