“Put your chin down, lower your head a little.”
I’m holding my head up because I am trying to “look arrogant”. We —seven female singers — are in the middle of a photo shoot for a magazine. We were instructed to wear black formal, and make-up with “smokey eyes”, and as we pose as a group for the camera, at various angles, the photographer and his assistant are trying to get us to “look like divas”. I am trying to do my best version of rich, mature and yet still sexy and interesting. I’m trying to smoulder. Maybe I should think Cher or Joan Collins. I suspect what is coming across is more Liza on a mopey day.(https://klavierzimmer.wordpress.com)
The photographer’s assistant, a skinny blonde woman in a tight t-shirt and tight jeans, tells me, “Try to look more girlish! Put your shoulder forward like this, and turn your head front, just so!”
“Tilt your head lower”, says the photographer.
Now, I’m not happy with this instruction because I know from experience that when I look down, I don’t look sultry, I look angry. People have told me this. Tilt my face down, and the creases just go that way from gravity. But none of us are really comfortable with this shoot. We’ve been given some oversized, wooden, gold-painted jewelry to wear from a boutique across town. No one wants to sit in the single chair in the middle of the set (so I resign myself to the honor — this is probably making me look all the more like the matriarch or something.)
We’ve gone through two rounds of photos so far. With seven of us, of course none of us are going to be happy with any one photo — always someone has blinked, or giggled, or spoke at the wrong time.
I’m getting antsy.
“Show us more girlishness, Marcellina. Shoulder forward!” Who is this cheerleader?
In this one hour of sitting pretty for the camera, the weight of the year is beginning to shift on my shoulders, and not in a comfortable way. All the work on shows, the hope for decent applause and finally maybe a good review (“This show would have been utter crap, save for the brilliant, and exquisitely talented Marcellina, who isn’t bad to look at either” Right. But, you know, this is what opera singers fantasies are all about. The audience may be on their feet for those few minutes, crying for more, but dammit I want it in writing!) I have been working like a dog all year, lived through ten months of construction on the apartment building, have sacrificed chunks of my afternoon down time in order to teach for a little extra cash, never got sick once all year even though I was in eleven productions (eight of them were new. Twelve, if you count re-learning an old show to perform once somewhere else), have gained 4 kilos from having no time for a regular workout. I have been juggling it all, it’s been, let’s say, manageable, until today. Days after another premiere and then an outside concert, I sat around all morning in a rehearsal in which the stage director had me written up to come, then never got as far as my entrance. Then a costume fitting where the designer seemed to spend an unusual amount of time of the color and texture of my costume’s sleeve and the cut of the neckline. (I play an old nun. Just throw some old thing on me, will ya?) They would still have me standing there, trying on vests, if I hadn’t interrupted the fun and said that I had to get ready for this photo shoot. Did I mention I have a performance tonight too?
The others have gotten up to peer into the photographer’s monitor to see the new batch of photos. The project’s PR woman, who just showed up 10 minutes ago, comes over to me and says, as gently as possible (with no snark, I think), “You look annoyed in the photos. Can you look a little less annoyed?”
“Karin, that’s how I look.”
“No, up til now it was better but now you look annoyed.”
And this is the moment where that weight of the year shifts once more, setting off a burning sensation right in the back of my sinuses and pushes forward, filling my eyes with tears and my nose with, well, snot. There goes the eye makeup, I think. I’m sure it’s streaming down my face in black and brown splotches like Alice Cooper. “That’s it, I’m done”, I announce, as I pull myself up to my full diva height (only 5’6″, actually) and rip that godawful wooden fake chain necklace from my throat. Jesus, what do they think I am, a mannequin? I have things to do besides sit here and have my acting abilities questioned by a couple of kids with a photo studio directly over a supermarket (that must drive the models crazy, the thought of all that food just steps away.) “You know what? I’m not taking this crap. I’m done”, I huff as I kick off my stilettos, narrowly missing the left side of an administrative assistant’s head, and I storm out the door in a billowing, glorious cloud of glitter and sequins and hairspray…
OK, that didn’t happen. I do say “I’m done”, then sort of slink around the corner to blot my eyes, to explain my stressful day to Karin and quietly get my things. She wants me to calm down, have a glass of water, come back for more. More — because, yeah, now I really look girlish and arrogant and diva-esque all at once! Nothing like puffy red eyes and smeared make-up on a forty-something-year-old woman to pull that stunt off, hey?
But I’m too much of a wuss to make any more of a scene, so I leave quietly, no explanation to my colleagues. They don’t really need one, being in the same business. We’ve all had breakdowns like this, I guess. Maybe today it was just my turn.
When I get home I crawl into bed, curl up into a ball and call my boyfriend, who is a saint and listens with patience and just enough sympathy. I have an hour before I have to go back into the make-up chair. How do singers with kids do this?