Saturday, May 15, 2010

Opening Night: Heaven Can Wait

The die is cast. The Rubicon is crossed. Use whatever old expression for it you like, but opening night is behind us, and "Heaven Can Wait" is now officially underway at the Academy Theatre.

It was odd not having my entrance for 20 minutes. I have mentioned before that I've never entered a show that late in the action before. It sort of threw off my preparation rituals, and had my nerves in a different place than I am used to. It wasn't horrible, but I think I would have preferred to enter sooner, all things being equal.

On the other hand, by the time I get out there, the audience is already warmed up. So maybe there are pluses as well as minuses to the situation.

As for the quality of our first performance, I will say, first and foremost that it's hard for me to judge the overall show. I don't see the whole thing. Just the scenes I am in, and a few minutes before same. But judging by those moments, and from what I hear from my cast mates, the show went quite well. Some say better than the final dress rehearsal. I am not sure I would agree with that, but each person judges the success of an individual performance differently.

One of the main reasons I can't be as satisfied as I might have been was that during the first scene a major cue was missed, and an important entrance did not take place. After a moment of silence waiting for said entrance to occur, and a (hopefully) casual glance off stage to see that the performer in question was not about to enter, I was forced to ad-lib something.

Not that I wanted to. Not that I ever really want to do that. Not to that extent. But being on stage when a cue has been missed and the action has stopped is a bit like knowing you will vomit in the near future, but you have no idea when. You hate the idea of puking, but you just want it to be over with because the time leading up to it, knowing it is going to happen, is worse than the actual act.

Sitting on the couch next to my cast mate, with two "ghost" characters who cannot interact with us behind me, I just wanted that "I have to throw up" feeling to go away. I desperately wanted to moment to be over. So I came up with the only thing I could on the moment. I called out for the character, and instructed them to do what was they needed to do.

In other words the worst kind of jarring improvisation possible. One that telegraphs to the audience...

"Attention! Somebody has missed their cue, and the actor on stage is trying to fix the problem! Please stand by."

And stand by they did, though I think I heard someone laughing. The performer in question also stood by for another few moments, until they finally arrived. But not in the manner I had hoped, because they brought with them a character I wasn't supposed to see yet.

I turned to my co-star on the couch, skipped to my final line of the scene, and proceeded to exit as normally as I could. I acknowledged the extra character, and walked off.

I'm told by others that it was a nice cover, and that is very nice of them to say. I hope it did not look as ridiculous as it felt to me when I did it. But I honestly had no clue what else I could have done.

I actually don't remember all of those moments, now that I look back. I know one of the "ghost" characters did ad-lib something, but I don't at all remember what he said. I don't remember looking at the actress next to me, though she says I did so. And finally, I remember putting two filled whiskey glasses on the prop table. I don't remember picking them up before I left.

I sent the stage hands asunder because in my nerves I said, "we skipped about five pages", when I intended to say, "we skipped about 5 lines."

Hopefully such a mistake won't happen again. There is no reason for it to, at any rate.

I confess that that incident had me a bit more shaken than I usually am for the rest of the show. That may have been one of the reasons I dropped a line about half way through the first act. Thankfully it was probably my least significant line in the whole play, having nothing to with a major plot point. But the actress on stage covered it well. Her character is ignoring my character at that point, so she never even responds to the line I dropped. I was lucky.

My nerves tapered off a bit at intermission, but I hope to not be that edgy for that long during the remaining performances.

The gunshot went well. As did all other moments in the play for me. Execution thereof anyway. The nerves I will have to work on.

The audience was lukewarm in most places, I thought. Their favorite seemed to be the actor who played "Max Levene". They didn't laugh at a few of the laugh lines, and some of the things they managed to laugh at I didn't think were supposed to be funny. They laughed at nothing I said or did. (But I have never been sure if Tony is supposed to be that funny or not.) That's an audience for you. Tonight they may laugh at totally different things. The truth is, they probably will. No matter how much acting I do, I never fail to be awed by the mystery that is an audience dynamic.

Most of us went out for some food after the show. That was fun. (And not bad food.)

In many ways I think last night was our final dress rehearsal. Or a preview show, given that about 100 people were in the audience or so. Tonight may be the first REAL performance in the sense that the opening night hurdle is behind us. Let us hope so.

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