Shaping up to be something special
Philippine Daily Inquirer
We are inching closer to the premiere of “Allegiance.” The collaborative process continues, with actors, authors and staff pushing to put this piece together.
The places we’re led to, leading to, and finding ourselves in are all interesting, unnerving, and at times deathly fearsome and nerve-wracking. But this is also what’s invigorating and inspiring about the process. I have nothing but thanks to every force in the universe that made this happen.
One thing I didn’t mention in previous columns (because part of my brain died; funeral announcements are forthcoming … just kidding) is that the one thing that truly impresses me about the cast is not just the speed at which it has taken on so much of the musical material, but the means by which it has done it. Yes, there are smartphones that record voice memos as well as the old-fashioned cassette recorder, but many members of the company can actually read music. This makes learning a big song that much easier.
I had a conversation not too long ago with a vocal coach who lamented how few theater professionals can actually read notes on a page. I presume that choral group members are monster readers, owing to the amount of material they have to commit to memory, the intricate harmonies they have to negotiate, and their ability to transcend genres at the speed of thought. It’s not like that in the theater scene.
My brother and I were strongly encouraged to take up music at an early age. This meant classes every Saturday at the UP College of Music for me. Our pre-K, primary, intermediate and high school years required music classes. We had quite a few piano teachers, but sadly had to stop in our teens. I do regret this, but I’m happy that Gerard decided to take it up again, to great success.
There was much from those lessons and teachers that did stick with me, and boy, am I ever grateful for it. Because many of the changes and edits in the show are musical, that means taking a pencil and changing the notes on the page. Musical supervisor Lynne Shankel will give a verbal instruction that could go something like, “Okay, I want you all to change that quarter note into an eighth and tie it to the eighth at the start of the next bar … watch that quarter rest on measure 15 … for this note, give me a good mezzo forte … sing bars 25-28 down a third … altos, go down to the E, sopranos to the A flat … and finally, decrescendo the last four bars.” Under my breath I thank every single music teacher I studied with.
To every musical theater student and professional, if you haven’t yet learned to read music, start now. It lessens the steepness of that learning curve that accompanies rehearsals and helps alleviate anxiety when given a score. I can’t represent myself as a monster sight-reader, but at the very least I can figure out my keys, watch a vocal line as it rises and falls, and know how loud or soft I need to sing.
I also think music education makes kids smarter, so I suggest that this be required in all schools from kindergarten onward, if it isn’t already. Many sectors of society say our greatest resource are our people; I say, this resource is where the greatest investments should go.
Blood and guts
In this third week of rehearsals, as we work slowly through the second act, the emotional content of the scenes have heightened and jumped. Stakes are raised high, not just for the actors but also for the audience. We’re all hoping they take the ride with us.
Rehearsal sessions for serious scene work can start in many ways—sometimes, with discussions among the director, the actors and the book writers. We tackle intuition, instincts, share relevant personal stories. Or sometimes, music is learned, then director Stafford Arima tells us what the scene needs to be, with writers close by to effect script change. Finally, it can begin and end with improv work. For some reason, it’s this one that is at times the most informative way.
Theater games usually bring up memories of missed repetitions at “Saggeddy saggeddy sa po po” or log rolls in the middle of a floor whose level of clean is questionable at best. But here, a theater game is in context with the story, and we play totally in character. An improv session has, in our show, prompted and inspired our creative staff to stage scene transitions that we hadn’t thought of, or give hints to visual pictures that will then be refined and finalized. It can give the actors the freedom to explore strong acting choices that may or may not be right, using only instinct as guide. It’s a scary, sometimes dangerous path to walk on, but an exciting one, too. We’re still in the stages of discovery, and what has been uncovered has all been useful.
Only a couple of weeks to go, and we’re off at the races. “Allegiance” is shaping up to be something very special. Already at this early stage, it’s a show I’m very proud to be part of.
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