American Conservatory Theater’s head of voice Christine Adaire has spent her entire career teaching students the power of organic sound. A Designated Master Linklater Voice teacher, the method developed by famed acting teacher and vocal coach Kristin Linklater who passed away in June, Adaire is obsessed with the breath, timbre and possibilities of what a voice can bring to a performance.
But nowadays, there is no beautiful and reverent purity while the vocal cords deliver celestial magic into the ears of the beholder. Because right now, we don’t have live performance – we have Zoom.
“Working in this format is not as satisfying because it’s not live,” said Adaire. “The audience isn’t hearing and feeling actors and voices in a visceral way.”
Adaire spent many years performing Shakespeare outdoors for upwards of 800 people and nary a microphone in sight. She has made a career teaching others how to do what she has always done. Yet, the inability to use sound and create ambience nowadays with an actor’s live voice is frustrating.
Still, she is grateful to be doing what she loves, even if it is through a device.
The theatre she’s creating is with the cohort of second year Master of Fine Arts students in a production of legendary Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Blood Wedding,” now running online through Nov. 13. The piece is one of Lorca’s master works, often spoken in similar terms as other Andalusian tragedies such as “The House of Bernarda Alba” and “Yerma.” Lorca’s writings are highly lyrical and poetic, loaded with symbolism and tragedy, characters often finding themselves overtaken by fateful and life-altering circumstances.
In “Blood Wedding,” only Leonardo has a proper name – all other characters are reduced to their societal positions. The Bride and Bridegroom are to be married, much to the consternation of the Bridegroom’s Mother, who has experienced devastating loss and blood that has spilled out of the men in her life. The Bridegroom’s Mother’s worst fears are confirmed as a visit from Leonardo to the Bride on her wedding day is met with danger, and violence explodes everywhere.
Violence as a theme in Lorca’s writings permeate every ounce of his transformational plays and poetry, which may have foreshadowed his own violent end. Lorca’s commitment to liberal causes and his homosexuality made him a target for Nationalists at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the year he was arrested and executed in August at age 38 and placed in an unmarked grave.
Characters in a Lorca play are often connected by circumstances that overwhelm, which force individuals into devastating consequences. Which begs an obvious question – when digging into this work, how is organic truth built at a time in history where social distancing is the norm?
“We were hoping originally when the season was announced, we would be face-to-face by the fall, but when summer came around, it was obvious we would be on another platform,” said Adaire. “I’ve never worked on Zoom, but we just thought that we’d see what happens. There’s so much physical intimacy and passion in a play like this one, so it was cool to explore how we can express those ideas more visually.”
While digital theatre has its limits, there are still plenty of dynamics that have allowed Adaire and her team to think outside the box. The show is presented in black and white, contributing to an aesthetic that is all about making the total experience feel as if it were in a different time period. Creatives like choreographer Lisa Townsend, flamenco instructor Gabriel Romero and video designer Luis Garcia have all helped Adaire unify the production.
And in a serendipitous turn of events which had nothing to do with how the roles were cast, Wesley Guimarães and Nicola Rinow, who play Leonardo and the Bride respectively, are roommates. This practical matter pays huge dividends towards the end of the play, where the luxury of two actors in the same room contributes to one of the play’s most passionate and stunning scenes.
“That is really kind of magical and really powerful because we have two actors who touch and kiss. It’s really moving to see that scene after an hour or so. We’ve been watching people acting together, but in their own spaces.”
Adaire is now caught up in the world of redefining how she must create art. A rehearsal where she used to solely think about vocal energy and projection has been replaced with discussions about bandwidth and how to move forward when someone’s microphone cuts out. It’s not an ideal situation for anyone, yet it makes her appreciate theatre’s normal rituals so much more.
“I never thought about the blessing of being able to be with others on stage and explore those stories and deep emotions in the flesh, and then share that with an audience. This experience has really made me treasure what we’re able to do as actors, and I took it for granted for the 30+ years I’ve been in the theatre.”
WHAT TO KNOW
American Conservatory Theater’s Master of Fine Arts Class of 2022 presents “Blood Wedding”
Written by Federico Garcia Lorca
Directed by Christine Adaire
Live Oct. 29 – 11 am
Oct. 30 – 7 pm
On demand Nov. 6 – 13
All tickets $20
For tickets, visit www.act-sf.org