Monday, October 10, 2016

Tom Goes to the Opera: immersion

Photo: Jeff Roffman
In my first blog post in this series, I referred to the Opera as “The Wow Art Form."  We opened The Abduction from the Seraglio on Saturday night, and now I realize I need a word stronger than “Wow." “The Boom Art Form?" “The Nuclear Art Form?" “The OMG Art Form?"  Or, maybe the word “immersive” gets best at what being in an opera does. 

That’s the word my son, Stephen (who is illustrating these posts) used last Saturday night in an excited phone conversation we had after opening. Watching from the front row, he said, “I’ve never seen you so immersed in a role.” 

Part of the reason for that “immersion” may be that after Melanie Steele’s crack staff applies wig, make-up, tattoos and a lot of Pasha-bling, I return to my dressing room and look in the mirror and I can no longer see myself. This means something important for the actor’s process and for the audience’s catharsis. 
Photo: Jeff Roffman
I first encountered this kind of phenomenon early in my career when at auditions, I would often hear the director say, “That was great, you can sing, you can act, but this time do it again and just be yourself.” 

This really drove me crazy. At that time, I believed that the entire purpose of an actor was to portray someone I’m not.  But, I also knew that every time I took the director’s advice and just did the character as myself, it worked. 

Later, when I went for a Masters in Theatre at the University of Tennessee, a visiting professor, Bernie Engles, helped enormously with this paradox by offering the following theory of acting: revealing who you are as appropriate to the character and script. It worked. It ignited an energy of performance that, decades later, still sustains and propels. 

Maybe it is the sheer imaginative ambition of opera, super exceeding the natural self, the realistic self, the self recognizable in the mirror, that presents the actor and the audience, the surest way to discover what we most want to know about ourselves--immersion in the unknown. Who knew there was a way to find our inner Pasha? Wow!   

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