In the fall of 2008 I wrote this post about how, for some inexplicable reason, I seem to ask directors to make my life more difficult by pleading with them to let me do strange stunts on stage. I wish I had some photos of the positions I've agreed to put myself in during this production of Agrippina, like this photo someone took of me during the Barbiere rehearsals in California where I begged the director to let me swing from the staircase like a crazy person:
And the funny thing is, instead of working with directors who say "you must" lie on the floor with your legs in the air while singing an aria, I actually find myself asking them. "what about this position? And then I could curl up in a ball and roll around. What do you think?" But I wasn't always like that.
One of my first big jobs was singing Lazuli in L'Etoile at New York City Opera. It was my first starring role with that company, I was only a year or so out of school, and I was really nervous about the whole endeavor. The assistant stage director was a young guy named Tim O'Leary who has since become a good friend of mine, but whom I had only just met when the rehearsals began. (If you recognize his name it's because he is now the General Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis). Tim and I are now great friends, but we laugh really hard when reminiscing about our first time working together. One of us only has to say the words "WHILE I'M SINGING" and we both start hysterically laughing because it reminds us of some of the difficulties we had during that production.
In that production of L'Etoile, my character's first aria was to be sung lying down on my stomach, propped up on my elbows. During the first day of staging, when Tim showed me what position I was supposed to take, I immediately screeched, "you want me to lie like that WHILE I'M SINGING????" This was the first aria of the first big role with the first big company I was singing, and I was supposed to sing it while lying on my belly??? I was petrified that the position would interfere with my singing, and Tim, ever the diplomat calmed me down and told me not to worry, we would find the position that worked for me. We ended up compromising and I started the aria lying on my side and rose soon after it began and sang while kneeling. There were several other incidents during that production, including one where I was informed by Tim that I had to wear this really weird uncomfortable pair of shoes before this one scene where I had to kneel a lot, and they got in my way. Again, concerned that having to alter my position would really mess with my singing, I almost cried, "I can't possibly wear those ASSHOLE shoes during that really high floaty part!! It will be a disaster!!!" this time choosing to focus my rage on the shoes and not on my kindly friend Tim. I was obviously extremely uptight about that entire situation, and just worried that something - anything - could compromise what I wanted to be my absolute best.
The funny thing was that I ended up getting incredibly sick for the premiere and had to take a ton of medicine just to get my voice to work, but it still went just great and I ended up getting a fantastic review in the New York Times. It was probably the stress and pressure I was putting on myself that caused me to get sick, and with a nasty upper respiratory infection, I wasn't paying any attention to what position I was singing from, I was just praying for my voice to come out.
And then somewhere along the way, I realized that being in weird positions - especially reclining positions - actually relaxes me in a way, and allows me to sing better. Of course, some really difficult passages require good posture for good support, but for most things, lying down is totally awesome - as is crawling, bending over sideways, sitting, kneeling, and generally bending in ways that make you look more like an actor and less like a stand and shout opera singer. And when I realized this, I found that crawling around the set like a jungle gym was really fun, and the sportiness of it all unlocked my body and allowed me even more freedom in my singing. So I started actually asking directors to put me in all the weird positions they wanted to, and they have been mostly happy to comply.
Of course, I can't resist getting a little sympathy from them as I point out all the weird positions they've put me in, and showing them the bruises on my knees while whining about the crick in my neck. But I love it all - the weirder the better - I just don't necessarily need them to know that I'm not actually a martyr wiling to suffer for my art at all costs.