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June 2020
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2002-11-27 It works both ways with the directors

"But what will happen if you see Jesus on the opening night?", enquired our Austrian director. "I may have to go to him", came the disturbing reply.


In a performance in Dublin a few years ago, one of my colleagues espied Jesus on the set on a daily basis. She had been released from a previous production as she had been frightening the cast. She was also frightening  us and the hapless director released her again.

Directors do have a lot to contend with, but it works both ways. Some directors come from a choreographic background, and simply want to create pretty pictures. They end up using the cast to adorn their set,little or no thought being given to the plot or characterisation.

In a performance of a Baroque opera at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, we (the cast) found ourselves prancing about the stage in skirts, being reprimanded when each finger was not in exactly the required Baroque gesture. This production went on tour to Greece. I withdrew for my sanity.

Some directors are ex-singers who regurgitate productions they have been part of in the past. In numerous operas during my time in England, a director would proceed to act out the scene for us to imitate. The singers input was rarely entertained. I would ask such pertinent questions as Why am I looking out of this window? or Why am I leaning in a ridiculously camp fashion against this pillar?. Because it looks so pretty my darling?. How does one respond to that?

There are the surreal directors. Anyone who knows me knows I thrive on surreal humour and situations. However, it gets more serious when the person directing a stage production is surreal to the extreme, and you end up looking the eejit! In a Haydn opera, I asked our director if she could help me stage my second act aria. The following day she told me she had ruminated about my aria overnight, and enquired as to how I felt about triangles? Isoceles or Equilateral?, I retorted open-mouthed. I was reprimanded as she told me this was no joke. So, as in countless productions, I staged the aria myself, but I did try to think triangles.

In the Wexford Festival, I had a small role in a charming opera by Paisiello. Attending daily rehearsals, I watched in horror as my colleagues peed into buckets, made love to carpets in flesh-coloured bodysuits while injecting heroin or were chained to beds in see-through raincoats. Had I been cast in a different tenor role I would have given my aria in a Dame Edna Everage frock and wig! My first rehearsal was the day before the public dress, and by then the womans vast reservoir of ghastly ideas was running dry. So I was placed in the orchestral pit in a Garda costume just in front of the principal cello. As I sang, I was prodded in the leg by the cellists bow. Normally Im an easy-goin sorta guy, but when I am pushed to throw a wobbly, people sit up and take note. Boy did I lose it on that occasion. Incidentally, when our lovely director got booed on the opening night, she found it so exciting. Have these people no sensitivity to the art form or do they simply want to shock? If we delved into their pasts, might we find something to explain it?

There are the time-wasting directors. In innumerable productions, I have sat through weeks of rehearsal as we slowly block an opening scene because the director was simply too lazy to prepare. There are the one-idea directors who may have had a huge success with a piece by using wacky choreography and decide to do every production like that, but it doesnt just work like that guys! Audiences soon get bored. Then there is that oftentimes terrifying breed the assistant director, continually trying to prove themselves in order to further their career.

Of course not all my experiences have been negative. I was fortunate to have an inspiring English teacher at school in Dublin who staged our school shows. Were he ever to decide to go mainstream, he would be gold-dust. Working with Gerry Stembridge, Stephen Daldry, Stuart Maunder, Claire West and others was an education and a delight. But unfortunately it is the negative experiences which make for the best stories.