Tom Goes to the Opera: immersion

Photo: Jeff Roffman

In my first blog post in this series, I referred to the
Opera as “The Wow Art Form.”  We opened The Abduction from the Seraglio on Saturday night, and now I realize I need a word
stronger than “Wow.” “The Boom Art
Form?” “The Nuclear Art Form?” “The OMG Art Form?”  Or, maybe the word “immersive” gets best at
what being in an opera does. 

That’s the word my son, Stephen (who is illustrating these
posts) used last Saturday night in an excited phone conversation we had after
opening. Watching from the front row, he
said, “I’ve never seen you so immersed in a role.” 
Part of the reason for that “immersion” may be that after Melanie
Steele’s crack staff applies wig, make-up, tattoos and a lot of Pasha-bling, I
return to my dressing room and look in the mirror and I can no longer see
myself. This means something important for
the actor’s process and for the audience’s catharsis. 
Photo: Jeff Roffman

I first encountered this kind of phenomenon early in my
career when at auditions, I would often hear the director say, “That was great,
you can sing, you can act, but this time do it again and just be

This really drove me crazy. At that time, I believed that
the entire purpose of an actor was to portray someone I’m not.  But, I also knew that every time I took the
director’s advice and just did the character as myself, it worked. 
Later, when I went for a Masters in Theatre at the
University of Tennessee, a visiting professor, Bernie Engles, helped enormously
with this paradox by offering the following theory of acting: revealing who you
are as appropriate to the character and script. It worked. It ignited an energy
of performance that, decades later, still sustains and propels. 

Maybe it is the sheer imaginative ambition of opera, super
exceeding the natural self, the realistic self, the self recognizable in the
mirror, that presents the actor and the audience, the surest way to discover
what we most want to know about
ourselves–immersion in the unknown. Who knew there was a way to find our inner
Pasha? Wow!