Thursday, June 03, 2010

What I Love About Theatre: A Simple List

So it has been more than a week since "Heaven Can Wait" closed at the Potomac Playmakers. Enough time has passed that I have begun to adjust to a non-show scehdule, a non-show diet, and the overall different sensations of life when not in a show.

However, if all goes according to plan, I won't be in those mode for too long. There is a summer theatre project in the works in which I an involved, and am excited about. I will share more when things become more "official", but for now, suffice to say that I plan to have a highly theatrical summer. More to come.

But, to fill the interim, (I have been away from this blog for almost two weeks) I am presented here a list of things that I sent to some of my theatre friends a few months ago. In no particular order, this is a list of things about being in a play. Devised initially to celebrate the anniversary of my first ever opening night, I share it here on the blog now for those who may be new to Always Off Book.

So, here is the list.

In no particular order…


--I love when you complete a long speech without your book on stage for the first time, when you were not sure you actually had it yet.

--I love when you first wear a costume on stage…that sense that suddenly you are playing for keeps now, if you were not sure before that.

--I love long rehearsals so long as they are productive. The best are those that are split between perfecting something you are in, and being able to relax with your fellow theatre people backstage while a different scene is being run over and over again in order to get it. (Usually, but not always, during tech week.)

--I love how “starting at 7:00” entails getting started at around 7:15 or 7:20 in virtually every theatre ever constructed.

--I love how Olivier put it…the smell of a theatre. “A mixture of rancid paint, sawdust, and fear.” Or something to that effect. That’s exactly what every theatre smells like in some combination or the other. He was right on the money. But of course, he WAS Olivier…

--I am amused by the shouting back and forth between the people in the booth and the stage manager down on stage when the lighting is being tested without the benefit of a headset.

“Bobby! Is he up there? Bring up 10 through 21, and take out 22 through 40! No, I said FORTY!”

--I also am amused by the constant flashing and strobing of every light in the place for 15 solid minutes before rehearsal on the first evening with the lighting person.

--I love it when you bond with a cast you don’t know well. Or at least members of one. I have said before that this doesn’t HAVE to happen to have a good show, but it certainly makes it a more satisfying experience. And how often it seems to happen in a matter of moments…as though for weeks as a group you were building up to the right bonding moment. You start out professional and distant in the first few days. You move into cordial, and then maybe conversational. Then one day a specific screw up happens, or one off the wall comment is made, and everybody instantly responds to it, (or you) as though you are friends. As though everyone is ready for the crossing of the Rubicon at the exact same time.


--I love basking in the blue lights in a dark backstage area. The shadowy, unearthly luminescent quality that everybody’s face has…a quality enhanced by the stage whispers with which everyone must (or at least SHOULD) communicate in. If I were to ever attempt to write a song, it would be about actresses waiting in the blue lights for an opening curtain, or their first entrance cue. It’s a sublime sight…like being in love for a moment with all of them.

--I love how backstage in a well rehearsed show you tend to find the same people moving to the same places, to get the same props or rush off to the exact same costume change at the exact same moments every night. I have been in shows where this was so consistent that the same two actors would bump into one another in front of the same prop table at the same time every night. You can literally set your watch by it.

--I’m almost always one of the first actors to the theatre during a show. I love being around about an hour before curtain. Walking around casually with a Red Bull, dressed half in my personal clothes and half in my costume, (I know, I know). Watching each actor meander in. (Or rush in, if they are habitually late.) Mingling with them. Watching them get into make up, do hair, check on props. Every moment, (when the cast is good and it’s a good night) the energy increasing.

--But I am not a fan of the last ten minutes before curtain. They always go so slowly.

--I love it when the stage manager says we have 20 minutes, and no matter how deep in thought actors are, or how off the wall rambunctious they are being, 90% of them stop long enough to say, “Thank you for 20”.

--I love before curtain hearing half of the whispered conversation between the stage manager and whoever is on the other end of a headset.

“Gary, are you all set up there?”


“All right, but be quick about it.”

--I love being greeted by people you know after the show that were in the audience, but whom you didn’t know were there during the show.

--I love how no matter what theatre and no matter what time of year, right before curtain it’s always just a bit cooler backstage and in the wings than you want it to be.

--I hate screw-ups, even though they are part of being human. But I love it when actors can course correct mid-scene and the audience never knows. (Which is 85% of the time.)

--In the vast majority of cases I actually am not that bothered by hot lights. I am amused by the whirling noise they make when they come up.

--I love how you just know before the show even starts if you are about to have your best crowd of the entire run. The way they are chattering, the sense of anticipation in the atmosphere. Whoever first called it “electricity” knew what the hell they were talking about, because that’s exactly what it is.

--I like watching other actors who are off stage mouth the lines along with the actors who are on stage performing them. More common for musicals and lines in songs, but it happens when someone likes a line in a straight show too.

--I love seeing the less experienced actors get it right.

--I love illegally using music cues and intermission music...

--I like talking about the nature of the crowd and how the show is going with other actors between scenes.

--I love getting something to eat with the cast after the show. (Especially since I usually don’t eat within hours of a show starting.) It’s even better if drinks are involved. Best yet if it is at someone’s house.

--But mostly, and this cannot be overstated, I love it when everybody cares. When all the actors, the crew, the stage manager, director, everybody wants the thing to succeed on all levels. Understands it’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong, but works to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Those who are truly gratified when things go right, and enthusiastically celebrate when they go great. People who WANT to feel the magic that is theatre, and will work very hard to obtain it. If that is present, all of the things on this list are twice as potent. Or maybe those things are potent BECAUSE people care?

If you have any of your own that didn’t make the list, I’d love to hear them.


Anonymous said...

Hahaha, you are SO right about the smell, and I like how you've articulated so clearly the reason all the backstage stuff is exciting. It IS about the colour of the light, the anticipation on the faces, that falling in love feeling.

A joy to read. Thanks!

Ty Unglebower said...

I'm always happy to hear other theatre folks that share some of the items on this list. =)

Michael Clark said...

I love it (I stage manage) when I see, usually during rehearsals, but occasionally in a performance, when a first-time actor "gets" his role.

I love it when somehow the last week of rehearsals before opening everything comes together. Hence why I call that period of time "Magic Week" and not "Tech" or "Hell" Week.