This month theatre director Christopher Luscombe discusses working with singers and what directors might be looking for in the rehearsal room.
As a director, what attributes do you look for in a singer?
I suppose all directors look for the same thing – a singer who is genuinely interested in acting, and wants to explore the text as well as the music. Having said that, I’m the first to say that the music comes first – a singer obviously needs to be comfortable with the score. The most important things after that are a desire to tell the story as well as to sing the notes, to have imagination, emotional intelligence, and to be prepared to make mistakes and look a bit of a fool occasionally. I suppose the last bit boils down to having a good sense of humour.
How important is the craft of theatre and how can this be woven successfully into singing technique?
I think there’s a danger that craft has become a bit of a dirty word of late, and yet there are so many helpful rules that we should observe in stage acting of any kind. Needless to say, we sometimes choose to break the rules – that can be exciting and liberating. But it’s helpful to know the rule that’s being broken. And rehearsals are a lot more productive when there’s a shared technical language. This is something that you pick up with experience of course, and nobody is expected to know it all, least of all at the beginning of a career. I find I’m still making discoveries every day about technique and craft. But the important thing is to be on the lookout, and to enjoy adding to one’s knowledge. Singing technique and acting technique are sometime hard to marry. It can be frustrating at times when everyone wants to face downstage all the time. But of course that isn’t necessary, and there are ways and means if everyone works together.
What draws you to work with singers?
I love working with singers because I’m in awe of their talent, and I love hearing them sing every day. I also love the fact that they arrive on Day One knowing the material! This is very unusual in spoken theatre, and it saves so much time. I also find singers are fun to be around, and – contrary to the tedious stereotype – lacking in ego and vanity. I came to directing opera quite late, so maybe I’m still in the honeymoon period, but I always seem to have a great time with singers.
What advice would you give to singers working today?
Coronavirus has changed the industry. Whether or not it’s changed forever remains to be seen, and I hope we’ll get back to our old lives again very soon. But I suspect things are going to be tough for a while, and they weren’t exactly easy before. So the important thing is to think positive. See as much as possible – not just opera, but all forms of theatre. Keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the business and in the outside world. All we’re doing is holding a mirror up to nature, so the more our work reflects the world we live in the better. Grab every opportunity to perform – you’ll always learn from it, and you never know where it’ll lead or who you’ll meet. Always turn up on time, and always do the homework. And when you’re in rehearsal, turn off your mobile and watch what everyone else is doing. The rehearsal room is an escape from the everyday – so make the most of it.