Friday, September 23, 2011

I HATE THEATRE - Opening Nights!

I always think of Bugs and Company when I hear that a theatre is preparing for Opening Night.

If only it was this easy....

Last minute details on stage. Refocus a few lights. Paint. Fix the problems with sound cues 27-32. Place glow-tape strategically so Bruce doesn't fall off the stage. Costumes fixed and replaced with shoes added. Clean the house and lobby and pickup all the crap left by cast and crew during tech week. Pickup finished props, program inserts, backstage beverages and snacks, concessions for the expected audience, dry cleaning and find someone to run the spotlight. Hopefully the box office phone is ringing off the hook. Nobody is more useless on opening night performance than the director. The director's job is over. Now the director is lost and feeling alone. The best the director can do is to wish people well, sit down, watch the performance, know every flaw during that performance, and sweat it out.
Opening night is bittersweet for most directors. The cord is being cut, the baby delivered with a good slap on the butt. I relate to that feeling of letting go, releasing, unconditionally and freely. You love the rehearsal. The process. The bonding, the laughs and the tears. Shaping thoughts and moments. Sharing. Playing. You want everything to work. Once the curtain goes up you can't stop the train once it has left the station.
But I did.

It was screwed from the beginning and no one had caught the mistake before it happened at performance time. Act II's cues were loaded for Act I. This was a heavy sound effect, music and dance, lights and slide show production. Hundreds of cues onstage, offstage, and in the production booth. The first few minutes seemed like hours. The actors and tech team were confused. Most importantly the audience was confused. I stopped the performance, apologized and explained, and restarted the production 5 minutes later. It started on spot and was probably one of the best performances.  I don't think Joe Gatton has ever forgiven me. 
Actors say they love opening nights but I think they secretly dread it. All those flowers, cards and well wishes they are just too distracting. I've seen performers cry and become envious because of another actor's opening night booty. One production I was delivering flowers to an actress and she started crying as she read the card. She told me she had called the florist and had them sent to her at the theatre because all the other actors got flowers on opening night. I sat and cried with her for a moment. Then we laughed. Then she performed. One of her best. The next show she did I broke down and sent her flowers on opening night with the card she had sent to herself just months ago.

Ideally, actors should have no contact with the outside world 12 hours before curtain on opening night.
Best advice to directors for opening night:
Always go to the local hardware store to browse and shop.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I HATE THEATRE - The Matinée

Matinée. I think Matuta meant for our matutinas to be just that. Morning prayers. A time for reflection. To prepare. Not to stomp around, shout, slam doors, sing and dance, throw props, curse, make out or whatever one does at a matinee. We do those things at 8pm.
Who invented the Matinee? Ziegfeld? Who thought here is an activity that I do every day at X o’clock. Now let’s do it 6 hours earlier. At what price? At least movie matinees are usually cheaper.

Churches have a mid week matinee with their Wednesday services. I am sure statistically attendance has increased over the years for the matinee. But why? Cast and crew bring their hangover performance. The audience has slept in and then has eaten a big brunch/lunch before. Then they sit for hours fighting a want for a nap. Then like moles they exit outside to daylight and thirst. There is a big chunk of the day remaining. Hell, you could go see another show at 8pm.

I learned early on that the matinee performance meant actors and crew were hungover and deprived of sleep. First things first. Coffee, smokes and donuts! They hugged, cuddled and sculpted their aches and pains as a group into a 2pm matinée performance. They don’t do that much these days. Then there is the stage manager, who hasn’t slept, that grossly reminds the cast, "Brush your teeth!" And there is always one prop mysteriously missing during matinee performances.

Then matinee times started changing. 2:30pm. 3:00pm. 3:30pm. 5:00pm. Big cities have the stamina and the money to promote, maybe even profit, from matinees. Locally, I don’t think they can afford it, promote it or profit from the matinee. The quality of service has been degraded by all parties. Knock a couple dollars off the matinee price and maybe a round of mimosas for the cast, crew, staff and audience.
Let's get through this together.