All bow!

December 11, 2009

MARTIN WYATT, Community Ensemble Participant

An important part of any performance, I believe, is the bow at the end.  This is the opportunity for the audience to show its appreciation (or not) for the fine performance it has just enjoyed (or not).

And when it comes to opera, the sheer number of bodies on stage is usually more than other types of shows.  And the theatres tend to be big too, so there are more pairs of hands out there in the dark clapping furiously (or not!).

So it has always intrigued me how such a vast company manages to bow perfectly in time.  Do they follow the lead of one of the soloists?  Do they count to 10 and dip?  Or is it entirely instinctive – are they so in tune (pardon the pun) that they just know when to bow?

Well now I have had the opportunity to experience this from the other side, I can reveal the secret.  Standing in the wings are a team of gallant stage managers and assistant stage managers who keep the show running all night.  And when it comes to the bows they’re still there, yelling at the tops of their voices ‘All bow!’  And we do.  It’s as simple as that…

But it occurred to me last night, as we bowed on cue, that these poor souls never get a chance for a bow themselves.  This hardly seems fair to me, as they have worked just as hard (even harder) than everyone else on stage.  They have been with us at every rehearsal, both in West Hampstead and at the Coliseum.  They have been there for every performance, and we rely on them to get us on and off stage exactly on cue.  They push things, lift things, light candles, and yank golden lilies into the air.  And not one hand clap is awarded them.

So here goes.

To our glorious, funny, energetic and totally adorable stage manager Phillip; to his assistant James; to his deputies Molly, Fran and Rory; and to all the other men and women in black backstage – sorry I don’t know all your names – please accept my applause.

All Bow!

And while we’re on the subject of unsung heroes…to the gents dresser Clive, to the Community Ensemble chaperones Danielle, David and Alex – my heartfelt and hearty applause.

All Bow!

And last, but by no means least, to the Community Ensemble Project Manager Jana Phillips – who has also been there from the first audition to the last night tonight, and has kept us all happy, energised, enthusiastic, and connected – a standing ovation!

All Bow!

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Hello to the London Coliseum!

November 16, 2009

MARTIN WYATT, Community Ensemble Participant

So it’s goodbye to Lilian Baylis House in West Hampstead, and hello to the London Coliseum. We had our last rehearsal at the ENO’s studios in north London on Saturday, and a very exciting one it was too. We blocked two completely new scenes, and had the joy of being directed for one of them by our magnificent stage manager, Phillip. It’s great to know that the ensemble will be appearing on stage right at the beginning of the show, as we slickly and efficiently construct the setting for Act I during the overture. Phillip drilled us like a benign sergeant-major, until our entrances and exits with beds and bedside tables, ironing boards and clothes airers, benches and lockers were timed to the split-second. And all choreographed to Handel’s magnificent music. 

I confess to having a particular interest in Messiah. For just over two years I have had the pleasure of being the Deputy Director of the Handel House Museum in Brook Street, Mayfair. This is the house in which Handel lived from 1723 until his death in 1759, and it’s a real thrill to walk on a daily basis through the rooms in which he wrote Messiah.

So when the call came from ENO to take part in this production I didn’t hesitate.  For many years, I have longed to be part of the superb productions I have seen at the London Coliseum. Short of storming the stage, I could not think for the life of me how this might happen. Now the dream is coming true, and from Tuesday I will be treading the boards that I have so long admired from a distance. That I can combine my love and admiration for Handel and his music with my love and admiration for ENO is unbelievable. 

I am really excited about this production. Many Handelians I know are understandably suspicious, and will be even more so if they read this and notice the mention of ‘ironing boards’ and ‘bedside tables’! But what I think is great about what I have seen so far is that this is clearly going to be a Messiah for 21st-century London. That’s why we’re an ensemble community – we are London! 

When Messiah was first performed in London in March 1743 at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden (after its initial performance in the cathedral in Dublin in 1742) there was outrage that the ‘sacred oratorio’ was to be performed in a theatre, with the divine words of God sung by common actors and actresses. The proper place for such a work, it was believed by some, was a church with the words delivered by God’s ministers.

After centuries of being confined to chapel, church, cathedral and concert hall, Messiah is finally coming home to the place where it truly belongs – the theatre, and in a production not fettered by pious sentiment, but one that connects with the daily lives of ordinary people everywhere.