Stage Director: Opera-Theatre-Musicals
Newsletter Edition 14 Pages 6-7
STAGE-CRAFT INTENSIVES WITH MENTOR, CHUCK HUDSON
Thanks to the support of Joseph Sambrook and Mary-Jane Gething, we have been able to invite New York City Director Chuck Hudson twice in 2016. This enables the scholars to experience Chuck’s foundation curriculum on Acting and Movement Skills for Singers as well as his more advanced five day course on Creating Character and Action, and his one-on-one coachings for aria audition preparation. Scholars who have already experienced Chuck’s workshops are delighted at the prospect of a ‘double dose’ this year, as returning scholar Daniel Carison testifies:
“Working with Chuck Hudson is always a much anticipated event in the Melba Opera Trust calendar. I first worked with Chuck last year and found the five-days of intensive study and training incredibly useful. He is a great director and an incredible motivator, but what I admired most about his style was that he was most interested in the ideas we could bring to the work as artists and performers. The sessions weren’t designed to simply choreograph a couple of arias or ensembles – they were aimed at making us more self-sufficient artists, capable of greater focus. Reflecting on my experience last year, it is clear that what the group was able to achieve in those five days couldn’t possibly have been realised in any less time. The journey of any artist is slow – it takes patience, nurturing and time to digest all the information that is thrown our way. Just as we spend a lifetime finessing our voices, so too do we need to spend time developing our interpretational skills. I’m very excited to be working with Chuck again this year, because it will give me an opportunity to reaffirm my approach to my craft. I’m also looking forward to seeing how I’ve developed since last working with Chuck.”
We spoke to Chuck for some insight into his sessions with the Melba scholars and for his impressions on the Mentor Program.
I am very honored to be returning for my 6th season as a mentor at The Dame Nellie Melba Opera Trust. This is a genuine post-conservatory / pre-professional level Artist Training Program, which is very difficult to come by in Australia. There is no denying that the international artists brought in by the Trust to act as mentors create an environment of excellence that tests a singer’s mettle in a variety of ways, helping to prepare them for the actual demands of the professional world. Rather than simply saying, “do you have what it takes?” the program says, “This is what it takes,” providing the dramatic and vocal tools necessary for success, which translates into the ability to create engaging, high caliber performances. In addition to presenting my One Week Intensive Series of Acting and Movement Skills for Singers, and my one-on-one coachings of audition arias, I will be returning for a second visit this season to present an Advanced Series on Creating Character and Action.
Producers and Directors constantly insist that singers have the same level of control over their acting abilities as a speaking actor does, or as the musician has over their musical instrument—yet rarely does any program provide singers with the tools they need to meet these demands and to be successful in this field. I present my Acting and Movement Curriculum as a true marriage of Voice, Movement, and Acting Techniques, creating vocalization as a consequence of movement, and movement that is nourished by vocalization, and all of it grounded upon visually compelling dramatic truth. This vocabulary empowers singers to move past the often cerebral experience of technique into a place of dramatic action that an audience can believe. This permits singers to become more convincing performers by focusing their imagination on a genuine Technique of Unification, increasing their corporeal expression, broadening their vocal range, and deepening their ability to make dynamic acting choices without constant direction and coaching. This is what can keep Opera fresh—satisfying Opera lovers now and attracting a new generation of Opera lover for our future.
Part of my initial curriculum is about building the foundation of the ensemble of singers that will work together so intensely over their tenure at the Trust. The Creative Process of the performer is paramount to me, both as an instructor and as a director. The development of this process comes about by the instruction of measurable skills that can be explored in a workshop setting and eventually mastered in production. I create an intensive yet supportive learning environment in which the advanced singer can explore specific performance techniques that they can apply immediately to focus their imagination and to become convincing dramatic performers. In the Advanced Series, the singers will be further exposed to Text Analysis Skills and exercises for Developing Personal Creativity. Using the libretto from various Opera Scenes, they will speak the words much as an actor would to discover the text of a play or musical. This allows singers to mine the text for the information needed to create character and action which can further inform their vocal performance.
Bettering the Audition experience is a specialty in my curriculum. In the Private Aria Coachings, the singer brings me selections from their Audition Package—generally 5 to 6 arias in several languages—and we work on them from an Acting and Movement perspective, applying the techniques studied in the Group Sessions. Singers often fail in auditions as their performances fall somewhere between the dreaded stillness of “Park and Bark” and the excessive proportions of “Performance Art.” At the Trust, we explore the tools singers need to prepare audition material that is both grounded in tradition and that dares to create a unique, honest and motivated performance. I have created a 3 Dimensional Technique designed to “sculpt the space” which I have successfully employed with singers for the past 20 years. It is the “bang for the buck” part of my instruction that helps the singer to stand out from the herd, to gain control over the arias no matter where they are performed, and to truly enjoy performing them again.
This “Cube of Space Technique” provides a genuine multi-dimensional structure that helps performers make the invisible visible by creating a grounded, motivated and honest performance, focusing imagery in ways that imprint the voice with specific dramatic action. They construct a tangible, reliable foundation, freeing them to make bold and active choices and to become more physically expressive during the audition. Observers often comment, “In a short amount of time, Hudson so successfully focused each singer’s energy that every single one sang better and more convincingly the second time around… For several other singers, high notes blossomed, and formerly generalized performances became charged with electricity.” ( -Jason Victor Serinus, BAY AREA REPORTER, San Francisco). The specificity of this work enlivens the audition material with bold acting choices, helping singers generate the confidence to do their best moment-to-moment work in the audition room itself.
I also believe in teaching the scholars “structured independence” so that eventually they can do all of this work on their own without constant supervision. By the end of their time with me, the scholars know one another better and have already earned the trust they need from one another to risk moving beyond their present level of training and performance during the program. Creating and maintaining professional relationships is integral to any business, and the classical singing world is a referral business. Here again, the relationships created with the mentor artists at the Melba Trust can help a singer to realize their career potential. We mentors are all working professionals, additionally able to provide singers with the personal life skills to navigate these professional demands, which is often neglected elsewhere. I specifically remain in touch with Melba Alums when I return home to New York, and I have had the opportunity to work with them there as well as to refer them to professionals in other cities, and for Young Artist Program or Conservatory auditions in the US and Europe.