Shrewpost 11: opening week


When I arrived for the last preview, which was last Tuesday, I said to myself – the hell with it, I’m going to have fun tonight. And lo and behold, I did. We had a responsive audience, and I could feel the cast’s relief at my not being such a dark hole of bummerness. The first half felt electric, and in the second half I entered 4.5 without any expectations. Because of the buoyant connection with audience, the journey into laughter was easy, unforced, and propelled us forward. After our kiss in the street in 5.1, Tom and I got a hand.

Wednesday was opening night and the giddiness of the previous night carried over. I felt grateful for the intimacy of the space, and actually enjoyed feeling hemmed in by the audience all around. In the closeness, that relationship felt familial and warm, despite the critics. The final speech acquired an emotional aspect it hasn’t had before or since. At curtain call over half in the house were standing.

I have such mixed feelings about opening nights. On the one hand I’m a complete sucker for all the treats and cards and presents (though my only gift to the cast was a re-cycled coffee maker and some Kenya AA). I’m a sucker for the hype and the buzz. On the other hand, there is something manufactured about it all. It’s as much a celebration of the production and the theatre as it is a performance of a play. So I took the standing O with a grain of salt, even though it felt great.

The remaining shows this week have been an exercise in trying to re-capture some of the buoyancy of the first two shows, with mixed results. Some have felt connected, others forced. We finished the week Easter Sunday afternoon in front of a small, quiet house. I think we were all glad to be getting away from it for a few days.

There’s a tendency to idealize a show as we head towards opening. It’s a way we pump ourselves up, and protect ourselves against the arrival of audiences and reviews. It’s a necessary group optimism, borne not from a dispassionate view of what we have to offer, but rather from a passionate need to believe in ourselves and eachother. And so another reason I sensed a collective sigh of relief after curtain today is that we are all detecting the cracks and fissures in our show: those jokes that played great in rehearsal and are getting crickets now, the moments that feel effortless with one kind of audience and leaden with another, the inevitable self-doubts, stumbles and mistakes.

I enter 4.5 new each time. It has settled in between something that has to do with laughter and something that has to do with letting go of conflict. That’s about all I can say about it, now. It’s the one time in the show I wish I was on a huge stage with the audience a mile away. With them right on top of me I can’t fake my way through it, or if I try to, it feels like desecration.

But this is where the true work begins. Because now, it is work. Now it is not carried along by celebration. Now we have to go out there and earn it. Our preparation and professionalism will make or break us. And the students arrive soon . . .