After-performance-thoughts

Kvintetten i andre akt. (Klikk for større versjon)
Kvintetten i andre akt. (Klikk for større versjon)

I kveld spilte vi andre forestilling av Carmen her i Kristiansand. Jeg deler garderobe med blant andre kollega Stein Skjervold, og vi kom til å snakke om det å leve som operasanger. Om dette merkelige livet som frilansartist. Om store applauser og stummende stillhet etterpå.

Stein publiserte et blogginnlegg om dette temaet bare kort tid etter forestillingen, og dette er så bra skrevet at jeg tar meg den frihet å gjengi hele hans blogginnlegg her.

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After-performance-thoughts (Stein Skjervold)

«Last week I came across several articles referring back to a recently published research titled
“Happiness in the arts—International evidence on artists’ job satisfaction.”  The research shows that artists are more happy with their occupation than others, despite the fact that their economic conditions tend to be fair from ideal.

One of the articles mentioning the study can be found here, while the full study can be read /downloaded  here. it is hugely interesting, and I really recommend reading it!

But first – let me start somewhere else..

1 hour ago we were still on stage, getting closer to the end of the second performance of Carmen. Every character on stage was watching in horror as Don Jose was turning on Carmen. Every singer and actor was intent on putting just as much – or more – energy into the second, and famously difficult, second performance as we did into the premiere. The audience was absolutely full and amazingly «there», pouring extra energy on to the stage.

Then some 40 minutes after, I have changed and I am walking home alone through a dark and empty city, there is a slight rain, a tiny breeze, and the air feels cold and fresh. 100 meters in front of me, «Carmen» is walking alone, dressed in rubber boots and a dark, unnoticeable coat. I catch up with her, say good night and see you tomorrow, and then we split. Tonight’s adrenaline and performance will still be in us – with joys and doubts – for many hours before we go to sleep.

There are evenings when you know that you want to be social, there are evenings when you simply know that you want to be alone, and then there are lots of evenings like tonight, when you simply do not know – when a part of you crave company, and another part of you just wants to be alone. This is one of those evenings, and this split feeling is just one of many split feelings that come with the job!

There was a time when opera singers were brought up to believe that they were something special – they were «artist.» I don’t think it is like that any more, at least not in Norway. We are more trained to think that singing is a «craftsmanship», a job that you have a responsibility to do to the best of your abilities. No one expects to be surrounded by any kind of «fame.» Still, this sudden switch from stage light to going home alone is strange: Sometimes to switch to «normality» is liberating and welcome. Other times it can give you – or at least me – a feeling of loneliness or even loss.

Being on stage is a fantastic, mystic thing for me, and it is a feeling that is almost difficult to explain. At its best, it feels like your senses are elevated and intensified. Everything around the stage is covered in black, and it allows you to zoom in and focus on what is going on around you, to notice how people around you are moving slightly differently, singing slightly differently, smiling, frowning slightly differently than yesterday, and you have to respond to it differently than yesterday. And maybe you have to feel slightly differently than yesterday. It is difficult to describe: it is life compacted into a small box.

Then sometimes, the illusion breaks, you notice something in the audience, and for a second or two you think about them: Do they like what they are seeing, who is sitting in the front row, are there some empty seats you see some place? Exactly in that moment it is almost difficult to know which world is the «real» one ??

We started working on this production of Carmen in the middle of August, and in one and a half week we are all returning home. Getting to the première always feels like a huge turning point, like up to then you have been climbing up to a top, and then you have to turn around and start climbing down. Although we will do our best to give just as much energy in the last performance as in the first, going through a short performance period is still like winding down. That is also a very strange conflict of feelings: It will be so good to come home and settle down into normality again, but at the same time there is a part in most of us that dreads the moment when this is finished, when our fantastic company – THIS family of ours – has to break up, and the bubble we are living in has to break. At the same time, it is a fantastic privilege, you are leaving something you love to go to something you love…

Back to the study that I mentioned in the beginning!

The study shows that artists are clearly more happy about their occupation than others. The difference is not huge, but it is definitely statistically significant. The study also mentions several «standard» explanations why this might be so, despite the fact that the economical conditions for artists tend to be worse than for others: The first one being that artists are risk loving and are willing to gamble on being famous, the second being that artists are irrational and overestimate their own chance of success.

But the paper comes up with other reasons:

«Artists view the process of working to be of special importance. They particularly value the opportunity to use initiative in their job, the fact that they have an interesting job, have a job which meets their abilities, and that they can learn new skills on the job. These aspects relate to procedural aspects of work than to what is produced.»

The study also points out a darker side: Artists are more prone to comitting suicide:

«A possible explanation could be that artists, while exhibiting high job satisfaction on average, over time experience particularly large fluctuations in subjective wellbeing.»

Somehow, reading this paper made me happy. And it made me slightly proud. I am happy and proud to be a «member» of this group that is made happy by – and take pride in – their work. And I can imagine so many reasons why «we» are more satisfied.

First of all it is the sheer joy of working with art. It is impossible to describe it in few words, but I think there is enough studies that show that contact with art is beneficial to us. Imagine then WORKING with art. Imagine having the fantastic privilege of working with – performing – something that Bizet, Beethoven or another artist has created. Or creating art yourself! The sheer beauty of it.

Among a billion of things: There is – if talking for example about performing «Carmen» – the immense feeling of working with dedicated colleagues that understand you, that have many of the same goals, thoughts and aspirations as you.

There is the award of digging into yourself to find the emotions, the movements, the thoughts needed to portray someone else, to be someone else.

And there is maybe most of all the heightened senses, the zooming in, the immensely powerful feeling of  being so there, so present, of having to do everything right here and now, and the fantastic feeling of taking it all in. OF BEING RIGHT 100% RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT NOW

It would be intolerably presumptuous of me to try to give any explanation to why artists are more prone to commit suicide, but I don’t see any contradiction between the «job-satisfaction» and the special kind of frustration and sorrow that artists may meet.

Right around the corner from happiness, there might be sorrow:  The intensity with which you experience and perform can bring you high up, but it can also drop you deep down. There is the confusion of suddenly jumping from one reality to another – from being on stage pouring your all out to 20 minutes going home alone. The confusion of suddenly jumping from teamwork and extreme sociability to loneliness. Sometimes the fear of not performing or doing well exactly the second you need to. The longing: When you are at home, you long to travel to work. When you are at work, you long to be home.

And still…

I have two dogs. Many dog-owners compare having dogs with having children. I wouldn’t dare to go that fare, but we do indeed love them incredibly, incredibly much! Among many differences between having dogs and having children is also a sad one – for dog-owners. In all probability, we will see our «children» die before we do. Our dogs are 5 and 7 years old. Statistically they should still have many years left, but sometimes – amid the joy of walking then and playing with them – there is a small feeling of fear and sorrow: We will loose them soon! Far, far, far too soon. In between all the joy, there is already a tear. That tear could never be a reason not to have dogs – they bring so incredibly much joy.

In between the joys of singing and performing, there is also sorrow and tears – at least for me. I am already now starting to feel the loss of leaving this production, this fellowship, this drug behind. I will go on to new productions, but exactly this one is over. Hopefully I will work with the same people again, but some of them I might not even meet again – even though they are my family.

It is hard! And I couldn’t dream of living without it. It makes me happy :)»

Her finner du Stein Skjervolds blogg «A song to sing».

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