On Sunday afternoon, we turned the theatre over to our studio singers, fellows and interns. 75 minutes of scenes from 7 operas in 4 languages were sung, played, supertitled, and stage-managed by folks whose average age couldn’t have topped 23. The rest of us cheered, enjoyed, and did the best we could at house management. Even a 3:10pm severe thunderstorm that wreaked havoc with the light board and supertitle projectors didn’t faze these folks.
It’s the first time we held this event (which itself is a mere 3 years old) at The Barns, our small-but-mighty mainstage. It was an experiment that paid great dividends, and we will be seeking to replicate it and improve on it in future seasons. I came away with lots of food for thought, some of which I didn’t bargain on.
I’ve been puzzling out the dramatically different vibe that was present in the house that afternoon. On one hand, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. The audience comprised mostly friends/family of the performers and a wide range of Wolf Trap donors. They were predisposed to wish us well. Admission was free, which also doesn’t hurt the frame of mind. I knew all of this, but the overwhelmingly relaxed, open, dare-I-say-happy groove that pervaded the afternoon was somehow shocking.
There are folks who do enjoy their time at the opera, no doubt, but at a typical show in a typical house, we don’t usually hear from them. We are more aware of their discontent fellow patrons, with an inner monologue of…. this-better-be-worth-the-money… I-went-through-rush-hour-hell-to-get-here… I-don’t-like-my-seats… I-hate-this-director/conductor/singer. You get the idea, and I’m sure you can fill in some of your own.
So why, for a program of scenes with no orchestra, no sets and no costumes, were people seemingly more willing to relax and try to have a good time? Is it all about the free ticket? Is it about low expectations being exceeded? Is it bundled up with a personal connection to the artists and/or the organization? Is it that the ticketed performance is a business transaction with a complicated return-on-investment mindset?
I’ll never know, but it is my mission to bottle some of it and figure out how to embed it in every show we do.