Whilst adding the finishing touches to HEADSHOTS, the Cape Academy of Performing Arts' first musical theatre production for this year's Grahamstown Fe...
A 'Triple Threat' To My Health!
June 10, 2010
A 'Triple Threat' To My Health!
June 10, 2010
Whilst adding the finishing touches to HEADSHOTS, the Cape Academy of Performing Arts' first musical theatre production for this year's Grahamstown Festival (which I directed together with Duane Alexander,) I realised that at times, I expect my students to do the most ridiculous things in the name of the 'triple threat'. I know that I have crossed a line when they give me this 'come-on-you've-got-to-be-kidding-me' look, and this is shortly followed by a lot of moaning along the lines of "you actually want me to sing a top 'A' for two bars, whilst tapping this routine, keeping this ridiculous hat on my head, AND I must still look like I'm having fun?" Excelling at the infamous 'triple threat', a term we have come to know all too well in this little industry of ours, is the key to being billed as a versatile performer and as a result opens many doors and seemingly endless amounts of employment opportunities. I have spent most of my career trying to befriend the 'triple threat', and whilst we're not the best of pals yet, we're starting to deal with eachother's company. We spent a lot of time together just the other day in the infamous 'audition room 301' at Artscape whilst I was auditioning for GREASE, and dealing with the 'triple threat' has been a part of the entire process of my new show NOAH OF CAPE TOWN which opened at the Baxter Theatre recently.
According to the dictionary, a triple threat is a person adept in three different fields of activity. In the context of musical theatre, it would refer to a performer who is skilled in singing, dancing and acting. What the dictionary fails to mention however, is the fact that in almost every case, we performers are expected to execute these disciplines SIMULTANEOUSLY, and this my dear friends is where the fun begins...
My new show NOAH OF CAPE TOWN, a new South African A Cappella musical set in the year 2020, is a perfect example of this: at any given time, I would be expected to accurately harmonise with 15 other voices, ensuring that I am singing the correct notes that make up my harmony. Of course all my words need to be correct as I am singing in an ensemble (bearing in mind that at times we are talking about sheer poetry put to music here: "fractured fields, craters that carved, the mountains gaped, etc.") I must then ensure that I am incorporating the dynamics required for each moment in the song, like softly, with a growing crescendo for example, and that I am not dragging the pitch down, and that we are all keeping the tempo steady. It is essential that I am continuously listening to each voice in the ensemble to ensure that I do not mess up the mix by being too loud or soft and that as a group we are creating the perfect blend. Now, simultaneously I am expected to execute a scinitillating piece of choreography on our monster metal set, which of course is raked, so whilst my fellow colleague dangles precariously from my hips, or whilst I have her upside down in my arms, (and my calves and thighs are exploding from the 45 degree angle of the rake, not that I would ever say she is heavy) I have to ensure that I render it as gazelle-like as possible and not like a plodding elephant because the metal set is unbelievably noisy. The dancing needs to be executed to perfection, lest I plummet off the edge of the set to my death. Now this would still be fine, if it were not for the fact that my director is watching me like a hawk to ensure that I am doing everything with the correct intention: "Anton, Anton, Anton, this song is about liberation, could you make it look less like you're giving birth to something!" So there I go applying all my years of acting skills in a desperate attempt to FEEL the moment in a way that would make Stanislavski proud, whilst all the other little things are rushing through my head: what comes next, do I have my props for the next scene, why is Mable in the second row still coughing, am I completely and fully in the light? Oh the sheer joy of it all, at times it is so overwhelming it feels more like a 'triple threat' to my health.
The level of skill required of a triple threat performer is enormous, and in most cases the audience doesn't even realise it because the performer has rehearsed himself into a coma and perfected his piece to a fine art. Make no mistake, it's the combination of hours and hours of grueling hard work and repetition until you feel like you're going to vomit. In fact, that's precisely what one of my colleagues did the other day at the Grease auditions. Here we are, me with my two left feet trying desperately to execute a piece of choreography created by some cruel masochist, with this ridiculously fake smile on my face, because of course the number is in the sickly sweet spirit of "We Go Together", and we're doing it again and again and again till it's perfect, and my friend runs off to vomit in the toilets (he said it was mostly water - I know, charming), Ieaving me looking like a spastic octopus. With my limbs flying all over the place, the choreographer comes up to me and says: "Anton, don't worry about your arms for now, just focus on your feet!" How embarrassing! All this in the hope that just one person in the international creative team from the West End, will remember me when they sit down to cast the show. It's hell on earth let me tell you.
