When Michigan Opera Theater moved into the newly renovated (with ongoing renovations) Detroit Opera House 25 years ago, the musicians in the orchestra found we were given a few perks which we had not previously enjoyed in our rented facilities. The biggest difference was in the pit itself; spacious, multi-level and partially under the stage.
Another amenity was the use of a conveniently located orchestra room. Though not beautifully decorated, its utilitarian space included two small rooms that could be used for practicing or changing clothes, tables and chairs, a bulletin board, humidifier and lockers. Continuing renovations brought an additional two practice rooms on the 4th floor with electronic keyboards and carpet.
All of these spaces were put to good use during our recent run of Phantom of the Opera. Many of us arrived early to get a good parking place, warm up in the practice rooms, go out for coffee or tacos, work on various projects or simply chat with our fellow musicians. The collegial atmosphere was especially apparent between shows on the weekends. As the show ran during January 20-21, the inauguration of president Trump and the subsequent Women’s March on Washington, you can bet that there were many heated political discussions as well.
During the week we only had single shows in the evening so there was a minimal amount of socializing before show time and during intermission but on Saturday and Sunday there were two shows a day with a break of around three hours. For some, that was enough time to go home and relax but others had different plans for their time. Trying different restaurants for dinner was usually my priority. One of the travelling musicians got carry-out and went shopping. A few people walked down to Campus Martius to go ice skating. Our local horn player, who drives around 90 miles, brings a sandwich and an air mattress and takes a nap in one of the practice rooms upstairs. One of the keyboard players who travels with the show uses every available moment to work on her jewelry. Elaine Davidson makes beautiful hand-made silver bracelets using silver wire of varying gauges, pliers and other tools, and polishes them to a bright luster. I think she must do a pretty good business while on the road - two of our musicians bought bracelets. Elaine is working on getting her website going so if you’re interested in jewelry for men or women, check back soon.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to perform the same show eight times a week or, in the case of the star soprano, six times? How do they keep it fresh? One of the touring keyboard players mentioned that travelling from city to city keeps it fresh. Every new place has its own feel. He also offered that Detroit has been great – good players and a friendly, social atmosphere. We are happy to hear that! The assistant conductor/substitute keyboard player has a program called ‘Sing-Song Saturdays’ between shows on Saturdays when she plays for singers who want to get together informally and sing songs from other Broadway shows, anything NOT Phantom. In Detroit that program was turned into a Cabaret show held in Ferndale on the middle Monday to raise money for “Broadway Cares”. The group began raising money in 1988 to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic and has expanded to provide funding for The Actor’s Fund, which administers a safety net of social services for those in the entertainment industry.
My heart warmed one day when I returned to the orchestra room after going out for dinner between shows. Three of our string players and the violinist who travels with the show were playing string quartets. It was relaxing to hear beautiful music as I sat at the table with my knitting, snacking on chocolate that someone had brought to share. Did I mention that I love my job?