Taking Off the Costume: WWCD?

I am performing the role of Carmen in La tragédie de Carmen  on November 21 and 22 at 1:30pm at the University of Minnesota. Preparing this role has been one of the most challenging, exhilarating and awesome experiences of my career thus far.

Read about what makes Brook’s opera different from Bizet’s in my previous blog post comparing the two versions.

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During the run of a show, I always reach a point where I find it impossible to leave the emotions and mindset of my character behind. I lose track of the line between reality and the show. I feel like my character, I think like my character, I become my character. Don’t start thinking I’ve gone crazy yet. It’s a pretty common issue for actors and singers. When you put yourself in the midst of a story and you spend most of your time focusing on that character, it is hard to pull yourself out of it and go back to reality.

As I have been preparing the role of Carmen, I spend much of my time outside of rehearsal studying my score, reading translations, watching videos and listening to recordings of other productions of the show. I listen to the different vocal techniques people use and contemplate why the singers made those choices. What were they thinking? Why did they chose to sing things one way or another? When you start to dissect why a singer or actor makes a character choice, it all boils down to one question… WWCD: What Would the Character Do? In my case: What would Carmen do?

Once I start diving into a character and what their internal thought process is, I can get a little carried away. To really break down Carmen’s moves- the reason behind her actions- I have to think about where she is coming from and where she is trying to go. Through this, I really feel like I KNOW Carmen, and in many ways I feel like I AM Carmen. It helps to find similarities I have with her so I can start to justify and identify with her choices and then start making my own choices FOR her. If I can’t find similarities or comparisons between my life and Carmen’s, I find substitutions for things so I can get closer to her.

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Putting myself this deep into a show can really start to carry into my real life. Various side effects occur. I usually start to feel closer to the other actors in the way that my character feels towards their character. I make decisions in real life based on how the character would feel (sometimes that gets me into trouble!). I start to feel the way the character feels, and I make choices based on those feelings. When I am studying a happy, confident and fun role, this can often lend itself to a positive disposition, sometimes even for the long term! However, when there is a dark or unstable story or character (so often found in opera), the effects can be quite negative and even scary at times.

So, how do you make sure that darkness doesn’t cut into your real life? The answer is easier said than done: You have to take off your costume and leave it at the theater. You have to be able to change into and out of your character as easily as you do your costume. You come in one person and then use the physical act of changing into your costume as the time you truly become the character, let it envelope you, bring it all out for the time being. Then, when it is time to change out of that costume, you package all of that character up and leave it on the hanger. You have to be able to compartmentalize your life or you start to go crazy.  This goes for studying and prep time, too. Keep your time limited and purposeful. Make sure to enter your study time as the actor and leave the way you came in. Learn how to get into it and back out again. Compartmentalize.

 

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