Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Song of Angry Men

Often when I'm working with a group that is trying to nail a difficult number, they'll quickly get to a point where they're OK, good enough, competent.  They've got the notes, the lyrics, the moves.  But trying to get from OK to WOW can be a challenge for the cast.  Getting to that next step, that higher level, requires more than just going through the motions.  

In The Music Man, Herald Hill employs the “think system” for teaching his young band students.  It’s all a scam, so he is attempting to conduct rehearsals with no instruments, nothing but the power of an idea - until he can skip town. While it may be virtually impossible to learn an instrument simply by thinking about it, how actors think about a performance does make a tremendous difference.  Huge.  

I talk in rehearsals – a lot.  It may come across to some as liking the sound of my own voice, but my hope is that I can express myself in a way that will help to draw out a better performance. My own experiences with great directors, musical or theatrical, have taught me the power of an idea, and that an idea is useless if not conveyed.  Not every performer will respond in the same way to the same suggestion.  I may have to demonstrate what I want, or explain why I think a character should behave a certain way.  I may even have to ask for something a little different than what I want in order for it to really click.

One production I was involved with had a large chorus of mostly inexperienced  actors who were, however, quite good singers.  But the right emotion wasn't coming across in their delivery of one particular song.  It was supposed to be fearful, desperate, pleading.  Almost on a whim, thinking I’d have to tone them down, I asked them to sing it like they were angry – really angry.  The change was amazing.  The song wasn't about being angry, but when they thought of it that way, it came across with the perfect strong emotion I was looking for.  It taught me something about not just repetitively expressing what I want, hoping they'll eventually see it through my eyes.  Sometimes I need to find another way to help them think about it, to help them add that spark that turns the number into something special.  Yeah, that makes for a Wow moment.