Behind the Scenes at Dido & Aeneas Rehearsals

Director Seb Harcombe and Soprano Sky Ingram on their involvement in English Touring Opera’s upcoming production of Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas, their careers, and their advice for budding artists.

What is your role in the company?
Sky Ingram: My role as part of the tour is performing the role of Queen Dido.

Seb Harcombe: I am the Director of Dido & Aeneas.

What drew you to this opera?
SI: I have never performed in this role before. It has a new vocal range for me to try out, which is why I wanted to do it.

SH: When discussions were going on about this particular production it seemed that my vision and ideas suited it well. I have directed lots of ‘straight theatre’, as well as Greek tragedies, so I think it is a good matching.

How did you get into singing and directing?
SI: I grew up listening to movie musicals and 70’s glam rock bands. I have always loved performing and I am interested in drama and ballet; and I was in choirs when I was younger. When I was 11 I was awarded a scholarship for singing and it snowballed from there. I loved performing and I began to excel in singing, so here we are!

SH: I actually trained as a musician first, before leaving to take up a scholarship in acting. I worked as an actor for about 10 years, then secured a job at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) as their head of acting. It was around this time I started also working as a freelance Director.

What does a rehearsal look like?
SI: Every rehearsal is so different. One day we might be working on staging, another the music. We usually go with the energy in the room each time we meet, because some days we might be working on a really intense scene and then burst out laughing!

We usually rehearse in hour and a half spurts across the day, which gives us time to concentrate and rest. For many rehearsals we all wear really comfortable gym wear so we can easily move around the area. A lot of us also wear practise skirts and shoes so we can see what it is like to get up off of the floor and move around in them. I must say we do look very funny – especially when we all go out for coffee!

SH: My role is to create atmospheres and a direction for the production to go in. I started off by looking at different atmospheres and to characterise physical shapes. By making images with the set and with the cast’s bodies we started to put the rest of the opera together. We have quite a few of the cast performing multiple roles, with very little costume changes, so we have to make sure the physical shapes were right before we moved on to the character developments.

What is your favourite part of the process?
SI: For me, my favourite part of the process is performing in front of people! This is why I have chosen this career. I love the adrenaline! I also love rehearsing and getting involved with a character and the rest of the cast.

SH: I carry out a large proportion of my role in rehearsals. You can explore things before nailing it down into the final product and I find that process exciting. I get to work with the company and develop ideas and aspects of stories and characters. My role inevitably changes a lot when the production is being performed. I start taking notes and giving feedback to the cast and crew.

Do you have any advice for budding singers/directors?
SI: I would say find a few people that you really trust so you can ask them for effective advice. Take what they say and make your decisions from there. You should seek advice about what repertoire to learn and what you should audition for. Having a trusted circle of knowledgeable people has helped me a lot. I would also veer away from broadening out too far, as this could cause conflict and confusion for your career.

Find the joy in practising alone as you will spend many hours of your time doing that. I would also advise to be a kind and considerate colleague – turn up on time, be friendly, don’t be judgmental in rehearsals. Be open and focus on your own work without comparing yourself to others – although this is easier said than done!

SH: I would say that sometimes people can go into directing too young. My advice would be to work with as many people as you can and explore different things before coming to directing. I feel like after training as a musician and an actor it gave me the perspective I needed to be a better director. You need to be able to say things in rehearsals, so confidence is key. If you go to workshops and classes this can also help with that. It can be beneficial to do a directing course – teaching is also very helpful. There is no time limit on directing like there might be for singing – so exploring is key before focusing in!

Dido & Aeneas is part of a new rare concoction of 17th century music and opera, which we will be touring nationally from October. You can find out more here:

© Alex Burns 2018

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