I had some random thoughts about the pre-production process and about being prepared in general. Most of these should be obvious, but even so, I think they’re worth repeating…
- You may be a superior sight-reader and have great ears, and you may have more chops than a butcher shop, but those skills alone aren’t enough to guarantee a superior performance. Playing shows well requires sensitivity and nuance, and you have to be aware of what’s going on around you and how you fit into it – this isn’t a chops-fest! This is a thinking-man’s game, and a successful pit musician’s thought process needs to be occurring on many different levels. And that almost never includes speed, volume, and how ‘outside’ that monster fill was.
- Don’t take any piece of music for granted, no matter how simple it may appear on the page. Before you get to rehearsal, do your homework! Think ahead, pay attention to the details, get creative and be as prepared as you can. Get ahold of the music beforehand and really STUDY your part. It’s not enough to simply be able to play the tricky passages correctly, you ought to know how your part relates to everything else that’s going on, both in the pit and on the stage. Get a copy of the full score if possible so you can see your part in context.
- Be aware of what’s come before you. Study cast recordings if available. Watch video clips of other productions for perspective (YouTube can be a great resource for this!). But watch and listen critically. The objective here is not to simply mimic what others have done before, but to examine how they’ve interpreted the material. Pay particular attention to how others have worked through the spots that you might find difficult or troublesome. Perhaps you can find solutions you can apply to your own situation. Talk with others who have performed the piece.
- When in the rehearsal process of any show, especially a new work that’s still somewhat under development, you should be prepared to offer the director/conductor (or whomever you’re answering to) a variety of musical textures from which to choose. Here’s a newsflash for you – directors don’t always know exactly what it is they’re wanting to hear, or even how to ask for it. It’s going to be up to you to figure it out and offer them ideas. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll be in a better position to offer musically relevant solutions.
- A word of caution here – when offering input, gauge the vibe of the situation carefully and tread lightly! Never speak out of turn, and avoid offering unsolicited ideas. Some directors may be encouraging and open to hearing your ideas, others won’t. Be willing to offer your creativity, but when you do, offer it gently and don’t be pushy about it. If your seemingly brilliant idea isn’t used, don’t be discouraged or offended, it’s nothing personal. Remember, just because you thought of it and you think it’s a great idea, that doesn’t necessarily make it so. This isn’t about you – it’s about the director’s vision of what best serves the show. You can’t just walk through the door into a new situation and start spouting ideas off the top of your head. You’ll certainly turn people off that way, reducing your chance to ever be heard to precisely ZERO. You’re going to have to work hard and earn the opportunity to be heard and contribute – it takes time to build trust, just like with any worthwhile relationship.
A few hours of mental preparation to get your head on straight before you arrive at the first rehearsal not only gives you a jump-start on mastering the piece at hand, but will better inform your performance in a broader sense. Your playing will naturally be more focused and sound more confident. It will also demonstrate to others your professionalism and your commitment to a successful production. It’s that kind of thoughtful preparation that helps build trust, bolsters your reputation, and endears you to directors – enabling you to stay employed, season after season.
Remember, as a musician working in musical theatre, you’re a small part of a very large, organic ‘machine’. The more you know about and understand how the different elements of that machine interact, the more dynamic and effective your performance can be!