I was inspired to write this article following the events of the MLB All-star game (July 2016), where Canadian quartet, The Tenors, left sports fans strikingly disenthralled on the upcoming baseball game. It was during the pre-game performance of the Canadian national anthem that group member, Remigio Pereira, decided to alter the original lyrics of the anthem: “We’re all brothers and sisters, all lives matter to the great,” in place of “With glowing hearts we see thee rise, the True North strong and free.” In addition to these revisions, Pereira proceeded to hold up a sign which read “All lives matter” on one side and “United we stand” on the reverse.
Before I get ahead of myself, I’d like to take this opportunity to emphasize that this article will not discuss the political content of this story any further than what has already been said. The purpose of this article – let alone that of this entire blog – is not to assert any form of political agenda; rather, the mission statement of my work is to be a resource for singers and musicians, by giving context to current events from a fellow musician’s perspective. With that in mind, this article will focus its efforts on what is to be expected when working as part of a professional ensemble based on the former professional relationship of Pereira and his colleagues.
Take one for the team, not the other way around: A lesson in ensemble etiquette
Following their performance, The Tenors released this statement, directing any controversy towards Pereira alone:
The Tenors are deeply sorry for the disrespectful and misguided lack of judgement by one member of the group acting as a “lone wolf” … The other members of the group are shocked and embarrassed by the actions of Remigio Pereira…@TenorsMusic via Twitter, 2016
Needless to say, the one thing you should never do in an ensemble is go forward with an impromptu performance decision without telling anyone beforehand. Do your colleagues agree with your idea, let alone understand it? Does your director approve of it (don’t forget who’s the one in charge)? Yes, it is technically your idea, but the audience doesn’t know that. All they see is a questionable performance; at that point, the entire ensemble is put on the spot, not just you. That is why The Tenors released this statement in the first place. They didn’t want to be held accountable for Pereira’s decision, and why should they be? While I’m sure your ideas don’t come anywhere close to rewriting the lyrics of the national anthem during the middle of a televised sporting event, it is still in your best interest – not to mention that of the ensemble – to tell your colleagues what you plan – or, would like – to change.
What we sometimes take for granted as performers – present company included – is that the performance industry is a business: you’re providing a service or a product (entertainment, in this case) to a group of consumers (i.e. your audience) in order to make a profit. Before your product can get anywhere near a price tag, however, countless hours must be put towards research, testing, and development in order to ensure that it is of the highest quality possible. The equivalent of this process for performers is – drumroll, please – REHEARSAL! While rehearsal can at times feel monotonous and even frustrating, it’s the only time you can safely experiment with your stagecraft prior to curtain. Just as well, experimentation and exploration are implored during the rehearsal period, so that you can further your understanding of a character or a scene. So, if you have any ideas at all, just make sure to get them out during rehearsal, not during a performance.
Of course, as professional performers, we have to be readily available to think on the spot, given a worse-case scenario during a live show (i.e. forgetting a line, a technical malfunction, etc.). That does not, however, give us the right to turn a professional performance into a personal production of Whose Line is it Anyway? As entertaining as that sounds, no amount of personal gain will ever surpass your professional obligation to the ensemble. To do so would be an insult to your colleagues, your directors, and to the entire rehearsal process.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the idea that a production is only as strong as its weakest performer. So, what happens when that performer turns out to be a loose-cannon who plays by their own rules? Well, on one hand, you might have the perfect concept for the next Jason Statham movie; but, on the other, you have a high-risk performer with a track record for being unpredictable (not a very profitable investment). With any business, the product has to provide the same results every time. If it can’t deliver that level of consistency, then it’s back to the drawing board – in this case, the casting call.
So, the next time you get hit with a flash of “inspiration” to change something during the middle of a live show, STOP! Take a moment to consider the consequences of your potential actions as well as who they might impact. Nine times out of ten, you’ll put more than just your own career at risk; ten times out of ten, you’ll always put your own career at risk. If anything else, learn from Pereira’s decision. Not only has he been suspended from performing with The Tenors until further notice, a number of Pereira’s solo concerts have since been cancelled as well: “I had nothing to gain from this; in fact, I’ve lost everything.” (The Canadian Press, 2016, paragraph 9)
Got any horror stories about performers gone rogue? Share your stories with us in the comments below!