This week and next, guest blogger, Ezra Campbell talks about performance quality.
On a recent trip to New York City, I had the privilege of being able to see Finding Neveland from the 18th row (yay rush tickets!). The show is inspired by the 2004 film of the same title and premiered in 2012. It has been on Broadway for 17 months and is expected to close in August, so I feel very lucky to have seen it during it’s run. It is an imagination of the story of J.M. Barrie, the author behind the classic Peter Pan. Matthew Morrison, from Glee, playing J.M. Barrie and Kelsey Grammer playing Charles Frohman/James Hook in the Original Cast. And Yes, I did play the Hamilton lottery every day while in the city but to no avail. Although it was my second choice of show to see, Finding Neverland did not disappoint and certainly left me with happy thoughts.
But you’re not here for a Broadway review, so firstly, I must admit that if I took a BuzzFeed quiz to find out my Colorguard judge personality type that I would absolutely be Ensemble Analysis. Sure, I love those downstairs judges but I enjoy Ensemble Analysis because, for me, it is elevated General Effect. It’s what comes after you’ve learned the choreography that really excites me as a performer, an instructor, and as an audience member. I often find challenging when sitting so close to a stage for a production that I am unable to use my more typical wide angle viewing lens and must swap it out to my more isolated sampling lens. So as the curtain rose and the visual onslaught began, I had to decide if I was going to be judging Individual Analysis or Ensemble Analysis based on which would make the show more enjoyable. The learned visual acumen of a trained performer could possibly rob you from every having a peaceful theater going experience. I’m sorry, really I am. On one hand it will allow you to absorb details missed by the average audience member. You will be able to look into places that are not the created focal point. I was able to enjoy the choreography from the secondary focus on many occasions during the show. You’ll be able to notice how transitions are utilized to create a general effect, before the effect takes place. Like noticing that the pirates were going to climb on the netting deployed downstage long before it actually occurred. (See if you can notice the transition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fevDew-8oSo) Or like the zippers, the boys all had plastic zippers on their boots which were not period accurate. (See, robbing me of a peaceful experience since I spent half of the first song starring at them) But this insider vision that you gain will allow you to examine your own performance style and to then integrate new performance techniques to expand your own repertoire.
By the third number, after the big opening statement, I had settled into enjoying the overall general effect of the show. Mia Michaels, from So You Think You Can Dance, choreographed the show and more recently she has immersed herself into the world of colorguard-teaching a master class at World Championships in 2011. She did incorporate colorguard into the show, using poles to create the illusion of a carousel. Although, the vocabulary of the equipment work was not difficult and based on basic exercises the ensemble struggled to display proficiency to a trained eye. This goes back to angles and checkpoints, those basics that you hate to do on flag are what could have saved a Broadway production! Also the 6’ poles were black and taped spirally with large gold tape-this only further exemplified the lack of clarity in the checkpoints. It is so important to choose the right equipment to allow your performers the greatest level of achievement.
The show is definitely easily recognizable as her style of movement with the level of achievement of the individual performers varying. I felt like some the more nuanced muscular articulations were challenging for the younger performers due to lack of training and at times resulting in timing discrepancies. I was ruminating on these ideas when the Servant entered the stage. I do not know what else was occurring onstage at that moment because I developed tunnel vision. Finding a performer that captivates all of my attention is similar unlocking a magical, glittering, glowing treasure. There’s an equally regal theme that would make John Williams ache to have created in my head that swells to crescendo when this moment rarely occurs. This actor, who was playing a minor role, upstaged the main characters on many occasions. I tracked him in various costume changes, even one in which his face was obscured. As the park and blow of the final number in Act I ended, although my disbelief was not yet suspended, I felt satisfied to be able to experience such performance quality. In talking later to my fellow theatergoers they too expressed a fascination with the actor playing the Servant but not being able to articulate exactly why.
This lead me to question-What is performance quality really? Can it be taught or learned? Why don’t all performers have it, are we born with it?
Tune in next week, for all the fairy dust secrets behind how take your performance quality to the second star on the right & beyond.