A Unique Collaboration

posted by Gillian Confair, stage manager of The Soldier’s Tale 

A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Marisa Duchowny performs with
the New Music Ensemble of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Four members of the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2011 are in rehearsal for Stravinsky’s groundbreaking theatrical piece The Soldier’s Tale, produced in A.C.T.’s first-ever collaboration with the New Music Ensemble of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. A.C.T. Associate Artist Giles Havergal and New Music Ensemble Artistic Director Nicole Paiement lead the unique joint venture. Stage manager Gillian Confair—who recently completed a year-long internship at A.C.T.—describes the unique experience of working on this unusual multidisciplinary project.

I find myself in the rare and difficult position of having to stage-manage a show that is not, by its basic definition, a show at all. If you were to call this piece anything, perhaps a “concert” would be the word to describe it. More likely than not, “performance” is the word that would give it its due. It’s an interesting piece, at the junction of two separate but equally wondrous branches of the arts. The Soldier’s Tale contains the elegance and beauty of the symphony, and the joy and passion of the stage, slotted together in one cohesive, intricate piece. They are, indeed, strange bedfellows, but their commingling creates a rare and interesting work.

During our first rehearsal, Giles Havergal, our fearless director, spoke to the actors about what place this piece has in their education. He talked to them about the academic challenge of a work like this, and about The Soldier’s Tale as an exercise of their vocality and physicality as performers. It’s a challenge they have certainly risen to. Because of the atypical nature of this piece they find themselves without the limitations of staged drama or comedy.

The realm The Soldier’s Tale resides in requires an entirely different approach to characters and to storytelling. The challenge doesn’t fall on the actors’ shoulders alone. I can honestly say that this is one of the most difficult pieces I’ve had the opportunity to work on. Coordinating with the Conservatory of Music, overseeing rehearsals, and preparing for performance are only the beginnings of it for me. This piece marks the first time I’ll be calling a show from directly onstage. It also marks the first time that I will be combining the skill sets I’ve acquired through theater and dance work. Instead of tracking cues through words I’ll be reading measures of music, following along in a score while quick changing actors into and out of coats and cueing light changes. It is a bit daunting. It’s also extremely exciting for me. The Soldier’s Tale is stretching my skills and knowledge, testing my problem solving, and keeping me on my toes in a way that I enjoy.

Rehearsal has been entertaining, watching the actors learn dance choreography, me juggling a script, a score, and a combined master copy, watching them create grandiose characters, bobbing and weaving through chairs that mark the place for orchestra members, laughing and working our way through complicated pieces. It promises to be an amazing show, and a unique theatrical experience. I count myself lucky to be a part of it.

The Soldier’s Tale performs at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Saturday, November 14, 2009, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. For more information, please visit www.sfcm.edu.

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