Fr Jim Irvine



the penultimate WORD

Series 2005 - May
Ill-advised asperity...


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican




“This is the consequence of ill-advised asperity!”
– Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B.


May: Ill-advised asperity...Live theatre quickens my pulse.

Beating away in a predictably relaxed rhythm, I am sure it picked up the pace when I discovered the local Gilbert and Sullivan Society was looking for male voices.  Naturally modest, I threw off the news when my daughter, Sarah, excitedly announced the opportunity.  She was going to audition, and this would give us a fourth opportunity to be on stage together.

The thought of the discipline of rehearsals, learning a new musical, getting into character and performing at The Playhouse was exciting and I certainly was being tempted by the thespian muse!

I slept on it for a couple of days and decided to tag along.  That was in early January.

The curtain will go up on the community theatre production of HMS Pinafore in May.

I have to tell you that the discipline has not been a disappointment.  I learned a lot.

My commitment to the effort, coupled with my delight in working with my daughter on another musical notwithstanding, was not predicated on ill-advised asperity.

Gilbert and Sullivan rely on the principals as well as the chorus in communicating their wit and cutting social satire to the public that embraces their stage presentations.  Words are critical.  And there are a lot of them.  In the operetta of course they are light and airy and fast paced.  But the subtle comedy relies on their prompt and correct delivery.  For all the words there are, they dare not be mishandled.  They each had to be presented in their proper sequence.  And there was little allowance for even the occasion ad lib. 

I was happy that I was in the chorus.  All of my words were linked to all sorts of notes, and for that their recollection was made easier.  Of course I couldn’t sing just any note that came to me.  As one of the First Bass voices, I had to hit the notes that distinguished me from the Second Basses.  And not only did I have to hit the notes, I then had to remember them!  Now I was having to recall both words and notes! 

As we grew more comfortable with the plethora of words and the abundance of notes the Director of the production then added blocking and I learned that we were going to move about while we remembered these lyrics and gave them voice.  The task seemed daunting.

But wait, like the ubiquitous Ronco infomercial, there’s more…

To the blocking and the words and the notes the challenge then was to develop character enabling the ensemble to become three dimensional as we tread the boards of Fredericton’s famed theatre.  I had to emote as a sailor… not an easy task.  Seeking my motivation, I dug deep within my life’s experience and found a kid that imagined he went to sea and spend years before the mast!

And dear Reader, you have no idea what the appearance of the choreographers did to my pulse rate!  As a sailor on board the Pinafore it might be reasonable to expect that an able bodied seaman could scuff the deck with a horn pipe.  Reasonable perhaps, but not realistic.  We each dance to a different piper and my muse (I soon discovered) relied on tunes written for sailors with two left feet.

The troupe’s affinity for grease paint and the foot lights, my dancing notwithstanding, was not predicated on ill-advised asperity.

But beyond that I learned a lot.

Our voices gradually began to blend under the skilful guidance of Björn, the Music Director of the troupe.  As a First Bass I began to find confidence as well as the note.  Encouraged and affirmed, each of us matured and grew into a chorus.  Others sought to find my note as I sought theirs.  The competitive cacophony that marked our initial efforts gave way to harmony where our voices began to blend as we sang from the same page.

The seemingly countless hours spent in rehearsals began to shore up for cast and the crew of the Pinafore.  For all of our hours spent in rehearsing our choruses and integrating the nineteenth century gaiety of the Victorian musical, there would be no second takes; neither would there be an encore.  During the repeated efforts as we gathered week by week we never seemed to do the same thing twice.  If we got the words right, then a musical cue would be missed – not by everyone, but by me!  If I transposed my lyrics then my notes inevitably would be on target.  Not that any of us sought to sabotage the play, mind you.  It’s just that in spite of the rehearsals, the play seemed more like theatre at the improve.  A whole lot like life, I thought.

Grace and the spontaneity of the moment fill unrehearsed lives and for whatever act of compassion we might not fail at, we never called back for an encore.  Acts of love and forbearance and compassion and acceptance and forgiveness might highlight our otherwise awkward impromptu lives.  We may even repeat the effort.  But none of our attempts of bringing restoration or reconciliation or healing or value to another is ever an encore.  We simply move from one scene in the dramatic unfolding of our lives one act at a time, doing the best we can in the midst of our failures and hurts.

And when the curtain comes down at the Playhouse?  Well there will be applause for all of our efforts.  Not unlike when I get to remove my grease pain for the last time: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Our courage to engage each day, our reliance on impromptu compassion notwithstanding, is not predicated on ill-advised asperity.

Copyright © 2005 James T. Irvine


Thespian pursuits


2005 Series

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton