Monday, February 16, 2009

Opera. It's What's For Dinner.

Ah, Opening Night. I love the gowns, the glamour, the excitement that builds in the air. If you've ever been in the lobby for the first performance, you know what I mean. But chances are you've never been backstage – or performed in an opera yourself! That's why in this entry we're checking in with Ben Davis, super and ticket-seller extraordinaire to see how it all went.

AG: You can officially say you've been in an opera now. How does that feel?
Ben: It's awesome. My mom and sister even flew out to see me make my opera debut. I took them backstage and they got to see the dancers warming up and the chorus rehearsing, which was cool.
AG: Did they get to stay for your transformation into a pearl diver?
Ben: No, they went back to the lobby. I wish they could've seen it – I start by putting on this thick foundation on my face and put on black eyeliner and eyebrows and this black bindi in the middle of my forehead. Then I get into costume – throw on the blue diaper/loincloth – and go to the wig and make-up room to sponge on the body make-up. Then I wait while it dries and they call me on stage.
AG: That's really elaborate – how long does that all take?
Ben: About 30 minutes. But then I've got two other costume changes in the show, so after Zurga becomes chief, I run off the stage and have about 8 and a half minutes to get ready. I hand my props to one of the stagehands and get help getting the wig off and putting the new costume on. There's bands that go around my wrist and upper arm and ankles, so I need help tying those on. Add a pink bindi, mustache, orange pants and a bright pink turban and I'm a litter-bearer. After that I have about 10 or 15 minutes to change to become a guard.
AG: Is that your favorite scene – where you're a guard?
Ben: Sort of – my favorite scene is when I shoot the gun. But I'm so impressed by the storm scene – where we carry the cages off with the singers inside. You've got to time it to the music and it's a little intimidating because their lives are kind of in your hands. It has to be intense for them, too, because they're being carried off and the chorus is yelling and beating on the cages.
AG: So what do you do when the show's over?
Ben: Well, we do the bow thing. The supers take the first bow with the chorus and then stay on stage and take one last bow. Then it's time to run back to the dressing rooms. There was the after party, so I showered and got all the body make-up off.
AG: I bet the opera goes really fast when you're on stage – were you nervous?
Ben: No – nobody was really nervous. We've been rehearsing for three weeks, so we all know what to expect and we're in the flow of things. We ran through the opera about five times in full before it opened, including three times on the main stage.
AG: Despite all that preparation, there can be glitches.
Ben: [groans] Yeah. Everything was perfect – except the gun didn't go off like it was supposed to.
AG: But that's your big scene!
Ben: I know! I aimed, got the signal, pulled the trigger, and – click. Nothing.
AG: So what'd you do?
Ben: Nothing - I didn't know what to do. About 2 seconds later the backup gunshot sound went off – props to Mike who saved the day with that. I have to mention Dave, too – he's the stagehand who's in charge of the gun and always hands it to me.
AG: It really does take a lot of people to make this whole thing come together, doesn't it?
Ben: It does – and that's my favorite part of this whole experience. The people I've been working with. I became friends with some of the other supers – Jim, Randy, Michael, Adam, Bill – they play divers, litter bearers and guards, too.
AG: So you guys all got along? There was no rivalry?
Ben: Well, maybe a little. Before the first orchestra tech, the Assistant Director Diane Lin came out and gave me a seashell necklace to wear. I told everyone I was the head pearl diver. One of the other divers, Adam, and I even had a push-up contest to see who would get to wear it.
AG: You're kidding.
Ben: No. I won, but we're cool. Like I said, it's the people that made this such a great experience. I loved getting to watch Andrew [Sinclair] direct and Sebastian [Lang-Lessing] conduct – it was a thrill to meet Zandra [Rhodes]. What's great is everyone is there because they want to be there.
AG: It sounds like it was a really great experience. So you'd do it again?
Ben: I think I would. It really gave me a greater appreciation for all the technical aspects of a production. And I was really lucky to be so involved in this one – I have three roles and a part in every act – so I'd definitely do it again if I was as involved.

Well, based on the audience's reaction on Saturday, they enjoyed watching Ben and everyone else – I heard the words "magnificent," "superb" and "incredible." I'll be going on Friday, which is also Fashion Night at the Opera. So if you're wearing something by a Denver fashion designer, stop by the fashion table and get your picture taken. And if you're attending on Sunday, drop by The Pearl Fishers Bazaar and say hi!

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