Author Topic: Transitioning from theatre to opera  (Read 7287 times)

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Tempest

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Transitioning from theatre to opera
« on: Apr 18, 2010, 01:31 pm »
BIG FAT CAVEAT:  I am only speaking from my experience and this is in no way to be taken as a universal set of truths, or, even as a terribly informed opinion.  I just remember seeing a lot of posts by people who have only done theatre asking about transitioning to opera and thought I'd post my experience.

Most of my professional work is being done in a 200-ish seat partial thrust house, converted from an old elementary school cafe-torium.  It's a good company, been around 25 years and is Equity or not on a show-by show basis.  I've ASM'd for them once, and SMd two or three shows of their five show season every year for the last five years.   

Late this last winter, a call went out on the local job boards for an ASM position for one show at the Opera, this spring.  I'd done two summer seasons of Opera as a carp/stage hand in college, and enjoyed it, so I applied.  I was lucky enough to get the job.  We're teching now, and I'm having a blast.  Here are a couple of observations and suggestions from my transition experience.

EVERYTHING scales up.  Sets, costumes, numbers of performers, number of details, budget, amount of paperwork.  Except time, that seems to be very condensed.  We've got a 5 week schedule from first rehearsal to CLOSING night.

Respect, respect, respect.  Everything is Mr. or Ms.  on all paperwork (though most of the singers I'm working with have asked I use their first names when talking to them)

You will do more paperwork than you know what to do with, a lot of it stuff that you've never even heard of, before.  A lot of the time, there will be a very specific format that the company wants you to do it in.  When in doubt, ask your SM, and/or the department you're going to be giving it to.  My laptop has been invaluable for this process.  Not in rehearsal, but I'll find myself darting down to the office on breaks and typing in the latest notes.

You will do that paperwork about three million times.  Be sure to include not only the date, but the version number!

Pay attention to everything, but be prepared to let go of things that are not your responsibility.  Example: I'm the costume liason for this show, so I need to note all principal/chorus/super entrances and exits for their dressing sheets.  I put a lot of energy into keeping track of the chorus and supers, in particular, since they've got most of the costume changes.  But, their blocking is not my responsibility, nor am I their SM-team liason.  Now that we're in tech, I find myself contantly reminding myself, "xxx is not my job, the best way I can help is to stay out of the way and be prepared for the next thing that IS my responsibility."  I'm really bad at that....

Despite the condensed schedule, because singers are coddled more than actors, you will get more rest, or at least time out of rehearsal.  I am astonished to report that I've only had three nights in the last three weeks where I couldn't manage eight hours, and I have an hour commute, one way!  This would probably be very different if I were the SM instead of an ASM, but right now, I'm just grateful for the rest.

Performers are performers.  I expeceted opera singers to be a little more serious and persnickety, but I'm experienceing about the usual proportion of jokers/serious, personable/aloof, attentive/goofing off, etc. that I see in the cast of a play.

I'm sure I could think of more, and will, later, but we teched everything last night, and my brain is sort of going 'splodey.  I'm grateful for the Sitz/Wandel day off to catch up on life!  And paperwork.  ;D
But, really, I've never had such a good time working on a show; I could do this for the rest of my life.

I hope this little set of observations is useful for anyone else making the transition!
Jessica: "Of course I have a metric size 4 dinglehopper in my kit!  Who do you think I am?"

planetmike

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Re: Transitioning from theatre to opera
« Reply #1 on: Apr 18, 2010, 10:45 pm »
Wow, that is very helpful, and interesting. Thanks for sharing. Break a leg!

PSMKay

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Re: Transitioning from theatre to opera
« Reply #2 on: Apr 19, 2010, 12:48 am »
Thank you SO much, t_g!  This is fantastic, and should be read by anyone trying to shift into opera!

BlantonRK

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Re: Transitioning from theatre to opera
« Reply #3 on: Apr 19, 2010, 04:58 pm »
Great observations!
A few follow up questions:
    1) How did the company go about showing you the "Opera Way" of doing things?
    2) Did you use SMNetwork as a resource? If so, what was the best advice you saw?
    3) How would you rate your music reading ability and how did you gain those skills?

Tempest

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Re: Transitioning from theatre to opera
« Reply #4 on: Apr 19, 2010, 06:48 pm »
Great observations!
A few follow up questions:
    1) How did the company go about showing you the "Opera Way" of doing things?
    2) Did you use SMNetwork as a resource? If so, what was the best advice you saw?
    3) How would you rate your music reading ability and how did you gain those skills?
1) I was shown the "opera way" of doing things pretty haphazardly.  Really, I did a lot of observing the other ASMs, looking for patterns, keeping my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut, except to ask questions.  I did come in most of the way through prep week, so, if I had come in at the begining, it might have been a more comprehensive education.  It was sort of frustrating to "learn by doing" but it only took me a few days to adjust, and I only made a few faux pas.
2) I didn't actually look anything up on SMetwork, but I did recall a few tidbits from posts I had read in the past that were helpful.  I haven't had a chance to do much personal computing since we started.
3) My music reading ability is excellent; I played French Horn for eight years in school.  And the ability to read music has been pretty vital, I'd be very lost without it.  (Though I'm taking a few cues off the sound of the music, and not necessarily looking at my score, at that point....
Jessica: "Of course I have a metric size 4 dinglehopper in my kit!  Who do you think I am?"

