November 10, 2009

learning the text

I am running the supertext for Orphee, since our normal operator -- our principal accompanist -- is down in the pit playing three keyboards. (Not simultaneously.) I always have a small hand in them: I track down perusal scripts, rent them, format them for our projector, and operate them during tech rehearsals (when our accompanist acts as the substitute orchestra). But it's only once a season or so that I get to run them for performance.

I love running supertext. I jokingly call the booth "my safe place," since I'm so far from the stage and action. If the orchestra has a problem, oh well! I'm up in my safe place. Titles are especially fun when I really like a show, since I'm forced to follow the score and I'm at liberty to bop around and mouth along. I could sing along too but I'd probably drive my stagehand crazy. The downside to running shows I love is that I never get to watch them in the theater, since I have my head buried in the score most of the time. [Running titles during shows I don't like is awful. You're stuck listening even if you'd rather be backstage eating cookies.]

Running the titles is a funny job. Unlike many companies, our supertitles are run by one person, not two. (Typically there is a supertitle operator, and a separate person to cue the operator). So I'm the person who's reading the score as well as the person who's pushing the button. (This is what I call the job. "Pushing the button.") In order to time a title just right, you have to take a certain leap of faith: You have to believe that the singer who's about to sing the line you're about to run is actually going to sing that line. At the right time. Because you have to press the button just before the entrance in order to hit it and not be late.

The other danger is trigger finger. It's so easy to push that button the minute somebody moves to the next phrase, even if the title isn't supposed to change! There's no going back once you've advanced the slide, so then you just have to sit there and squirm until the timing lines up again. The squirming sucks. There's often cursing involved.

I've loved running titles for Orphee. It's given me an opportunity to learn the libretto in a way I wouldn't have if I'd only sat and watched every night. I've gotten to mouth along with French for 7 full runs of the opera so far; nine in total, and that's if you don't include the orchestra readings. Running titles means I'm participating in real-time with the show, something I never do as librarian. It's particularly gratifying when you reach a funny title; I always have a moment when I think, "They're going to laugh!" and then they do.

I've had a particular feeling of investment for every show I've called, and in turn, those are the shows that I'm most fond of in retrospect: The Rape of Lucretia, Magic Flute, Albert Herring, Turn of the Screw. These, not by coincidence, are also the shows I'm likeliest to listen to recreationally. (The only exception to the rule is Nixon in China, which is my #1 opera for around the house).

I've managed to be moved by Orphee every night, despite my great distance from the stage and my inability to watch more than a snippet at a time. There's still so much to say on the subject. Every night, beginning with last Wednesday's final dress, I've found myself thinking how little I want the show to close, and how much I'll miss it when it's over.

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