Saturday, May 20, 2006

Joy

For the past two weeks, I’ve been taking part in the puppet opera at the Northwest Puppet Center. This year’s opera - “The Opera of Operas: The Life and Death of Tom Thumb the Great” – is a musical pastiche with tunes by Thomas Arne and Johann Hasse, along with English tunes and drinking songs, all set to a libretto by Henry Fielding. I sing Tom’s tunes, including a trio with the beautiful princess (another soprano) and the giantess (a bass!) who are fighting over little Tommy, but my favorite musical moment is when I get to “sing” a song for Judy, doing my best to match my singing voice to the crackly, raspy voice the puppeteer has given her!

The basis for all musical and dramatic decisions in this production has been “Is it silly?” What a fun change of pace! Opera can be a very serious affair, I’m afraid, on both sides of the stage. So the opportunity to be silly, and to be surrounded by silliness, is one that I embraced gladly. I had no choice, really, because how serious can I be when I’m singing the word “little” repeatedly on a high G? “Little, little, little, little though I be…” all on a high G! I tried so hard when I was learning the music to “really sing it.” And, well, it was hard. At the first rehearsal, I was surprised when the other musicians and the puppeteers started laughing at that point; not at me, but at the music! It is a funny moment, not a serious one, so when I relaxed my seriousness and just let it be silly, it instantly became easy.

Everyone else in the cast has embraced the silly, too, stretching their voices to take on more colors (we’re all singing for several puppets each), to make ugly sounds, or even to belch on command! Hey, this is low-brow baroque puppetry we’re talking about! I get to use my rooster crow and play a horn made from a cow’s horn (kind of creepy to this vegetarian…), and another singer has learned how to play the musical saw! So much fun. Of course, the puppeteers, the Carter Family, are the one encouraging all the silliness! The keep us on our toes – and stifling our laughter! – every show with their clever improvisations and joyful performances.

The singers and musicians sit on the lip of the stage, in front of the puppet stage, so we can see the audience. I have had such a wonderful time watching people’s faces! This is definitely an “adult” show (those naughty puppets…), but it is amazing to watch how quickly grown-ups will shed the pretenses of A Night At The Theatre and fully embrace the atmosphere of silliness. They laugh and groan at the jokes, sing with gusto during the “audience participation,” and generally forget that they are not six years old. When Tom Thumb makes his first appearance, he waves at the audience, and every night, at least one “grown-up” waves back with a huge smile on his or her face.

That’s what I feel and sense around me during every show: Joy. We are making our living by playing! Talk about right livelihood... I got to get up on the scaffolding backstage and manipulate a few puppets the other day, and this time I was the one who couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I hope I can remember this feeling next time I’m in the middle of a “serious” opera; it is still playing, and it should always be joyful.

5 comments:

Soen Joon Sunim said...

Well, congratulations on your silliness! I've recently started teaching our kindergarteners at the temple's school, and it's required me to more or less loosen up, too--to my great pleasure and surprise. The puppet theater sounds wonderful.

TJM said...

Sounds like a very fun show.

"singers and musicians"? Them's fightin' words in some parts, or at least kind of un-PC, though I'm not sure which party should feel more offended.

Nice to have you back!
t

ACB said...

Now, now, Tomness, there's that seriousness I was talking about!

Lucky me (lucky we!) to be a singer AND a musician, while those poor "instrumentalists" are only musicians... ;)

Paul G. McCurdy said...

It sounds wonderful -- wish I could be in that audience!

Seems like you're turning some challenging times into an opportunity for growth -- I admire that!

Ariadne said...

I don't know exactly why, but I was drawn to re-read this post today. It's 6:37 am here, Hannah & the puppies are snoozing for a few more blissful minutes, and, even though it's still dark, it's already a gorgeous spring day and birdies are chirping outside.

This is the post you titled "Joy" and I can feel the joy of this puppet performance then and the joy of your Bhakhti project now, all blending togehter. What a creative & productive time for you, Anne-Carolyn!!!

Hannah's middle name is Joy, maybe I'll give you a middle name in singer-sisterly affection. Let's go with: Anne-Carolyn "Joy of Bhakhti" Bird. Yes! Have a great day, sweet girl.

Hugs, Andrea

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