Neat thing about theatre, #586:
…It’s a living, breathing being of process.
Unlike film, there is never a day where the Director yells, “Cut! Print it!”, and that scene is set in stone for all of time. Sure, you get the occasional “Post” work, but the concept and action and tone of the piece has already been set. It’s in the can.
…The only time that happens in the theatre is at bows on closing night.
…It’s one of the frustrating and delightful wonders that you can go 25 performances before you finally get that damn joke dead on and nail it, or find another link with something someone says about your character in Act One.
Unless you totally close yourself off from being open and playing and connecting with the other actors and audience, you will find a million subtle differences from Opening night to Closing…in simple deliveries with a breath intake here instead of there, of covert covers for skipped lines, and new stresses on words which changes so many meanings, to silent expressions, differently infused energy, someone’s bad day which hasn’t fully been left off stage…to the average cold. We take all these influences and run with them, which depending on what is thrown in, is what makes the “stone soup” of that specific performance, which will always be different from tomorrows and yesterdays…because live theatre is like that.
…But aside from this technically obvious difference from our film friends, we also get a full rehearsal process not always granted to the camera kids.
Different Directors rally the cast and run the process as they desire…there is no “set” way, ‘long as the through-line point is to discover the characters as the playwright intended them to come to life, to be true to the text, and mine it for hints and foresight into themes, plot, intents, reasoning, and supporting the piece as a whole. The Director’s job, is essentially to point towards the destination of intent, and guide you in your work to get to it by rehearsal’s end. Not because that means, “it’s over,” but rather, “here’s where we congregate in the piece’s space.” A Director has to be able to not only enlighten and inspire, but goal-keep and referee…encouraging you to take initiative, explore the possibilities and work at unpeeling the onion-like layers of character to be discovered, while also kicking the ball back in bounds when things go all to hell, and making sure we play fair.
…Which is where an “out of town” Opening comes in.
The big boys…like Broadway and some of the seminal Regionals do this. In film terms, it’s the same as a “sneak preview.” It’s means a soft, limited opening in a less prestigious town, or venue, across several weeks or months. A limited number of seats are sold, used as a tester audience to see where the laughs are, what scenes are too slow, which need a reworking or edit, and when all else fails, when it’s time to start looking at re-writes and more work-shopping.
…For the smaller houses around the country, we usually get one day to do this, which is the day directly before Opening (good, bad or otherwise.) As you can imagine, this allows very limited alterations to the piece before it’s out there for the general public (and critics)…unless you want to risk freaking out your actors forcing them back into their heads less than 24 hours before there are paying butts in the seats…or a radical intervention is deemed necessary.
…Sometimes, however, this natural stream of events can change in drastic ways as early as Tech, the week leading into Opening. This is when all designers and Artistic Directors and general Top Brass, will be seeing the piece for the first time as a cohesive unit, and this frequently leads to what we call, “clusterfucks”…or “Hell Week.” It is so termed because everything seems to be thrown at you: last minute changes are swapped here and there without ceremony, props come and go and come again, costumes flip and flop are added to and taken away, last minute light adjustments mean blocking changes, re-spiking because of new set pieces, all while you’re breaking in the wobble in your new heels (last worn by a bow-legged cowboy?), rework hair and makeup, adjust to new props arriving nightly…remember lines, and the newest version of blocking…while being fucking hilarious, or tragically horrifying, as the case may require…while pages of changes to all of it, are passed onto you nightly.
…And sometimes those adjustments, three days before Opening, require such a significant hoist of alteration, that you have to go back to the script, take out a pencil, and relaunch into a slam-study session, like a last second finals exam.
It’s good. It’s tight, but the time is there. This isn’t Preview. The answers you are looking for will be there…and the new direction you’ve been pointed is usually not a panicked random adjustment…but often introducing a linchpin that will lock and load that final element that has been missing. If you’re “game,” this can be a final layer-building key, gaining access to that illusive something you’ve not been able to grasp up to this point.
…It can also, because of it’s drastic change in nature, scare the flipping hell outta you.
…But if you think of it like the roller coaster climbing the last clicks to the top before it just lets go out from under you, it helps. The more clicks, the higher you go, the further the free-fall, but the more awesome the overall ride…
…Provided you don’t piss your pants or barf all over the place…
Fortunately, I’m a whiskey-gut from way back. So, “bring on the work, bitches…am totally good for it.”