Take 'Under' Stage!
Emma reflects on the importance of the orchestra in a musical production.
I see the role of those in the pit as intricately connected to the actors, crew members, and directing staff. (stock image courtesy of Microsoft Office Images)
There is no musical without the music. There is no expression of love without "Tonight" in West Side Story or heartache without "On My Own" in Les Miserables. There is no cheekiness in seven children going to bed without "So Long, Farewell" in The Sound of Music or the true sense of theatricality in a criminal trial without "We Both Reached for the Gun" from Chicago.
The music does much more than bring the story to life -- it brings the emotion, the "realness" to every audience member. It invites what cannot be conveyed merely through the spoken word, and in doing so, it can enlighten, agitate, and move us.
I know this personally because I am a clarinet player. And while there is often a divide between those who take center stage and those underneath at the start of a show, I see the role of those in the pit as intricately connected to the actors, crew members, and directing staff. Although we contribute different pieces of the puzzle, we work together, not separately, to create a work of art.
Yet, most people's first thought upon hearing the word "theater" is automatically of those who physically act in the production. For example, the image that accompanies a news story about a musical at TheaterMania often consists of the star of the show but never the cellist in the orchestra ensemble or the costume designer.
Similarly, The New York City that someone typically thinks of can probably be summed up in one word: busy. People everywhere going one place or another. I do work in the Theater District after all, which consists of massive crowds and a hurried psyche that culminates in an ultra-driven, anxiously neurotic population. Usually, no one stops to consider Soho or the West Village, which I visited for the day recently with a close friend. And I spent the 4th of July in Belle Harbor on the beach. Sounds more like Virginia than New York!
And so I got to thinking, do the musicians create the musical or do the actors? For obvious reasons, without either one there would be something significantly missing from the show. Or is it the backstage crew, costume designers, and other various staff members who deserve the most praise? And what about New York--is there one concrete area that should define the famous NYC? Is it my grandparents' house off of Flatbush Avenue, the Meatpacking District with its high end shopping, or Bryant Park where I get off the train on 6th and 42nd?
The answer is simple. Everything is equally important.
In my opinion, an orchestra member is just as, but by no means more, vital to the show as the woman playing Belle in Beauty and the Beast, the makeup artist, or Girl #3 who has one line in the third scene. And of course, there would be no New York City without Times Square and the Financial District. But to me, there would be no New York City without Murray Hill, Yankee Stadium, Kings Plaza, or Ocean Avenue either. Together, they create the city that I love.
I think that we do a disservice by picking and choosing components that matter and don't. We should see the bigger picture--in theater and in life.