The Operator, The Conductor, and The Dancer
An empty white void. Three figures walk in - Ortrud the Operator, Cal the Conductor, and Dancing Dave.
Ortrud wears a grungy hoodie and big ‘cans’ (radio headset with a microphone), Cal is dressed in a full tailcoat, and Dave is richly attired in the robes of a Noh dancer.
VOICE: Oi, you lot. Here’s the premise: all three of you lead large ensembles in different ways. Talk about it, because we’re bored of writing articles but thought this might be cool.
OPERATOR: It’s really not. I’m rewriting the next mechanic after the audience—
VOICE: Blah blah blah; get chatting.
CONDUCTOR: Umm… hi, I’m Cal, I’m a conductor—
CONDUCTOR: Look, you have to wear this stuff for some gigs. I wave a stick and keep everyone in time together, and lead the interpretation of the opera’s music. What do you do?
DANCER: Dave. I’m a Noh dancer. In training, anyway. Ish. I did a few courses. I don’t need a conductor, ‘cos whatever I do with the dance, the chorus and instrumentalists follow time-wise.
OPERATOR: If we have to: I’m Ortrud. I’m an operator for an interactive show. I keep an eye on what changes the audience make, and make sure that the show’s scenario follows that. If the audience does something unexpected, I have to adapt things on the fly so their choices matter.
CONDUCTOR: Something… unexpected? They don’t clap between movements, do they?
OPERATOR: No, but they have been known to try and drop a nuclear bomb on Berlin.
OPERATOR: It’s fun, really. Means they get to shape their own experience and feel like they’re the protagonists.
DANCER: But what if they’re there to see the craft of you and your team?
OPERATOR: Our craft is in making the audience have a rich world to play in. There are similar shows where the performers’ craft is showing a fixed, pre-prepared work, but they’re usually just immersive, not really interactive.
DANCER: Not sure how I feel about that. I like Noh because the repertoire’s mostly about 500 years old, and barely changes. But when you see a person really bring them to life - they lift their sleeve exactly there, maybe their mask is tilted just a smidge more there - it’s extraordinary.
CONDUCTOR: And while I have a bit more interpretative flexibility than that - I can set what tempi I choose, most of the time, and draw on how I feel about a piece’s mood and how to view the characters - I do still have to follow the score. I think the crowd would go rather nuts if I let them… take control. Do you really have no canonical works in your field?
CONDUCTOR: Sounds smashing.
OPERATOR: Though maybe you could draw a parallel with community rituals as a form where there are lead participants, and many more celebrants. If the celebrants do something unexpected, that’s where I step in.
DANCER: It’s still weird to me that you keep changing things. If I changed the piece, it’d be, well, it’d just be a mistake.
CONDUCTOR: Can you not change the staging?
DANCER: No. It’s all, it’s all one thing - the music, the dance, the words, the instruments. It’s not a thing you can do a concert version of.
CONDUCTOR: Maybe I should tell the director that. They’re normally allowed a lot more freedom than me to ignore what’s in the score about the staging, and I’m slightly jealous. It makes it very difficult to keep everyone together if they can’t hear each other.
DANCER: Ha. There’s an easier way to do that.
DANCER: Just don’t care. If I’m doing the solo, I sing in my key, the flute plays in their key, and the chorus leader sings at their key.
CONDUCTOR: What about the chorus?
DANCER: They sing at the chorus leader’s key too. Even if it’s a bit high for them personally.
OPERATOR: I think that’s something we are good at in interactive theatre. It’s very easy to tailor roles to individuals’ interests and skills; it’s not so fixed as in your forms.
CONDUCTOR: But how do they know what you want? Are you in the same room as them?
OPERATOR: No, I’m in my own room. I’m not part of the world of the show.
CONDUCTOR: Then what if something happens?
OPERATOR: It is a bit tricky. I have to hope one of them comes to me and gets an update - which they do pretty regularly do - or head into the room as a character.
CONDUCTOR: Oh. We just have relay screens.
CONDUCTOR: If someone needs to see me and they’re in a different room. We just put up a camera with an analogue connection - speed of light, see - to show what I’m doing. Or I send my assistant to the wings, and they can just about watch me and then conduct into the next room.
DANCER: Who’s your assistant? Do they help conduct?
CONDUCTOR: An up-and-coming conductor, usually. They’re not really there to help me conduct as support me conducting. And learn by doing so. Most of the help comes from the Leader of the orchestra - the first of the first violins - who can help get everyone onside and following me. Though sometimes I think they’re really following the Leader, even if it’s not what I want.
DANCER: Sounds like my Chorus Leader.
OPERATOR: And my Anchor. They’re in the room, but sometimes make decisions really fast.
CONDUCTOR: It just makes me feel like I’m being undermined, y’know?
Vague murmurs of agreement. The room fades out.
An empty white void - another one, and entirely identical. Three figures walk in - Larry the Leader, Akira the Anchor, and Carmen the Chorus Lead.
Larry snaps his fingers. The void becomes a pub.
ALL THREE: Ye gods, but those guys!