Opinion and Imploring from a Distant Airport Lounge
I’m currently sitting in the Dubai airport after a month long visit back to Perth – halfway through the long haul-flight. Flying to London is different this time. For the last two years flying into London has meant getting ready to go back to school; catching up with friends and preparing for the roles and classes assigned to me by the Royal Academy of Music. A time for checking boxes: Have I got my enrolment form? My repertoire folder? Have I learnt all the music that I need for the first week? What is the IT Department’s phone number because it’s been two months and obviously I’ve forgotten my uni login details?
I’m sure it will be a familiar phrase to those readers who have moved away from Perth when talking to people, especially those not in the music industry, when you hear, “Gosh that must be a big change!” I suppose they’re right in some ways, but while it may seem like a leap from Perth, it was a leap that you knew had a landing mat. There is great comfort in knowing you have somewhere to be each day. A schedule to follow, a teacher to idolise, deadlines to freak out about, and the greatest comfort of all: A pint at the much beloved Pat’s Bar at RAM to commiserate over after a crappy lesson with aforementioned idolised teacher.
Ah, the good old days of yore. Apart from coming to terms with the fact that I’ve just spent 12 traumatic hours as a 5’10” person playing ‘Human-Tetris-Sleeping-Positions’ in an Economy class plane seat, I find myself contemplating my impending arrival into the wide world of freelance musicianhood. Floating – or perhaps more aptly described as ‘trying-not-to-fall-ing’ – through limbo somewhere between baby professional musician and waitress (a.k.a Rent Paying Tenant) The mood is equal parts exhilarated and quite frankly, bricking it. I suppose now seems as good a time as ever to reflect on what I’ve learnt so far, and I find myself coming back to one simple piece of advice for young singers.
Fair warning: This blog may read a little preachy from here on in. Only because this is something I feel has so strongly impacted my life and development in London, and I wish I had started the practise earlier. If it seems like I’m lecturing, it may well just be because I am, but I promise it comes from a genuine place.
In the most basic terms the lesson is this: GO SEE EVERYTHING. And I do mean EVERYTHING. Every medium, every genre. No matter how big or small, professional or amateur. No matter whether the ticket costs $1 or $100. No matter whether it is theatre, rock music, film, opera, dance, visual art, even mildly disconcerting performance art installation. Absorb everything you can.
I have been bemused and frustrated by the number of people that, even in a city like London, rarely stray from within their specific field. We all love opera. It’s what we do and what we know. But break it down and see just how many artistic elements are found in a staged opera. The heightened nature of the text we deliver is akin to a Jacobean play. The extreme emotional spectrum of the themes often dealt with in opera are that of Greek Tragedy. The set and costuming are all referential to a particular time and place in history that can be found in Classical art galleries. The sense of presence and engagement on stage is found in the electricity and energy of rock star. The abstract and often befuddling content of modern operas can be examined and understood through similar movements in visual and performance art. The ability to move and perform on stage when there are no words or music for your character are seen in the beauty and emotional connection of a ballet dancer. Everything that is available will teach you something about yourself and the relationship you as a performer have with your artistic context. While that may sound a lot like a high school English Literature lecture it’s really just a fancy way of saying that opera doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and if we choose to engage with it, performance can be informed by an endless list of sources.
While we’re on the subject, learn what you like and don’t like and be able to say why. Deciding you don’t like something is worth very little if you lack the ability to articulate why you don’t like it. “Just because” is a surefire way to kill any sort of intelligent discussion about a performance.
Hot tip: Don’t read the reviews before you see a show. Go and form your own opinions and then see if the critics agree with you. I recently saw Daniel Kramer’s production of Romeo and Juliet at the Globe and thought it one of the most moving interpretations of the play I’d ever come across. It wasn’t until 4 months later I read the 1 and 2 star reviews published by pretty much every major newspaper in London. Whether that is reflective of the fuddy-duddy nature of those particular critics or my having poor taste in theatre remains to be seen! However, I stand by my opinion knowing I have a solid hours worth of arguments to defend my position. You think this blog is a rant? Just wait until you come up against me in a theatre debrief!
Now, those reading this in Perth may scoff and protest that my perspective is drastically skewed merely by living in a city like London. The sheer variety of performance and culture available dwarfs what is regularly available in Perth. How could I possibly compare the two? What good is my pontificating about seeing things if there is little or nothing to see? Well…of course you’d be well within your rights to say so. But it’s exactly that fact that makes it so important to see every darned thing that rolls through our city which, day by day, grows a little less little.
Moreover, if we want the Arts to thrive in Perth it has to start with us. I know it can be expensive but it is worth it! We’ve all been the broke student at one point or another in our lives – some, like myself, remain broke students even though we’ve graduated – but this is important so save your pennies and go whenever you can!
When Fringe rolls into town go nuts with rush tickets and see as much as you can. The State Theatre Centre does great work developing new shows and supporting local artists. Go see a live gig in Northbridge and see what’s happening at a truly local level. If it’s not live performance, trot along to a Met Opera or National Theatre screening at Luna Cinemas – you get to see amazingly high quality productions, it’s cheaper than a live performance and you can bring your own snacks: Everybody wins! Take friends along and get the people around you excited about the Arts in Perth. Build up the audience now, because 5 years from now you’ll be wanting them to come and see you in shows.
Nearly done, I promise. If you’ve read this far I hope you’ll indulge me just a little more as I make one final point. The final task:
Once you’ve dipped your toes into a little of everything, let it make you brave in the work you choose to do in your own development. Take everything you’ve seen and be bold. Step out of your comfort zone and see what happens. Nobody is more surprised than me that I’m saying this, but in the immortal words and mumbling Irish accent of Michaél McCarthy, “It’s a game. For fun.” One of the most exhilarating and beneficial experiences was the Cabaret slot at the end of my Grad-Dip year at WAAPA. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? saw us performing jazz songs in a small theatre with no orchestra and nowhere to hide. Utterly rewarding. The freedom to experiment in what isn’t your primary genre is invaluable in learning and developing the other skills you have to offer. Too often we get bogged down in getting it ‘right.’ The right technique, the right sound, the right style. A show like this forces you to forget all that and summon from somewhere else a genuine performance. Now that is a learning curve, and one that I am so grateful WAAPA provided. Fight to get involved with these opportunities, and if they’re not readily available, create them yourself. Get friends together and stage a Shakespeare in your living room, join a burlesque dance group, or take up painting. Let it be fun, not work and just see where it takes you! You’ll be surprised at how well these skills transfer to your opera performance without even realising it.
*Aaaaaand everybody exhale*
So. At the end of all this I suppose the fundamental point I’m making is look beyond your sphere and try new things. For some of you this will be preaching to the choir. For others I hope it goes some way to motivating you to get amongst it. In either case, now that you’ve got your internet browser open go google what’s on in Perth and see what’s out there!
Much love from a sleep deprived traveller!
Written by Madeleine Joyce