“The show must go on”, is the most valuable lesson that I have learnt in all my years on stage. While it rings true, its real significance is not easy to understand, particularly if your experience with the stage is from a public point of view. The reality, particularly in opera, is that while one may see a fabulous production with great sets, orchestras and artists, one often doesn’t know what happens behind the scenes and sometimes on stage; and what artists sometimes go through to make sure that the show goes on! In that spirit, I decided to chronicle some of the experiences that taught me and touched me enough to stay in my memory forever.
In my operatic debut as a soloist, I had the privilege of singing with a very talented cast, who taught me various valuable lessons. The most iconic for me, was while singing a fabulous duet between Zurga and Leila (the female lead). The scene begins with her asking for mercy, not for herself but for her lover. Unbeknownst to her, Zurga is also in love with her, and becomes furious when he hears that she loves this other man. By the end of the duet, she curses him, says that she hates him, and he assaults her. In my youthful zeal, while ‘assaulting’ my colleague during the scene, she accidentally hit her head on the edge of the stairs on stage. Fighting through the pain, she continued to sing and perform marvellously, while I tried to do the same (although worrying that she might have hurt herself). We kept the scene going, fighting furiously through the pain. It was only once we got off stage that we realised that we were both bleeding, her from the head injury (thankfully just a small cut, painful but not dangerous), and me from the arms because the scene had gotten so intense! It was an amazing feeling as well though, learning to keep control, and understanding how to keep a scene going despite such obstacles!
A few productions later, I learned another such valuable lesson, about how to keep a scene going despite anything. A show with an incredibly high production value, we had everything from golf carts on stage, to fire spitters! In a scene following the fire spitters, we were singing a trio, with a small choreography. We realised however, that the stage had not been properly cleaned and was covered with gasoline from the fire spitters. We realised this because a colleague was executing his dance move, and proceeded to slip and fall in a manner one can only see in the movies, going from vertical to completely horizontal in about a half a second. He then turned to the public on his side, still lying on the ground, and continued to sing his part as though everything was part of the choreography. Needless to say we all had tears in our eyes (mostly from laughter, although in his case I think it was also the pain). Still, his grace and quick wit was impressive!
A few memorable experiences cannot do justice however, to the pure adrenaline that flows through you when something goes wrong on stage. It’s a marvellous experience though, like in life, to pass through the tunnel and emerge into the light. When things don’t go the way they’re supposed to, it’s fascinating to see the various theatrical and musical instincts that kick into place to keep things going. I have learned so much from these experiences; about myself, about stagecraft, and about my peers as well. Being on stage is an honour, a privilege, for which one must fight through numerous obstacles, learning and progressing until they earn the title ‘Artist’.