What About Those Violins?
The question I was asked most frequently during the run of Opus was "Where did you get all those violins?"
First of all, let me talk a little about what the script calls for. We needed a cello for Carl and a violin for Alan. We needed Grace's viola, the one she has before she joins the quartet. And we needed the Lazara instruments: a matching violin (for Elliot) and viola (Dorian's, that later becomes Grace's). And it was the Lazara violin that had to be smashed.
The first place we went to for help was The Burlington Violin Shop on Main Street. The owner, Kathy, was good enough to lend us the cello, a pair of violins and a pair of violas.
So now all we needed was about 25 violins so that we could break one at each performance (18) and another seven for rehearsals. Warren Ellison, a local violin maker, came to the rescue. He found us a supplier who sold us about 30 very cheap (as in low-quality) used or slightly damaged student violins for about $30 each.
The way it would work is that each performance, Elliot would use the "real" Lazara violin for most of the performance, and then when he was off-stage during the White House concert, he would switch to a breakable violin that resembled the Lazara, and that was the one Carl would break.
However, during one show, things didn't quite go as planned.
Since I watch the show every night, I could tell that when Elliot came back onstage after the White House concert, he still had the original violin with him, and that it, rather than a substitute, was going to get broken.
I got on the headset with my stage manager and asked her what happened. She found out that, for some reason (we're still not quite sure why), both the actor and the stagehand missed the switch. We had about 4 minutes to come up with a solution, but realistically, there was nothing short of stopping the show we could do about it. Carl smashed the original.
But it wasn't actually a disaster. Since I wanted the actors to think of the Lazara as something valuable, I didn't tell them that from the very beginning, I had given them one of the cheap breakable instruments to use as the Lazara violin.
It happened that one of the cheap ones most closely matched the color of the Lazara viola that we had borrowed from Burlington Violin, so we used that cheap violin as the Lazara rather than the violin we had borrowed. If it had been a borrowed instrument that we were about to smash, I don't know what I would have done...
The other question we got had to do with the playing of the instruments.
First of all, the playwright (a former violist himself) is very specific. The instruments should be real, the actors should learn to bow correctly and precisely in time with the music, and they should make no attempt to replicate the fingering ("This invariably looks fake and will distract from the play," he says).
Then we hired David Gusakov, a violinist with the VSO, to work with the actors over the course of several weeks to make sure the bowing looked as authentic as possible. The recorded music was provided for us by the publishing company (it was created for the original production of the play). And to make sure the bows made as little sound as possible when in contact with the strings, the actors applied soap (rather than rosin) to the bows.
And finally, people asked, where did we get those actors?
This was a rare Vermont Stage show where everyone in the cast was local. Elliot (Wayne Tetrick) worked as an actor in NYC before he moved to Vermont four years ago. He has been seen in The Foreigner, Inspecting Carol and King Lear. Alan (Craig Maravich) moved here from NYC about a year ago, and played the male lead in last season's Prelude to a Kiss. Dorian (Ethan Bowen) lives in Rochester, Vermont and has appeared in Midwives, Piano Stories, and O'Carolan's Farewell to Music. (Incidentally, it was Ethan who introduced me to the play.)
Taryn Noelle (Grace) and Jack Bradt (Carl) are both newcomers to Vermont Stage, but they have both worked extensively in local community theatres.
I was very proud of this production. We had so many talented people working on this show, from our director, Jason Jacobs, to our amazing cast and design team, to all the musicians and musical experts who helped us to get it just right.
And I continue to be thrilled that there is an audience for newer and more obscure plays. Opus was written in 2006, and has had relatively few productions at this point (although it's being done quite a bit around the country this season).
I took a risk on this show, and so did you. Thank you!