Tempest

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Re: Transitioning from theatre to opera
« Reply #5 on: Apr 22, 2010, 11:07 am »
Here's a few more observations from tech week:

If you are unaccustomed to working in an IATSE house and you are performing in one, You.  Will.  Go.  Crazy.  It is UNVELIEVABLY frustrating to have to track down a crew member to move a cube a foot and a half to the left, because you're not allowed to touch it and they set it wrong in the first place.  The thing weighs less than ten pounds, and I put forth more effort searching out crew than it would be to move it myself, but I can't do that.  This is really annoying me because I started out life as a carpenters.  I am totally capable of and qualified to move set myself, but I can't touch it!

Dressers are your best friends.  If they like you, they can save you so much time searching out people back stage.  I pop into the hallway looking quizzical and most of them immedaitely ask who I'm looking for, and can usually tell me if they're in their dressing room, someone else's room, wig/makeup, onstage, went down the hall, etc.  Not their job, but the ladies I'm working with, at least, seem to like to be helpful, and I apprecaite it.

That thing I said about rest?  Goes of the window once you move into the performace space.

You will cease to be able to recognize men once the fake beards go on.  This goes double for chorus.

Crew members will mess with you when you least can take it.  Right now, I'm feeling pretty murdereous.
Jessica: "Of course I have a metric size 4 dinglehopper in my kit!  Who do you think I am?"

Jill Woodward

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Re: Transitioning from theatre to opera
« Reply #6 on: Jul 09, 2010, 05:57 pm »
Thank you so much for sharing! Opera is where I ultimately want to wind up and you've given me a lot of insight! :)

dallas10086

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Re: Transitioning from theatre to opera
« Reply #7 on: Jul 09, 2010, 07:33 pm »
I'm not intentionally trying to make the transition to opera, but at the moment it seems my best chance at full-time employment with any arts organization - I'm keeping my fingers crossed for my 2nd interview.

I have noticed similar differences when working as a PA for VA Opera, especially the strange (to me) habit of calling everyone Ms. or Mr., calling performers for entrances (this really confused me initially, since I thought, shouldn't they know the music well enough to know their entrances?) and just the overall grandeur that goes into every production that typically only has 3-5 performances. I didn't like opera initially and thought it was going to be a long season, but I grew to appreciate it and eventually discovered a few operas I love.

I'm thankful for SM Network, since now I'm scouring everything opera-related so I'm much more prepared for the interview.

Maribeth

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Re: Transitioning from theatre to opera
« Reply #8 on: Mar 14, 2011, 09:34 am »
Something that I don't think has been brought up here before:

Often in opera, instead of building every show from scratch like many regional theatre companies do, they will rent a previous production from another company. So, if you are doing Rigoletto, you may be renting XYZ Opera's production of Rigoletto. This can mean that you are

1) remounting it completely, with the original director (or their AD) directing the show again
2) using the costumes and sets from the first production, but with a new director and new staging
3) other combinations- sets from one company, but new costumes, or costumes from a different company

Opera companies will sometimes split the cost of a new production- company A will build the sets, company B the costumes, or some combination, and after it's done playing at company A it will travel to company B, and then on to other companies who will rent the production after that. A new production is incredibly expensive, and renting it out to other operas will help recoup some of the costs.

If you're renting a production from another company, you can glean a lot of information from the paperwork of the old production. Running lists, prop lists, costume plots, etc can all be included. Your production may obviously vary and the paperwork will have to be redone, but it can be a real asset during prep week to have this information, particularly for a remount.


All of this has been on my mind lately as we prepare a new production, knowing that our paperwork will be going on to many other venues after this production closes.

dallas10086

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Re: Transitioning from theatre to opera
« Reply #9 on: Mar 14, 2011, 09:45 am »
Something that I don't think has been brought up here before:

Often in opera, instead of building every show from scratch like many regional theatre companies do, they will rent a previous production from another company. So, if you are doing Rigoletto, you may be renting XYZ Opera's production of Rigoletto. This can mean that you are

1) remounting it completely, with the original director (or their AD) directing the show again
2) using the costumes and sets from the first production, but with a new director and new staging
3) other combinations- sets from one company, but new costumes, or costumes from a different company

Opera companies will sometimes split the cost of a new production- company A will build the sets, company B the costumes, or some combination, and after it's done playing at company A it will travel to company B, and then on to other companies who will rent the production after that. A new production is incredibly expensive, and renting it out to other operas will help recoup some of the costs.

If you're renting a production from another company, you can glean a lot of information from the paperwork of the old production. Running lists, prop lists, costume plots, etc can all be included. Your production may obviously vary and the paperwork will have to be redone, but it can be a real asset during prep week to have this information, particularly for a remount.


All of this has been on my mind lately as we prepare a new production, knowing that our paperwork will be going on to many other venues after this production closes.

And I see Maribeth that you're doing Turandot, my favorite opera thus far. Can you feel my jealousy? :)

Maribeth

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Re: Transitioning from theatre to opera
« Reply #10 on: Mar 17, 2011, 10:34 pm »
And I see Maribeth that you're doing Turandot, my favorite opera thus far. Can you feel my jealousy? :)

Haha- it's a great opera and I'm having fun. Long long long days, but tomorrow we have our final run in the rehearsal room and we move to the stage on Tuesday. I can't wait to see it come together.

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Re: Transitioning from theatre to opera
« Reply #11 on: Mar 18, 2011, 11:20 pm »
The note about the paperwork going with the production is particularly important in both directions.  You hope/expect to get good information from the last company who performed the show, but you also need to be sure that your paperwork is in good enough shape to be useful to the next company who will do the show.  A set moves around with paperwork from its original production, but usually the production team at the company about to perform the show will contact the most recent company who did the show, since directors continue to make changes each time they mount a given show.  They'll want you to be working off of the most recent iteration, not the original one (which could be 5 years ago or more).  So even if you don't originate a show, it's really important to create paperwork that you'll be proud to pass on to another company.

Tags: opera 
 

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