An Actor's Perspective - That First Performance

Jennifer Kuzmeskas

- OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

There is nothing like the thrill of performance. Yes, there are opening night jitters and even jitters that continue into other performances. Whether you have one weekend of performances, three weekends or five, something will happen. A tree will fall, a door won’t close, someone will miss an entrance, something will fall off the wall, etc. It’s the thrill of live theatre.  You have to think on your toes and be able to adapt to whatever is happening. 

Every show will leave you with memorable moments – whether you’re on stage or behind the scenes. In every production I’ve been involved with, there has been a point during rehearsals when the cast sits around swapping stories of their Theatre Horrors. We all have them, whether we’ve done 1 show of 525,600! It is inevitable!

You are on stage with a cast mate, sharing your scene, everything is going great and then out of nowhere, your scene mate can’t remember his next line. He doesn’t just forget his line, but goes completely blank. You need to improvise! Your brain is searching as quickly as it can for something to say, but nothing is coming. Then, as if by magic, you open your mouth and something pops out. It made sense and fit in the scene. The scene was recovered and no one was the wiser. You have no clue where that came from but it’s one of those moments you won’t have forget, not even 525,599 shows later. 

Then there is the infamous prop table. We all know the saying, “If it isn’t your prop, DON’T TOUCH IT!” Yet, you go to get your prop, right where you put it and it’s no longer there. What are you going to do? Sometimes you can find a similar prop to use. Maybe you can create something with the supplies back stage. Ask the people around if they’ve seen it.  Could you pantomime the prop? There are a myriad of options but only one outcome, the show must go on, and it will – with or without that prop!

The thrill of performance isn’t just a matter of waiting for something unplanned or out of the ordinary to happen. A big part of it is adding a live audience. People are pretty unpredictable…they will laugh where you don’t expect them to, they will talk when you don’t want them to, one audience will applaud longer than another. Just another thing to keep you on your toes and force you to adapt to what is going on around you. 

There is an exhilaration that comes from having an audience in front of you. You have an opportunity to pull those people out of their normal world and for a few hours transport them to another place and time. They can be taken on a journey through a story, where they don’t have to stress about work, worry about what’s happening at home or deal with life in general. 

If you are really lucky, you won’t just take them on a journey.  You have the opportunity to make them “feel.”  Take your moment! Let your character’s emotions loose! Let them be raw and real! Let your audience feel your joy, fear, amusement, sorrow, love and elation. If you can move the audience to laughter and tears, congratulations! Your job as an actor has been done.

The last piece of the formula that completes that thrill of performance is applause. We all like recognition for what we do. The applause between scenes and songs keeps us going. It’s the audience’s way of saying, “Yes, you have entertained me, you have done a great job, keep going.”  

In what seems like the blink of an eye the show is over! It’s time for curtain call! You can hear the crowd begin to applaud! As more and more actors come out to take their bow the audience is getting louder and louder. Then the best thing happens, the audience begins to stand. There is no better recognition than a standing ovation. You can feel the happiness and satisfaction deep in your soul. The stage is a second home for you, theatre is your passion, you have worked tirelessly for months on this show and you just got the confirmation that it was all worth it. 

For our show we were fortunate to not have many mishaps. We had three shows, there were some dropped lines here and there, the three audiences were all very different from each other and no one missed their entrance.  As a brand new theatre group, we were not sure of how we would be received by audience. Much to our amazement we received enthusiastic applause and three standing ovations. It was a highly successful weekend. 

Next time you go see a show, remember the feeling you had the last time you were on stage and heard the applause or saw a standing ovation.  If you enjoy the show, give that cast the opportunity to experience those same feels. Make sure they know how much you appreciated the escape from real life by taking you on a journey to somewhere new and different.  

Photo: Ocala Civic Theatre