“What is a performer without an audience?”
Music: Juliana Hall
Text: Caitlin Vincent
Director: René Kmet
Soprano/story: Ema Katrovas
Director of Photography: Josef Kader Agha
Editor: Roman Lakovlev
Sound: Jana Kašpárek Vyšínská
Production Manager: Jiří Fusek
Set Photography: Anna Burianová
Sentiment is a 12-minute musical short film in pre-production based on the monodrama of the same name composed by Juliana Hall for soprano without accompaniment, with text by Caitlin Vincent. Or, to put it more simply, Sentiment is a music video for contemporary classical music. The film will follow the soprano, Ema Katrovas, as she explores an empty theatre while grappling with an absent audience and the various sides of her personality, her public and private self. Sentiment will be a visually extravagant, enthralling and at times humorously self-ironic piece of self-revelation in which the performer undergoes a range of emotions – giddy happiness followed by a plunge into depression, anger, embarrassment for revealing too much of oneself, remorse for lashing out and, finally, a plea for the world to see only one’s “best” side. The film is also a meditation on the question: “What is a performer without an audience?” This question has taken on a new sense of urgency with the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
The narrative framework of the film is a performer’s journey through the theatre and into the depths of her own emotions: at the stage door, the soprano catches a last glimpse of the real world before she enters the magical realm of the theatre. Full of joy, she prepares for a performance in her dressing room, travels from one backstage space to the next, explores her environment – costumes, props, mirrors, lights, rigging, sets and so on. Finally, she steps out on stage. There she discovers that the auditorium is empty and she is alone. Depressed, she wanders through the empty theater, explores the vacant orchestra pit where the instruments have been left behind, passes half-filled glasses of champagne and leftover snacks at the empty bar in the lobby and the absent audience’s jackets and coats in the cloakroom. In desperate need of an audience, she breaks the fourth wall and starts addressing and attacking us, the viewers, for reveling in her sorrow. In the end, she manages to make peace with the world and with herself, leaving the theatre through the same stage door through which she entered and walking out into the bright light of day.
One of the main aims of the project is to combine the theatricality of classical music with a raw and intimate study of the performer and the range of emotions she goes through throughout the monodrama. Cinematic spectacle and visual exuberance meet a fully-rounded, realistic main character struggling with real, comprehensible emotions. The short film will focus heavily both on aesthetics – visuals, colors, costumes, props, effects – as well as on realistic, character-based acting. In pre-production, singer and director will prepare the same way actors prepare for the production of narrative pieces of fiction by developing a character in order to let it then organically unfold in front of the camera.
At first, Juliana Hall’s monodrama, Sentiment, seems like an improvisation. In fact, it is a very precisely-notated and deliberate piece of music. Since the unaccompanied voice is the only instrument, here, the singer must work to create contrast with the voice alone by using the dynamics, articulation and tempo changes with precision and deliberateness and by tastefully contrasting the long, expansive, operatic phrases and bursts of bel-canto-like coloratura with soft, spoken-like utterances in the middle range. The soprano, Ema Katrovas, plans to use this contrast between singing operatically and speaking on pitches to create a truly rich, dynamic use of the classical voice and all its textures. The team is considering recording the singer live for each take within the authentic locations. This will contribute to the rawness of the expression as well as create changing acoustical effects as the singer moves from space to space. The team hopes that hearing the classical voice within various acoustical environments (some more classically-friendly than others) will end up being, along with the singer’s performance, another layer of the music.