When there are two of of you…
Experiences vary a lot depending on our working relationship with colleagues, director and conductor but with a double cast* or covering**, there are a few things we can do to ensure that our version of a role is as good as possible against the odds.
Foremost: be prepared. This should go without saying, but we all respond well to pressure so if you know that you’re not going to be singing in rehearsals, pretend that you are. Be prepared to sing the role at EVERY rehearsal; whether covering or double cast, this can lead to extra rehearsal for you and be a brilliant opportunity to shine. It may be tough to sit through a rehearsal not getting to sing when you’re mentally prepared to but that’s far easier to chew on than failing to take your moment.
PLAY: Remind yourself as often as is necessary that you will be different versions of the character, albeit within the direction that is required. This is particularly relevant in double casting but also as a cover. If you can let go of the competitive element, or fear of not being as good as the ‘real’ cast you will be far quicker to learn, explore, share, and develop the role.
PAY ATTENTION: There’s not enough rehearsal time for second-guessing or doubting or not paying attention to your role when it is being rehearsed. Even if there was enough time to rehearse two separate casts, why would you want to repeat when you could be developing or embellishing what has already been found? There is a big difference between having ideas and simply not knowing what has already been tried.
If you’re covering, do not expect a rehearsal dedicated to you trying the role. Most theatres will organise a rehearsal for covers with the assistant director and perhaps relevant cast members but your colleagues will not thank you if you come unprepared. The basics (entrance/exits/blocking/intentions/subtext) should all be clear from rehearsals you have watched and if something is unclear, ASK.
TAKE NOTES: It can seem easy to remember at the time but take notes throughout the rehearsal. Attention to detail pays off and you are caring for your future-self when you come back to this scene in 5 days time. I use small sticky notes (different colours for different characters!) Rather than writing in my score as they can be easily moved around, added to, or replaced. I also keep a note of queries I have so that I can approach the director/assistant at a later date. Asking at the time is usually possible, and even encouraged, but that’s very dependent on your colleagues.
Don’t be shy: If you’re double cast and both at rehearsals, don’t be shy to be the first one to have a go at the staging. If the division of rehearsals is left to the artists to decide, this can get tricky and dependant on the relationship you have with your double. The more experience you have, the better you know what you need and hopefully that can be accommodated. I was very lucky with my ‘double’ in this show. We were both open to sharing the rehearsals and were both attentive when the other was rehearsing. I can not overstate this: if you do not watch your counterpart when they are rehearsing, it not only wastes time and energy of your colleagues but it also screams of insecurity. By watching the other version of your role, you can pick up tips that may improve your version, or be able to see things that don’t work so well. The logistics of the direction normally has to stay the same for the interaction with other characters BUT the freedom within that to develop your own version of the character rests entirely on having the time to do that. If you are busy learning the ‘what, when, why’s’ in your rehearsal time then you are losing valuable hours to play with your role and your colleagues. Your version of the role will NEVER be diminished by you watching another version.
2 in 1: It is the second time that I have been cast to play two different roles in a production: Carmen and Mercedes, and now Isabella and Zulma. I have found both experiences to be thrilling but it takes a LOT of organisation and practise in your own time.
Separating the roles: Further along in rehearsals, try to think about one character at a time. If staging changes for the other role, or something significant occurs, of course take note but if you don’t have your character’s journey solid in your mind, this can lead to disaster.
Do your best: It is an odd feeling to be on stage at the same time as the person you share a role with (while playing a different role) and can be exhausting to be aware of staging for two characters when they have a lot of scenes together. Be kind to yourself. If you are doing your best, and being attentive, your colleagues and the director will be happy to assist when you need it and it is ok to ask for help. In my experience, people only begrudge helping if they feel you haven’t done your share of the work.
Variety is the spice of life: I know that I pick up staging very quickly so I made the decision early on (once checking with director and colleaugues) that I would not alternate with the Zulma in rehearsals, in favour of focusing on the character creation of Isabella. Each time I wasn’t playing Isabella, I was therefore taking notes on both roles. I genuinely enjoyed creating this Isabella alongside the other mezzo and two tenors (also double cast). What can be very obvious to one human, does not necessarily come naturally to the next and that can lead to some really interesting questions and resolutions that otherwise wouldn’t have come about. Particularly with Rossini, the musical embellishments differ greatly between singers and that became a wonderful and constant reminder that our versions were intrinsically different amidst the same staging. Just as with the director, the conductor may not have time to work specifically with you on the entire piece (ensembles, for example, may not get repeated in a sitz). Hear every request from the conductor as if it is for you. If he/she is forced to repeat themselves, you are wasting everyone#s time.
Do your homework: Once we started runs, I wrote my Zulma ‘track’ out on paper, mainly from the sticky notes protruding from the score at the points she does something that wasn’t to do with her music. With small roles it is very often the case that your role becomes bigger in terms of action, which can be great but you have to know ALL the music. I always aim to have a feel for the whole piece before rehearsals but with cuts/different intervals this can still need attention and because I had very little rehearsal hours as Zulma under my belt, I needed to solidify what my journey was.
Help yourself: As singing actors, we learn staging, lyrics and music relatively quickly but when you need to learn staging or action that has nothing to do with an emotional journey, it can be hard to remember. Practise is always the key but if you fear that you will need prompts, take the time to figure out where they could happen. Are you offstage at any point and able to have a prompt sheet for the next onstage section ready for you in the wings? Along with what you say and what you do, always make note of which props you need each time you enter/exit. In our current production, the green room and makeup room are ‘on-stage’ so the time actually offstage was dramatically cut. This meant that in my first entrance as Zulma, I needed props with me that I wouldn’t use until 30 minutes later but I don’t leave stage in that time. Without my track sheet, I may not have remembered that for my first run, and my first run as Zulma was the open dress rehearsal!
Above all, covering and double-casting are wonderful opportunities to learn from others. If you come to rehearsals as prepared as you should be, then your version of the character will only benefit from extra input. We each move around in, see, and hear the world differently to the next person and discovering the nuances that are brought to a character through these differences can result in huge developments for us as artists. Play, play, play!
*double cast – often due to an intense performance schedule two casts will be hired, at least of the biggest roles
**cover – can mean you will have a show but not always. You are being paid to be ready to sing the role, if needed