Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Tales from the Orchestra Pit: Guys and Dolls Part 8

Last night was the opening night of the show, the first time a paying audience would be let in to see the results of our labours. After almost a week of (very) intense rehearsal, that was what it came down to. No more second chances or opportunities to tweak things – anything that went wrong would have to stay wrong.
Considering all this, I wasn’t really nervous. Part of this is that I’m an experienced performer who knows I’m not likely to make a major mess of anything. Another large part of it, though, is that as a member of the pit orchestra you tend to feel slightly detached from the production itself. None of the audience can see me where I am, and for the most part they will be focussing on the stage and what the singers/dancers are doing, so if I play something less than perfectly it won’t be a major concern. I tend to get a little more nervous for concert performances where I’m more in the spotlight, but for theatre shows I usually don’t feel so much pressure.
As I mentioned yesterday, we were required to get there for half past six even though the show didn’t start until half seven. The reason for this is that we would be able to set up, warm up and tune before the audience arrived. Then we would sneak back to the dressing room as the audience were allowed in, before making our official entrance to the pit about ten minutes before the start of the show. The reason for this convoluted way of setting up is presumably so that we’re not making a racket warming up while the audience is there, but to be honest I don’t see a problem with that. When I go to see a musical, the sound of the orchestra tuning and getting ready is part of the atmosphere for me, so I see no need for us to stay silent as soon as the audience appear.
The other option, which some productions go for, is much simpler. Basically, the orchestra arrive around half an hour before the start of the performance. They set their instruments up and go into the pit, then tune and warm up whilst the audience are there in their seats. I personally prefer that method, seeing as it’s a lot more straightforward and efficient. Plus it gives me an extra half hour of free time per show.
I couldn’t really see the audience from where I was, but judging from the volume of the applause it was reasonably sized. I expect that audiences will grow as the week goes on, as many people will probably wait for the reviews before they come and see it. Also, Tuesday is never going to be a particularly busy night. Hopefully Friday and Saturday should be more full.
On the whole the performance really was spectacular. You may have gathered by now that I am something of a perfectionist, and tend to be quite critical when little things go wrong. I was pleased to see, however, that all the little issues and glitches that had been present at the previous evening’s dress rehearsal had been ironed out, resulting in a highly polished performance from all concerned. The feedback I received from friends in the audience was also very good. They also noted the American accents, which have been top-notch throughout and have never slipped, so far as I have heard. It just goes to prove the maxim ‘It’ll be alright on the night’.
The music generally went smoothly (or at least as smoothly as could be expected). The scene changes, though, are still proving problematic. A lot of the time we had to repeat the same bars of music rather a lot in order to fill the time, which sounded quite weird and was noticeable from the audience, so my agents tell me. It was like some bizarre form of minimalism – how many times can you listen to the first four bars of ‘Luck Be a Lady’ before it gets too much? And of course the ambiguous conducting of our esteemed musical director led to some pretty rough moments. But we all knew that was going to happen!
All in all, then, it was a brilliant show, and I gather the audience enjoyed it very much. That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t some room for improvement (especially from the orchestra’s point of view). With a bit of luck we’ll manage to smooth over the creases over the course of the next six performances.
As expected, the show did finish at half past ten, a highly respectable time in my opinion.

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