Enter Stage Right
15 Apr 2011
Inside the Classics

Amid the latest gut-punching barrage of bad news for those of us who make our livings in the arts, I’m trying to stay focused and get some work done this morning on the relatively trifling matter of our next Inside the Classics concert, which comes up in less than a month.

Specifically, I’m writing the script for the first half of our Stravinsky show, and struggling with one of the elements that I always seem to struggle with – how to start the performance. Sarah and I agreed ages ago that we aren’t fans of the usual way that orchestras begin concerts: the concertmaster walks out to applause, bows, tunes the orchestra, the conductor/soloist walks out to more applause, the orchestra stands, the conductor/soloist bows, and then everybody sits back down and fidgets for a while until the music starts. It’s all so stilted and awkward (though many concertgoers are so used to it that it no longer seems so to them.) Furthermore, since what we do on the first half of Inside the Classics is really closer to theater than to a concert, it seems doubly weird for Sarah and me to do the usual walk-and-bow entrance.

So over the past four years, we’ve tried to use a technique known as a “cold open” as often as possible. The orchestra has to tune, but the concertmaster might not need to make a special entrance beforehand. Sarah and I have to get on stage somehow, and if we walk out while everyone’s quiet, people will naturally applaud, but if we’re already on stage before the lights dim, we have more options. Regular ItC attendees are no doubt familiar with our usual opening gambit of having a single musician begin to play out of the silence that follows tuning, and then Sarah taking the podium silently to bring the rest of the orchestra in while I begin speaking in voiceover from wherever I’ve positioned myself.

And we’ve tried variations on the theme, too. The very first ItC concert (which was more of a pilot episode than anything resembling what the series is today,) way back in January 2007, began with an unconducted brass fanfare, followed immediately by me, seated next to the trumpets, asking the question, “What is it about Tchaikovsky?” When Jay Greenberg was with us at the end of our second season, he, Sarah and I snuck onstage while a video clip played on the big screen behind the orchestra. And when we premiered our take on the Four Seasons last March, I just sat down on the edge of the stage several minutes before showtime, waited for the orchestra to tune, and then ruminated about winter for a while while Dar Williams crooned in the background.

Trouble is, there are only so many ways to make an entrance, and we’ve been drinking at the same well for long enough now that I worry about self-parody whenever I’m writing a new script. I worry about it so much that the opening I wrote for our Dvorak 7 show this past January was literally a parody of the opening of the Appalachian Spring show we did in November. And that felt to me like a turning point, but the trouble is that I haven’t figured out where we’re pivoting to yet. Should I begin the show from out in the audience? Have Sarah enter on a zip line from the third tier? Dare I lead off a future show by actually playing something on the viola, which, I sometimes have to remind myself, is still my primary job?

Now that’s a cold open.

I know – this is a lot of fussing over nothing. People don’t come to our concerts to see where I’ve decided to station myself at the top of the show, and we have done several shows in which we just walked out and bowed to applause, and the world did not explode. But Sarah and I have always been proud of the care we take in preparing our scripts, and our sometimes extreme attention to detail has been one of the things that has made the series successful thus far. So I’ll keep sweating the minutiae until I come up with a solution that doesn’t make me cringe, but in the meantime, if you all have any clever ideas for how Sarah and I might creatively deposit ourselves downstage center, by all means, chime in down in the comments…

<February 2020>

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