Phantom faces at the window, phantom shadows on the floor. Empty Chairs at empty tables, where my friends will sing no more.
I know it's a song about death. But this imagery makes me think of the friendships you make while being a performer.
Having walked around the block once or twice in my life, I've gotten to know the rehearsal process fairly well. I've gotten to meet dozens of artists, young and old and seen how the process is crafted together in three different fields of live theatre (Opera, MT, and straight theatre.) The process is oddly similar, the personality types reach all ends of the spectrum, but the cast and crew chemistry seems to have a similar course.
The Three Stages of Stage Friendships.
Stage 1.) Awkward Beginnings
The first few days of rehearsal can be a bit awkward. It's a lot like speed dating. You mostly chat with your cast mates before rehearsal or during the breaks. Maybe even a little afterward if you're not terribly busy. The interactions are short and sweet, maybe a few jokes or stories are exchanged. You really don't get a genuine feel for who a person is unless they are an extreme extrovert. You tend to congregate toward the people you know the best or at least have something in common with. You know some of the same people, went to the same school.
You look for a safety blanket that may or may not be there. If there is then this stage can go by rather quickly.
Stage 2.) The Honeymoon Phase
Time passes and you're in daily rehearsals. Suddenly you've shared a lifetime of memories with these people. You love them. Even if they make choices with their acting or performing you don't necessarily agree with, you can all of a sudden see the charm that they bring to that scene. Suddenly the show would seem wrong without them in it. In their own way, they are perfect.
Suddenly all of the "ear worms" of the music, the way Larry says his lines, all of the mannerisms of the director, conductor or stage manager become every day little things that you LIVE for. Everything is an inside joke, everything points back to the show. The little world you create on stage becomes a reflection of the little family you've created off stage as well.
And then the show ends...
Stage 3.) Post Show Separation
The show ends. After a rowdy (or sometimes not so rowdy) after party filled with teary goodbyes (sometimes Persian goodbyes) people leave. They go back to their homes, resume their other jobs, maybe even head to another gig. Life is a lot different for everyone involved.
Show photos are posted on Facebook and Instagram. Every single one of them makes you relive those moments. But then those stop showing up as well. Suddenly the people that you had a near daily interaction with just fade out of sight. Out of sight, out of mind.
It almost makes you feel cheap. Like a one night stand but with friendships. I don't believe it to be so intentional, the fact is that we all have incredibly diverse lives and we all meet extraordinary people all across the globe. We live in a remarkable time of social media where we actually can remain in touch with a lot more people than ever before, but it won't ever be the same as when you're sitting 5 feet from each other in a rehearsal hall.
You return to the group of friends you have to leave behind every time you're booked solid with rehearsal. Everything they say can somehow be tagged back to some memory with the show you were just in. And although you may feel the urge to share, don't. It won't be that funny to them, nor will it be like sharing that moment with your former cast mates. Your chasing after nostalgia that just isn't there for anyone but you.
The truth is that this is unavoidable, and it's a bittersweet part of our career. You'll meet and connect with so many people, some more than others. You'll make incredible friends. You'll learn to love so many different kinds of people. But most of them won't be permanent fixtures in your home. But then some will. Just know that keeping them a part of your life will take work by both parties. Never let go of the ones who are worth it.
Until Next Time,
Lift Big, Sing Big, and Look Great Doing It
The Opera Bro