5 APR 2017

What is stagecraft?

Viola Fellow Martin Alexander ponders the elusive skill of 'stagecraft' following a workshop with actor-director Keith Agius.

MARTIN ALEXANDER

When I walk on stage, I think of thousands of different things; sometimes it's music related: "are my strings in tune?" or "don't forget to wait for the oboe here" and other times physical or superficial, like "relax your thumb" or even "yikes, I hope my tie is still straight!"

If I'm mindful enough to think of my performance extending to my presence on stage, it's a fluke. As performers, it's easy to forget how much your presence can add to (or detract from) a performance.

Before our workshop with actor-director Keith Agius and Fellowship Artistic Director Roger Benedict, "stagecraft" seemed this elusive theatre concept that, in my mind, could encompass long penetrative glances and deliberate footwork. 

Now I'd call stagecraft an awareness of how one carries oneself on stage. It's like stage presence, but less passive and more conscious. Probably the most important thing I learnt from this workshop was that when you're on stage, you're ON. Even when:

a) You're walking on stage

We practised walking on and off stage multiple times, and it was amazing what was discernible  before "performing" — even in our bowing!

b) You're on stage but not playing (at that moment)

There's nothing like watching a video of yourself in-concert to make you squirm! Even a deadpan face can distract — everyone on stage performs together, and it's important to stay engaged.

c) You're on stage but not playing (at all)

Gone are the days when being able to play was the only necessity. In this workshop we all had to practise presenting and speaking into a microphone, which is definitely a skill I took for granted (and I certainly have a healthy respect for presenters at our concerts now!)

It's funny — once I felt more attuned to stagecraft in performing, I started to see it everywhere. Take SSO Principal Oboe Diana Doherty, for example. From the moment she's on stage, she's a performer. Not that she's over the top, but every action has a purpose serving to enhance the performance. 

It's not always serious either. Looking at the orchestra mid concert, people can be smiling to show they are having fun or supporting their colleagues.

The most important thing is that, whatever happens, you are behaving in a way that deliberately and consciously enhances the performance — here's hoping I'll master the craft!

Hear Martin and the rest of the Fellows perform at St James' Church in Sydney on 21 Jun and 19 Jul. Entry by gold coin donation.