In an operetta, there really aren’t a lot of scenes — since almost everything is sung. Here, I think it’s important to note that “Acting” is an entirely different animal from “Singing;” or at least the approach to each can be quite different. For one thing, actors and directors are given many more opportunities for invention and interpretation when it comes to spoken dialogue. Of course, the flip side is that we are given almost no guidance other than the words themselves. In music, we are told precisely how long to hold each syllable. We are given tempi, and cadence, rests, high notes and low notes. In short, the singer is told how to use the voice, and told rather precisely. While there is certainly room for interpretation, the structure for a musical performance is pretty well laid out for us.
When it comes to performing spoken dialogue it’s a bit more of an adventure; an excavation; a discovery. And it is always an exhilarating collaboration…. between the author, the director, each individual actor, and eventually with each individual audience member.
When we read the text we must listen for rhythms — they’re hidden in the most surprising places. We must listen for relevance, for humor, and for poignancy. We must read the words and really hear the words. Let them speak to us. And we must try and discover where the words want to lead us.
The magic of all this is that words are shape-shifters, time-travelers and magicians. These same words led directors and actors to certain places over a century ago. In the intervening years their meanings may have changed slightly, and the ideas to which they allude may have also shifted in the public consciousness. And now, 130 years later, new directors and actors read them and interpret them. And new audiences will hear them and interpret them as well.
As a director, I certainly listen to the words. I let them guide me and tell me where to take this particular production at this particular time. The words carry me very far into the process of planning and staging the production. But then comes a new kind of listening. When the actors take the script in hand and begin to make the words their own. It is time for the director to step back and to listen again. Certainly I will make suggestions and perhaps even challenge interpretations. But I must also listen to the new voice each actor brings to the text. Each actor brings insights and instincts which are unique, and valuable, and exciting. And one of the greatest joys of directing is to really hear those new voices; to embrace them, encourage them, and to help to weave them into their own kind of symphony.
So that was a lot of build-up to say we worked on the spoken dialogue tonight. We’d staged the scenes some time ago and have been running them during most of our recent rehearsals. During which time I have been listening and assessing. Tonight we took the time to really focus on each individual scene and to more finely craft the way in which each is being delivered. We agreed on tempi and cadence, rests, high notes and low notes. We discussed interpretations and added layers of both sound and motion. We focused on storytelling, clarity, diction and performance. We listened and we learned. And the words were or guides.
Again — lovely, dedicated work from all.