Before the curtain rises on the opera, the make-up artist turns this actor into a character.
Almost everyone dreams of living in the world of triumphant melodies and beautiful song. Ahh, if only we could sing our troubles away. The exuberant sounds seeped through the performance hall, as Susannah sang the scandalous events occurring in her life. Susannah’s struggle with the loss of innocence and the dynamic elements of life’s trials and tribulations takes place in the Deep South in the center of the 20th century. She reveals her weathered existence through her enchanting song.
I gazed on the opera, exploring the joys and beauty of the theatrical arts. My friend Erin and I sunk into the oversized theatrical seats as the dress rehearsal commenced. The crochet ceiling captured my eyes, woven into a knitted design. The performance center towered over us, the only outsiders to watch the dress rehearsal before the debut performance the next evening. The seats were empty otherwise, awaiting the opening night that would draw in herds of people to crowd the seats and fill the open air that now bounced around the empty hall. I reverted my gaze to the stage where Susannah’s voice enticed my daydreaming. Her enchanting voice and words seeped to my core.
My thoughts wandered and sang to their own melodies as the actors graced their way through this world of imagination, enwrapped by their theater culture. I was enveloped in my own imaginative reality. Song swirled through the open air and thoughts danced in my head. Susannah’s struggle for freedom and her vigorous character spread energy throughout the performance hall.
The opera ended abruptly with Susannah ultimately triumphing over the harsh realities of her existence. She stands strong in her persona against the set ways of her tight religious community. She does not retreat to a façade of a false existence, but rather she holds steady in her battle for self-expression and undefeated creative and free-spirited being.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview the leads and the stage director the following evening, before the performance. Chuck Hudson was the stage director for Oh! Susannah. He has a prominent career in all genres of the arts and theatre. He became involved in directing while studying in France, and fell in love with conducting the actors and the shaping of the performance. He now lives in New York and is advancing in his career as a director. Chuck says that pre-show jitters are part and parcel to live theatre: “Like a bottle of champagne, if there isn’t any bubbles then it’s not champagne, but if there are too many bubbles then the bottle will explode.”
Backstage was jumbled with energetic performers curious of my presence. I stood behind Megan Miller, who played Susannah. She was stationed in the make-up chair. With make-up dabbed all over her face, the bright bulbed lights shocked the room with exuberating luminescence. The lights trailed down the long mirror, nearly blinding to look at. The make-up artist painted layers of color and dramatic lines, defining the natural structure of her face. Make-up containers were sprawled out on the counter in front of her. The piles of elaborate colors and foundations were like candy to the make-up artist, chosen to sweeten the face. Megan’s face was caked with frosted colors and lines, decorating her natural beauty.
The make-up artist dazzled her eyes with a collage of colorful paints. Megan’s face was a tableau for the artist’s ingenious creations and ideas of the look of a Southern belle. Megan became jovial as she described her life as an opera singer. She said that the best part of her career was that she was being paid to do something she absolutely loved. She enjoyed the excitement of traveling, as well as working with new cast members. However, on the flip side, the worst things were also the best things. She says she tires of the constant instability and becomes burnt out from traveling so much. Due to her moving frequently to different locations, her relationships are jeopardized and her lifestyle is constantly unstable. It’s a dichotomy of both likes and dislikes, the positives also the negatives. But overall she loves her career, and has successfully followed her passion in life. She is living life to the fullest!
The room became loud with chatter, and gradually grew more crowded with the cast. This contagious energy bubbled all around me as they buzzed throughout the dressing room, gifting presents and letters of luck to each other. The singers were ornamented with exquisite costumes and decorative garbs. Some of the cast relaxed on the sofa, waiting their turn for make-up. Others strolled in and out of the room, preparing their antsy selves for the performance.
The cast members were welcoming as they shuttled through this very familiar routine. I, being unfamiliar with backstage life, was engrossed in this rare behind-the-scenes view. Only an hour before the curtain opened, and the cast members carried on as though at a casual cocktail party with the best of friends. They seemed close and uninhibited with each other. Bubbling personalities and exuberant radiance shined from everyone as they prepared to sing for a packed theater
The finishing touches go on, and “Susannah” is transformed.
An entourage of theatrical attire and adornments decorated the dressing room. I grew very comfortable with the cast and the surroundings. I felt as though I was performing with the clan, their high spirits welcoming me as one of the gang. I sank into the theatrical culture and singing echelon of opera life. The majority of the performers were from New York or California, stationed in Eugene for the time necessary for the rehearsals and performance. Life as an opera singer seems fascinating, but at the same time, quite exhausting: never in one place for that long, constantly meeting great people but then having to tear away from them after the life of the play is over.
The grandeur that the theater and song gifts to us by way of opera is captivating. Music is an escape, an interpretation, a longing, an emotion, a story, a lifestyle. Opera has been with us from the dawn of time, a beautiful expression of life’s endeavors. It is and is an outlet for creativity of an invented harmonious world truly an indulgence in the sweetness of imagination.
Take the Stage
So, go to the theatre or a play. Go see something that you’ve always been interested in seeing and envision yourself up there. Better yet, why not audition for a play! Life is short, so live it well!
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