Thursday, December 19, 2013

Character Creation: Table Work

As you already know, I am preparing the role of the Old Drifter in Shawn Jaeger's new opera, Payne Hollow.  This week, I entered into the next step in opera character creation which is aptly called "Table Work."  Basically, we sit around a table and talk in-depth about the libretto, the music, and our characters.

The first meeting was with the full cast, the director, the assistant director, and the musical preparer.  Payne Hollow has a small cast (only four roles), so it was a rather intimate gathering.  Every director has a different approach to table work and each experience is different depending on the size/dynamics of the cast.

In our table work, our director posed many questions about our characters' back stories, our motivations, and our driving objectives in the plot of the opera.  This is the first place where we make some definitive and important decisions.  The funny thing, for me, was that we spent the first 20 minutes of the meeting deciding my character's sex.  What else is new, right?

Needless to say, we got into some riveting conversations.  The most interesting thing about this character, to me, is the fact that she's drifting, without a home, down the Ohio River in a futuristic world.  Detailing this futuristic world also really gets my brain going, especially since I'm such a sci-fi nerd.  I've read so many post-apocalyptic novels.  I never thought I'd be in a post-apocalyptic opera!

Our second meeting was with the composer.  It was extremely intriguing and inspiring to hear him explain how he came to choose and construct this opera.  He has some really cool ideas and his execution is amazing.  This score really stuns me with its depth and beauty.  And I haven't even heard it orchestrated yet!

Starting a brand new work is exciting, humbling, and, frankly, the tiniest bit terrifying.  It's amazing to create something from scratch and to have the composer as one of my collaborators in the process.  I love the idea that I'm the first person to bring this music and this character to life.  It's also enlightening to get the composer's perspective and insight as I'm preparing the music.  I love that aspect of new music. 

The part that frightens me is the total lack of crutches.  You can't listen to a recording and hear the orchestra.  You can't rely on learning from listening (which is never something that I do or recommend) and you can't rely on memorizing from listening, either.  It's just you and the score.  That can be daunting.

But I'm embracing all of it with a huge smile.  The composer is really open to discussion and that is a huge help.  I'm genuinely pumped about this project and I really hope to be completely immersed in every part of it.

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