For the past two months, I’ve been involved with our local university’s opera production, “The Consul,” by Gian-Carlo Menotti. This is the first time I’ve had the chance to throw myself into a production, helping with set construction, learning the music, getting stage direction, and even filled in a bit for a lead role until the actor arrived from New York. This is only the second opera I’ve performed; the last was “Pagliacci” a few years ago. Most of my stage experience has been either one-act plays or musical theatre, so this is a different beast entirely, but it’s allowed me to learn a great many things.
First, I didn’t know just how much of my upbringing would be called upon in preparation for the performance. I’m a Tennessee boy, so at some point that “volunteer” gene gets activated and we end up doing things we wouldn’t normally do. I’ve never considered myself that good with power tools, and I haven’t had much chance to use what I have, but apparently a lot of the things I watched Dad do while I was growing up got imprinted on me. I apparently know what I’m doing with circular saws and cutting plexiglass.
Second, I finally get it now that every part is important in a production, be it on stage or backstage. I mean, I understood mentally what it meant, how everything has to fit together just right, but it didn’t hit me until our opening night. We did it. Every one of us. It could not have been possible without every one of us. And we should all be so proud for creating something amazing.
Third, I’ve missed this. I’ve missed performing with a group of incredibly talented, intelligent, beautiful people. I’ve missed being on stage performing to a willing audience–I still can’t believe that opening night was sold out!! I’ve missed losing myself to a part and interacting with characters. I’ve missed the precision of striking and spiking, the perfection of hitting the mark, watching for the cue without watching for the cue, and even just the simple act of putting on the costume. It’s a real release, and something I haven’t done for a while.
“The Consul” is also one of the most difficult works I’ve done. Even my stint as a bottle dancer in “Fiddler on the Roof” wasn’t as challenging as this. It’s not just the acting and the music, but the content as well. Menotti wrote this as his first opera when he read this newspaper article from the New York Times on 12 Feb, 1947. While the story of “The Consul” is different in the particulars, it is no less different or dramatic in its subject matter. I won’t go into the actual synopsis of the opera, because I don’t like spoilers, but I will say that it is difficult not have the material affect you in a very personal way.
Then, of course, there’s the impending end of the show. I can already feel it. I’ve talked about it before, and it’s no less true now. After getting to work on the transformation of the stage to its final form, I know I’m going to be crushed when it’s over and we have to strike the set. Even when we were building the platform floor, I saw pieces of the “George” set cut and molded and screwed together. The doors for the Consul’s office and the apartment were left over from another production, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” I commented about the pieces with the director, and he said, “Oh, I use everything from all of my other performances.”
A good point. I guess we all do, really. Every production we are in, we take something from it that’s special to ourselves, and it goes with us. Our lessons, our achievements, our lead roles and our extra parts, they all become part of our framework–our own stage, if you will–for the rest of our lives. A part of us. The only time we stop adding pieces and memories is when we stop performing.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been so affected by this, because it’s been so long for me. Or it could be that there are some in the cast that I may never get to work with again. Or it could just be that I’m a sap and I think about things like this. In any case, I’ve been privileged in having the opportunity to share this experience, to get back something that I didn’t even know I lost.
So, as an open letter to everyone in the production of “The Consul,” thank you. Thank you for making me part of your family.