Posted by Cliff Chamberlain
I know that for most people,
Monday is a pretty dreaded day.
But for us theater folk,
Monday is our day off.
Which makes for very short lines at the grocery store.
So we’ve got that going for us.
The first Monday after an exhausting tech week is especially nice, for a few reasons:
First, it’s just nice to be outside of the theater and maybe see the sun for a bit.
I get a chance to do some normal things.
Like the dishes.
Eat dinner with my wife.
Fill out my March Madness NCAA Bracket.
(If you have any good Cinderella teams, by all means, let me know.)
Second, it gives the actors time to ruminate on the past week.
Especially the last few days of the past week,
when the little show we had been rehearsing all by ourselves in our basement
actually went out in the world and met some people and tried to connect.
One could say that a show’s first preview is very much like a first date.
Everybody is nervous, right?
Nervous and excited.
80% nervous, 20% excited.
Both parties just want to have a good time.
The show wants the audience to enjoy hanging out with it for a few hours and maybe consider seeing it again.
The audience is praying that the show will not be boring and not tell too many lame jokes.
We all want to report back to our friends with a resounding,
“That. Was. Awesome.”
And I will say that Magnolia’s first date was pretty awesome.
A couple highlights from our first preview include:
Laughter. Always the most surprising and welcome sound at a first preview. It often reminds you of things that you thought were funny in a first read-through. It also often comes in places you never expected it and throws you off for a second, but then forces you to sink deeper into the scene and slow down. It’s just the best thing ever.
The absence of laughter. I’d say this is just as important as getting a laugh. Knowing when something is either:
a) not working
b) simply not funny
is one of the most important things an actor can learn from a preview audience. It influences one’s pace, one’s actions, everything. I had a few of those moments on Saturday night. I got a note to be less serious, have more fun and go faster. And during the Sunday matinee, boom. Got some laughs. Gotta love the science of it all.
A couple of nice “Story Grunts.” Not really a gasp and not really a laugh. This sound is only heard when the audience is fully with the play. Usually it occurs when a plot-point mentioned in Act One suddenly comes full-circle in Act Two, and one or two audience members make a sound that can only be translated as, “I hear that.” We got a few of those.
“Quick” Changes. There’s nothing quite as terrifying as a quick change. It’s really something an audience should get to witness sometime. We are still perfecting quick changes during preview performances. That said, on our first preview there was a quick change that wasn’t quite quick enough and a fellow actor and I were left to improvise some lines. We failed miserably. I drew some diagrams in my prop notebook and showed them to my scene partner. Unfortunately, they were diagrams of nothing. (By the second preview, the quick change was lightning fast. Thank God.)
Cell Phones. I think six cell phones went off during our first preview. Not bad, actually.
The Solo Standing Ovation. There may have been more, but I could only spot one person at the front of the house who stood up during our curtain call. It was a fantastic thing to see. Don’t get me wrong, an entire audience leaping to their feet is amazing, but when one person does it, you just know that they mean it. It takes a lot of courage to say, “I don’t care what ya’ll are doing, I’m standing up.”
So yeah, our first audience was a great date.
Smart, encouraging, patient.
They taught us a few things about ourselves that we weren’t aware of.
They laughed at (most) of our jokes.
And as far as I could tell, they may be up for some miniature golf next week if the weather stays nice.