If as a performer, musicals are your genre of choice, excelling at the 'triple threat' is pivotal. A musical is ultimately made up of the book (which requires your acting skills), the music (which demands that you are at the very least an adequate singer) and the staging (which historically has consisted amongst other things, of numerous dance combinations throughout the show.) The marriage of all these elements is essentially what has made The Musical so appealing and enduring. Anyone who has followed the history of the musical, and seen it evolve throughout the decades, will have seen a massive shift from the over the top 'happy ending' musicals with their cheesy song and dance routines to the modern musical which tells a more compelling story based in historical fact or a real life scenario. These modern musicals demand that the actors portray three dimensional characters with substance and large ranges of emotion. Nowadays, a musical without a solid book is doomed to fail. It is no longer enough for a musical to simply capture an audience's attention with memorable songs and visual appeal alone. It has to capture their hearts and rouse their emotions. And so, roles nowadays require that performers have a solid acting background. Add to this, the fact that the musicals nowadays also incorporate very many different musical styles. It is not enough to simply have a good 'musical theatre' voice. Many of the modern musicals incorporate diverse musical styles like Rock (Rent), Pop (Mamma Mia!), Crooning (Jersey Boys), R&B (In The Heights). There are very many other examples. Versatility and the ability to sing both classically and the more contemporary material is key. Of course the same can be said for any of the styles of dance required in the various musicals. I remember the shock and disbelief on the faces of some of my colleagues, who after polishing up their jazz routines to perfection for the CHICAGO auditions, were dumped after round one because the choreographer demanded that in order to get past round one, you needed to succeed at a rigourous ballet audition. It just wasn't in their repertoires.
Nowadays, the competition is stiff, the arts schools are slowly but surely and finally producing performers who have been trained solely in perfecting the triple threat. They sing everything from Sondheim to Hammerstein to Queen, they can tap, they can pirouette, they can breakdance. They can read everything from HAMLET to THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES, and believe me they can emote all over the place! They are younger and they are stronger. To succeed in the world of the triple threat, like a painter, you need a vast pallet of colours from which to chose, and like a chameleon, you need the ability to instantly adapt to your surroundings and show that you are able to do anything that's thrown at you. You work on your skills every second of the day, and above all, you need thick skin baby, because it's hard, and when they trample you into the ground, you stand up, dust yourself off, hold your head up high, and try again.
I have finally completed the finishing touches on my new look website, and I hope you like it. I am delighted with it, and am most grateful to another Anton for all the time and effort he has put into it. It's a lot more work than you would imagine, and I hope to keep it updated a lot more regularly than I did the other. So please feel free to drop in often and leave your comments, I won't display them all!
Since the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST tour fell away, I have been incredibly busy. I had a few heart stopping moments when the tour was withdrawn but I quickly and gratefully managed to fill up my year nicely. NOAH OF CAPE TOWN, was a huge hit, those of you who did not see it, missed out on something quite special, innovative and uniquely South African. Hopefully there is still a long journey ahead for Noah, it's not everyday you get to sing A Cappella with 16 other voices. I am currently typing this from Malmo, a delightful little town in Sweden. It's not quite Stockholm, and kind of like the Bloemfontein of Sweden, but we are having a great time performing SHOWBOAT here. What a treat to be touring again. I took the train to Copenhagen the other day, only 20 minutes from Malmo, and realised yet again how blessed I am to be able to do what I love and see the world at the same time. It's PORGY AND BESS next, and I will be performing with Cape Town Opera in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh in October. If you are in the position to come and hear some of Cape Town's most incredible opera voices, in some of the best opera houses in the world, make sure you get tickets to PORGY AND BESS. I then move onto THE WOMAN IN BLACK for Producer Pieter Toerien, and then, ten years later I am in yet another production of GREASE, yes I made it in, I will be playing Doctor Groove and TV personality Vince Fontein. I am also the Resident Director. Watch this space for more details.
So that's it folks In the words of Vince Fontein: "throw your mittens around your kittens and away we go!"