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A Preview

11 Apr


Tonight, is Preview.

…Some like to call it the “Final Dress,” which I have consistently thought is BS, for as long as I’ve been doing theatre. 

If there are people not associated with the production out there in the seats, and I am acting on a stage for them, that is called a “performance.” There is nothing “rehearsal” orientated  about it, unless as merely a formal nomenclature and sort of pacifier to the tech team.  It certainly isn’t one for the actors.  If all hell breaks loose during a Preview, we are just as far up shit-creek without a paddle, as if it was Opening or two weeks in. 

When eyes are watching you, eyes are watching you. 

…I would move to liken “Previews” to a “Soft Opening”…like retail stores and restaurants do.

…There is no compunction that you are open for business, and servicing the function you are supposed to be, but with the option that a few alterations of the performance might take place due to patron responses and feedback before hoisting onto the final blueprint mapped-out performance. 

…But make no mistake: we are still naked up there, acting, changing, fighting, crying…we are still 100% at the level we are at. 

Never, in all my years of theatre, in all the houses I have worked in, has a performance ever halted for a dropped line, a missed light cue, a sound mishap, a late entrance, a missing prop, on a Preview night.  This is what the safety net of a “Final Dress” is supposed to provide you, but I have never once seen the option picked up.  This isn’t to say the mistakes don’t happen, they do, and will, throughout the rest of the run.  It’s LIVE THEATRE, people.  That’s just part of game.

…Would the option be in actual use, I would back the “Final Dress” ideology, as much as the next guy.  But it ain’t. It doesn’t. It won’t be.

…Though it is (oddly enough) the absolutely essential final piece of the performance puzzle that we desperately need.

Before the Preview, a production has no idea how the show is going to actually be received.

What is funny?

…Frequently NOT the things you think, and other things it never occurred to you: are.  

What is the right timing?

…An inch here, a beat there…slight, slight alterations based on the audience response you have never had, are suddenly provided to you, requiring experimentation (improv) on your feet, in the moment.

What hits home?

…Reading the silence, the shifts in seats, the murmurs in the crowd, and using them to complete the circuit of emotion between you, your acting partners and the audience in the house.

It takes, on average, the bulk of your entire first week of performance to find and balance all of that information and get it working for you…which can make it awkward that reviewers frequently show up on Opening (or at the very least sometime within that week,) judging the entire performance run on a still growing muscle, before it has fully developed.

…Which is often not at all the fault of the performers, merely the lack of a full Preview tour on the road, like a Broadway Opening would get…taking the opportunity to test out material on the audience, and learn from them, before setting the performance into final form, educated and ready for it’s Gala Opening Night.

Instead, regional theatre’s get one day. 

One shot. 

…One single performance to learn all they can before critics, and the general public, arrive for champagne receptions and pencils posed above notepads in expectation. Ready for the sentence to be passed.

…Hows the show?

I can tell you one thing, that I know to be true: No matter how fine the performance and artists involved, the first performance will never be exactly like the last, or the second or the 12th. Theatre is a constantly changing organism, and if you are willing…you can every show learn something new, try something different, discover another truth. All of which enhance your performance, and the production as a whole, making tighter bonds with your cast and characters, and enlightening the message of the work to the unsuspecting audience in the house.

That is the awesome animal that is theatre: It’s ability to adapt, and evolve.

…But it is also, on days like today, our biggest challenge.

…As we all separately finish our “day jobs,” (the end of work-week still to come), and get to the theatre…make ready our hair, makeup, costumes, props, and go out on stage for the first time with fresh eyes oogling our every move…we will attempt a near impossible feat: evolving from caterpillars into butterflies, within the span of 24 hours…in one performance…just in time for Opening Night.

May the theatre Saints be with us.

…This’ll be a tough one.


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