Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Dark Backward and Abysm of Time...

So what is it about Opening Nights?

After 4 previews its just another show. Another chance to tell this story. Another assault on the beaches of Prospero's enchanted Isle. Another opportunity to tred the bleached deck of the Bruns Theatre stage and maybe take a pratfall or two. Or four.

But there is a special quality in the air on an opening night.
Is there another sense we access that can smell expectation? That can feel the dry hum of electricity that courses back and forth across the footlights? What is it about knowing that your audience is composed largely of your peers. That there are as many people out there rooting for your success as are secretly hoping that you somehow stumble. An opening night audience is comprised of your friends, your loved ones, possibly your future employers and certainly a large contingent of actors who may or may not have auditioned for your part.

What's the Joke?
How many actors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
Eleven.
One to screw it in and ten to say they could have done it better.

So we try our best to prove our mettle, to earn our laughs and our ovations, to add that special something that makes it not just another performance.
And here is my question: why is this ephemeral quality so elusive? Why are opening and closing nights so chock full of this intangible quality of earnestness and energy. Every show I've ever been in has had this phenomenon. Closing nights, especially with a good show that you're proud of, can be so melancholy that it's heartbreaking. Each goodbye is somehow more real, suffused with a verisimillitude that may have somehow faded in the middle of the run and arrises like a pheonix on opening and closing nights.
How do we (as professionals) bring this quality to each and every performance? How do we catch that lightning in a bottle at a matinee in the scorching sun?

How indeed.

Speaking of Matinees, I am currently backstage writing this at intermission of one of our five Student matinees, affectionately called SMATS by the staff here.
Its twelve noon on a Tuesday and the temperature on the Bruns stage is hovering between what feels like 100 and 110 degrees farenhiet. The parched surface of the deck itself makes the palms of our hands blister and the beads of sweat that fly off us sizzle. And I'm only slightly exaggerating.

In the stark glare of day we can see every slouch of every disgruntled teenager sitting gloomily in our audience. Bored jocks who have no interest whatsoever in that wierd Shakespeare talk amid comatose fifteen year olds who file their french tipped nails and are more interested in each other than some 400 year old play. These are the performances that try men's souls.

But for every hangover-nursing highschooler dozing in the stalls there's an eager eyed sophomore drinking in every syllable as Shakespeare's hook sinks into their brain and heart. A few, a cherished few, are seeing Shakespeare performed for the first time and are loving it. And its for them that we do it. For those few out there for whom this has become more than a mandatory field trip and has somehow magically skipped over into a life altering experience. Its true. It happens.

Because every one of us up on the stage sweating our guts out were out there once, at around that same age on some school matinee somewhere when the spell of theatre wound its way around our heart and turned us into lifelong slaves to Thespis.

So we try to bring the same energy and effort to these dreaded matinees as we do to opening night. Because somewhere out there, back in the dark backward and abysm of time, is us.

9 comments:

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Claire said...

Hi Ron - Claire here, house manager, I wanted to tell you that your blog is great, I have enjoyed reading it. The dreaded SMATs are a pain, but special to me because my students, innercity children from Oakland, are exposed to live theater. I can't wait for them to experience your awesome comedy. We will all be there on Friday, October 14th. See ya tonight!

Sarah said...

Hi Ron - My name is Sarah and I was one of your student during Berkeley Rep Summer Intensive for High Schoolers. I was in the green group, and I remember the day you left to go to Edinborough and how dissapointed everyone was that you wouldn't be able to teach us for the last two weeks.
I was there on opening night, and although it seems a little self absorbed to say this, I was that eager eyed sophmore you talked about (even if I am a junior). It was amazing to see you act, after meeting you and learning from you. I saw you apply everything you most affectionatly tried to pound into our brains during that two week period over the summer. Ever since the camp, I have made it a habit to see as much theatre as possible. The Tempest was amazing, it still replays in my mind, certain funny sections or moving scenes. The amazing ways you got into character, so much so that even though I knew you were in the play, it took me a little while to recognize you. I have become a huge fan of Cal Shakes plays, as I was in love with the performance of Nickolas Nicolby they did, I must say I saw it at least 3 times.
Last saturday, opening night, it carried me away. I thank you, and all the actors in the play for their amazing performance, one that made me never want it to end.
Thanks
-Sarah

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