An interview with the Stage Director for the Cincinnati Opera’s performance of Another Brick in the Wall. This performance is the U.S. premiere; it was originally performed in Montreal, Canada, in 2017.
There are some people who aren’t that into Pink Floyd.
I’m not one of them. I’m one of the fans that, if I had seen this band perform back in the day, might have driven anyone crazy with my lunatic screams, perhaps even have gotten spit on by Roger Waters himself.
It’s said that this type of fan drove Waters over the edge about four decades ago. It’s said, even, that he did spit in an audience member’s face, disgusted with the sheep-like behavior of their joined screams over the music they came to hear, the show they expected to see. After that – because of that? – The Wall was born.
Which brings us to today, and to a project involving at least 75 actors and singers who are working together in an opera version of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall. I happen to be a supernumerary (or an “extra”) for this production, to be performed later this month in the U.S. premiere at Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall. Recently, our Stage Director, Suzanne Crocker, was kind enough to sit down with me for an interview so you can get a glimpse behind the scenes of this monumental work.
Interview with Suzanne Crocker, Stage Director of Another Brick in the Wall, The Opera
(July 2018, May Festival Rehearsal Room, Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA)
Cherie Dawn Haas: I understand you were first involved with the world premiere of this show in Montreal, Canada. Can you tell us a little about that?
Suzanne Crocker: It was announced that this production was coming to Cincinnati, but the original director, Dominic Champagne, and the assistant director, Neilson Vignola, weren’t able to come. Because I have a lot of experience as an assistant director and as a stage manager, both in theatre and in opera, and because I learned the show working as an ASM in Montreal, they asked me if I would be so happy to remount it here in Cincinnati. I was thrilled to have this opportunity.
CDH: Is this your first time coming to the U.S. for something like this?
SC: Yes, it is. I remounted an opera two years ago in Victoria, B.C., Canada, but this is the first time working in the U.S.
CDH: We’re glad to have you! I understand there are some differences in this show compared to Montreal, and I’m not sure how much detail you can go into, but can you tell us a little about why some of those changes were made, or what those changes are?
SC: Absolutely. The changes were made after the run in Montreal. The composer, Julien Bilodeau, and the stage director, Dominic, wanted to clarify the relationship between Pink’s character, his mother, and Pink himself as a child.
They also wanted to change the pacing of the show in Act I, so they switched two scenes so that we would feel a really good climax, and so everything would just build and build throughout the first act. There were a few cuts in the music, just to tighten things up. And they made just a few other changes here and there with characters coming on stage at different times.
CDH: Is it easy to make changes like that, in such a big production?
SC: It was; we were fortunate enough that our producer, Pierre Dufour, helped us to do two weeks of rehearsals in Montreal last March, so we were able to make these changes with Dominic. We also asked some of the original performers and had other performers come and so we were able to do these changes and test them out before we came to Cincinnati.
Testing the ideas, instead of starting from scratch here, makes it easier for me to remount the show. Making changes is a longer process, and so I’m quite fortunate because I’m just building on what was already set in Montreal. And because we also have four principal performers who worked on the original show, and know it very well – it’s just taking them a few steps further into their characters and their intentions, so that makes it a lot of fun.
My role here is to make sure that we respect the artistic integrity of the production and that I’m very loyal to what Dominic has staged in Montreal.
CDH: In your role, what is one of your biggest challenges?
SC: Before I came to Cincinnati, I was expecting my biggest challenge to be working with the new supernumeraries and the new chorus, and that’s something about which I had a lot of discussion with the Cincinnati Opera company. They’re co-producers, and they came and saw the production in Montreal, so they knew exactly what I was talking about. We had to make sure that in our casting, we had a lot of cultural diversity, and that we had people with experience also, because supers who are involved in this production need to have acting and dancing skills. The supers and the chorus are such a big part of this production; they are in it from the top of show until the very end.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, or how engaged, enthusiastic, or generous people would be. But you all have been, and it has made this first week of rehearsal so wonderful because everybody has just taken this production with them. I think they take it to heart.
One of the first things I asked of you all is to have fun and be very generous, but also be very disciplined in your work, and that I would be the same toward you. And everybody has been, so that took a lot of pressure off me.
CDH: Along those lines, thinking back to the first time we were all in this room together, I felt an immediate respect for you in the way you approached us and basically said, this is the way it needs to be, and being firm but also kind, and being great in guiding and directing us, no matter what our level of experience is.
SC: Teamwork is so important in any production – being respectful and very aware of everybody’s own abilities and qualities, and how you can bring out the best in each person. We each have our own strengths. It’s how we can go and get those strengths, and make everybody come together and complement each other.
It’s important – the dynamic you create in the rehearsal hall comes through in a production on stage, and people in the audience can feel that, when there’s something really strong that has been created in rehearsals. It really helps the principals’ work, too, and their acting, to feel all of that energy and presence around them. It’s like a response, when you’re giving, and you have that coming back to you; it’s a cycle.
CDH: What’s your favorite scene in Another Brick in the Wall, either to work on or to watch?
SC: One of my favorite scenes is one where, after really lashing out, Pink is just on his own. It’s a very intimate scene. Coming from mostly a theatre background, I really love when you’re just one on one with an actor or performer on stage, and really getting into their fragility and vulnerability. It’s also the way Julien wrote the music there and the way Pink has to sing that … that’s probably my favorite moment.
Every scene in this show really tells a story. There are a lot of big group scenes, and smaller scenes with duets and stuff like that. It’s really nice, too, how everyone in the show – the principals, obviously, but also some members of the chorus and the supers – they each have their own characters, and get to tell their own stories throughout the show.
Watch a clip from the Montreal opera production of Another Brick in the Wall:
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