Sunday, January 06, 2008

Wall Touching

I have spent a lot of time painting scenery for opera companies, which has allowed me to see many, many operas over the years. It must be noted while opera singers are admired for their astonishing voices, they are not known for their acting skills.

Somewhere along the way, Robb and I started noticing a peculiar acting tic, common to many opera singers. When a singer wants to indicate emotional distress, they often indulge in Dramatic Wall Clinging Behavior. Here, a famous opera director (left) demonstrates this technique (otherwise known as Wall Touching or Cockroach-ing) to one of his singers.

Robb and I find Wall touching inexplicably amusing. It entertains us, for all the wrong reasons.

A number of years ago, Robb was involved in one of those bizarre projects that you secretly hope nobody you know is ever going to see. You know what I'm talking about, a project where the pay is really good, but everything else about the project is stinky beyond measure. Robb was starring in a dramatic staging of Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, accompanied by the Baltimore Gay Men's Chorus, singing excerpts from Carmina Burana. It was so dreadful as to be uproariously funny, and as I watched the show, it took every bit of my self control to keep from laughing.

Until Robb made direct eye contact with me, and slapped his hands firmly on the rickety walls and stared at me as he slithered from one side of the stage to the other. I held my breath and unsuccessfully tried to stifle my laughter.

Robb is a Very Naughty Boy.

But, as it turns out, the universe has an even weirder sense of humor than either Robb or I do.

Since Robb's paralyzed feet only allow him to sort-of feel the floor he's standing on, he does not get the same information that most people rely on for balance. He needs other sensory clues, to assure his body that it is not, in fact, about to go toppling over at any moment. If Robb lays a hand on a counter top, or a piece of furniture as he walks past it, his balance is considerably improved. He's not leaning on anything for physical support. Instead, he's giving his body the information that he would normally be getting through his feet.

After laughing at this phenomenon for years, Robb now does a lot of Wall Touching.

I could have used a bit of Wall Touching myself, today. Robb and I went to the SFMOMA, and by the time we finished with the Joseph Cornell exhibit, I was experiencing horrible hepatitis-induced nausea. I wanted to see the Olafur Eliasson show, but I almost balked at the bridge leading in (pictured above). The floor of the bridge is translucent, which gave me Instant Vertigo. I obviously couldn't run my hand along the glass walls, and almost chickened out. I practically backed into the museum guard. Apparently, I'm not the first person who has had this reaction. "Just concentrate on the walls" she advised me. I made it across the bridge without Wall Touching, but I was pretty queasy at the other end.


Woolfairy said...

BWAH! As someone with a vocal performance - opera concentration major, I know exactly the phenomenon of which you speak. hee hee

Gina said...

It is also a phenomena common to Star Trek actors! ("I...cant'...take... it... Jim." - Kirk)

I was JUST demonstrating this technique last night to someone who had NEVER heard or experienced the phenomena! Yea! Synchronicity!

Of course, I like the WALL ACTING technique when also combined with the long -tressed HAIR ACTING and billowing tendrils of ugly costumes sent aloft by giant fans embedded in the floor. (You remember THAT production at the Baltimore Opera, yes, Lisa?)

Now, WHERE did you find that picture? I simply MUST know...


. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

That photo would be taken from the blog of an opera company for whom I no longer work. (See the comments there, as well!)

Lynne Rutter said...

that wall this is ubiquetous in the opera, along with handwrinign, and pointless double-takes.

working on a show now where there aren't any walls, just a big projection screen, and wondering what is this poor tenor going to do with himself.

Lynne Rutter said...

i also had problems crossing that bridge -

Anonymous said...

hm, let me digest this latest blog of your...

Gay, slithery and nausea.

It makes me think of a snakelike John Waters about to vomit.

Not really, but i'm trying to put a different spin on your day. Are you taking vitimins? Getting rest? Glad to see you guys are getting out to see some things.

Here it is cow slaughtering time, and everyone barns are big and empty looking.



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