Reflections on an Opening Weekend

Before I totally collapse and commence my much-needed day off, I need a little decompression. What I need more than anything, really, is a bubble bath and a massage and a nap (see my friend Sheelagh’s blog post re: bubble baths for a full listing of all their benefits. Search sheelbeel and you should find her). Unfortunately for me, I have neither a boyfriend nor a lot of cash sitting around, so the massage probably won’t happen. The bubble bath would be in progress at this moment if not for the sad fact that I, alas, have no bubbles. And the nap I might as well put off until bedtime at this point. So I have decided that my decompression will take place in the form of a written reflection on the ups and downs of the opening weekend of Can You Believe? So here’s what I learned during opening weekend:

The thing about a play is…

…it’s rarely (if ever) at its best on opening night.

I’m talking about opening night as the first time a show has an audience. Now, in most professional/semi-professional spheres, shows have preview performances. We sell these to the public as a sort of  “VIP sneak-peek” or “cheap tickets for seeing it early,” but really previews are entirely for the actors’ and technicians’ collective benefit. Previews give us the chance to test out the show in front of an audience before the official Opening Night. Without previews, opening night is Opening Night, which creates some problems. See, a show develops in rehearsal under the watchful eyes of a director and a stage manager and occasionally a guest or two and as it continues to grow, it reaches a point at which it needs an audience in order to reach its fullest potential. The very first audience it meets, however, intimidates the tender, young play. This first audience is confusing because it laughs at things that were never funny in rehearsal and misses all the jokes that were. This audience also strikes terror into the hearts of the artists, thus causing fear of rejection and harsh criticism run rampant on opening night and create butterflies in the tummies of the actors. The butterflies result in generalized nervousness which results in less focused performances. Now, someone has to be the in the first audience, otherwise there would never be a second or third or fourth audience. Hence, the preview. It’s a sort of test drive for the play; changes to just about anything from tech to text can be made based on the responses of a preview audience.

The thing about Fringe is…

…there are no previews.

There are no previews and most companies are working on a pretty tight rehearsal schedule. Sure, there are those shows that have been touring to Fringes worldwide for the past 5 years and are therefore as close to perfect as a show can possibly be because anything that failed the almighty audience test has been changed or thrown out. It’s fun to be that show, but it’s a long road to get there, and even those guys started off just like the rest of us: going in to opening night wishing for at least another week of rehearsal. But alas, try as we might, we won’t get another week of rehearsal, we’ll get an audience. To be fair, an audience can be just as beneficial as a week of rehearsal if its collective reactions are gauged and utilized appropriately. But this leaves the troubling situation of opening night patrons paying an opening night price for what is, truly, a preview performance.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But it’s Fringe! Everyone knows that Fringe is different from other kinds of theatre, and Fringe audiences tend to be more forgiving than normal audiences, especially on opening night!”

You’re right, at least partially. Fringe is a different way of doing theatre–and that’s what a lot of people love about it. But the difference between being slotted as one of the Good, the Bad or the Ugly might very well be the difference between opening and closing night performances in a no-preview situation! Can You Believe?, for example, had a very receptive and responsive and positive opening night audience, which was great. But the best performance so far was tonight’s performance, the third performance. As a result, tonight fell more like a proper Opening Night than our opening night did. Does that make sense?

The thing about actors is…

…they are so great.

I love my actors. I’ve considered myself very lucky throughout the process of working on this show, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work they’ve done and how far they’ve come since our first read-through. That being said…

…the thing about actors is…

…almost all of them have day jobs.

This is actually a good thing. See, the day jobs pays the bills so that the actor can act and do theatre that is appealing and interesting and fun rather than theatre that pays well. In my experience, the two are almost always mutually exclusive! The problem with day jobs and actors, however, is that there’s not a grand database of actors and rehearsals that the bosses log in to when they’re scheduling shifts (although that would be nice!). Thus, when the director (that’s me!) has made the stupid decision to schedule the final rehearsal for five days before opening night and attempts to remedy that error in judgement with a last-minute throw-together rehearsal… it’s almost impossible to schedule because everyone’s work schedules are different. Again, this is not something that’s bad. I would never suggest that someone shouldn’t have/get a job! It’s just a lesson I learned: schedule too much rather than too little. It’s easier for someone to pick up an extra shift than it is for that same person to make an existing shift disappear, especially on short notice.

Also, always back up your tech. And have a plan B for everything.

There are, of course, gazillions of things that I learned this weekend, both about my work and about myself, but those three are the ones sticking out in my mind at the moment. I’m sure there will be a post similar to this one after closing detailing a bunch of other things I learned from the whole Fringe process, but for now…it’s bed time. At last!

 

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