Everyone arrived tonight nervous but eager to perform. We got things organized, got into costume, and circled up to remind each other to have fun and focus on just getting from the beginning of the play to the end. We got started on time and launched enthusiastically into the performance in front of a smiling and upbeat audience.
Many things went more or less as planned, and the audience stayed with us the whole time. Many things also went haywire, which we fully expected, and the ensemble handled things beautifully, cuing people when they were late on entrances or advising them to just stay off stage if the people on stage had moved on, rolling with the punches when people entered one scene thinking it was a different one, and improvising to skip certain things altogether when necessary.
One woman missed one of her scenes. The other covered for her, but she was upset. Another ensemble member who was in the group last year calmed her down, saying, “Don’t worry! The first show is always a mess, the second is the best, and by the third we’re just ready to be done.” She turned to me, smiling. “Am I right?” I agreed. Last year she was one of our most nervous ensemble members – so nervous she frequently skipped out on rehearsals in the home stretch – but this year she’s been an incredibly steady and calming presence, especially for new members. We’re all so happy that she’s stuck with us.
There were some very funny improvised moments, including one in which our Richard and I simultaneously went up on our lines, and she said, “Well… You take that dead body walking and get out of here.” I started cracking up and said, “Okay, I’ll do that. Farewell.” We then high fived – totally inappropriate for the scene, and I don’t know what possessed us to do it – and the audience laughed right along with us.
In addition to my line flub, Kyle missed an entrance and left a few of us totally hanging on stage. He wasn’t pleased with himself, but I reminded him that it’s not a negative when the facilitators make mistakes like that – it proves our point, that these things happen to everyone, and that it’s nothing to beat ourselves up over.
We made it through to the end of the play – which was our main goal! – and our audience enthusiastically applauded. Some of our Richard’s friends threw candy on stage during curtain call. DPT Producing Artistic Director Courtney Burkett, who was one of our guests, noted that some people toward the back of the auditorium had signs saying, “We love [Richard].”
The woman who was so upset with herself for forgetting lines last week got through the play, mostly laughing off the mistakes that she made. While we were cleaning up after the performance, I asked her how she felt. “Like I want to throw up,” she said, “But I feel like I really accomplished something.” “You absolutely did,” I said. “You did a fantastic job.”
On the way out, I asked a woman who was in the group last year how she felt about the performance. “It was a mess!” she said. “Totally,” I responded, “But Othello was way messier.” “Was it?” she said. “Oh, yeah,” I said. “Don’t you remember someone saying that if we were Broadway actors we’d all be fired, and that it had been a disaster, but it was our disaster and she refused to feel badly about it?” The woman smiled and said, “Oh, yeah. I remember that now.”
When we circled up prior to our second performance, we talked about how little it seemed to matter to the audience when we skipped over lines and even scenes during the first one. We decided to all keep an eye on the time for this performance, and to judiciously cut things if things were getting tight. Our Richard was concerned about this – she felt like people might do it without too much thought – but I reassured her that it would only happen with the goal of finishing the play; that we would all feel much worse having to cut it off than having to cut monologues and things like that. Another woman told me that she really wanted to be able to say all of her lines. I said that we all appreciated how dedicated she is and how hard she’s worked, but that, ultimately, performances are about the team and not the individual. I said that maybe she wouldn’t have to cut anything herself, but to be prepared just in case.
Friday’s audience was more rowdy than Tuesday’s, but they still seemed engaged for the most part. We repeated some of our mistakes, fixed others, and, of course, found new ones. There was still some skipping around – one scene actually repeated itself for reasons I couldn’t quite figure out – but we rolled with the punches and finished the play again.
One woman went somewhat blank when the curtain opened on a scene in which she has a lot of lines. She fought her way through it, but she was pretty upset afterward. She holds herself to a very high standard, so it was difficult to get through to her what a victory it was that she was able to remember enough to get out all of her main points. I hope that will sink in at some point, because it really was impressive.
There are starting to be some personality clashes based on some decisions being made in performance – either to “save” a scene by improvising or by jumping over large numbers of lines. We’ve dealt with much worse than this grumbling in the past, though – there has sometimes been outright fighting, resulting in people ceasing to speak to each other except on stage. It’s not that bad this year.
It was a good first week of performances, and, as the ensemble member quoted at the beginning of this entry noted, by the third performance we tend to be more relaxed and ready to close out the season. I think that will be the case this year as well.