An Actor's Perspective - Opening Night

Jennifer Kuzmeskas

- OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

In my humble opinion, if you don’t have jitters on opening night then you are doing something wrong. You have poured your heart and soul into something for months now and you are going to present it to the world, people will be judging it and your performance. No pressure or anything, just make sure that everything you do is perfect.  

Our final dress rehearsal is over, we have changed everything we can change, we know our stuff and it’s time to present our version of this story to an audience. What is the very best thing you can hope for?  The answer to that question can be unique for every actor/actress, production staff and creative team. For me I would hope we can inspire our audiences, make them laugh and cry, but most of all, make them think! 

This show is unique, the space is unique, we are being creative with the set-up and thus we had some challenges. The actual stage in this space is extremely small, so we decided not to use it for the cast, but we are putting our pit orchestra on the stage instead. So our “stage” is actually on the floor of the hall and we added risers for our audience so everyone would be able to see. This made for some interesting staging. 

To add to everything else that makes you nervous on opening night, let’s add that you are performing in a completely unique space where the audience will be practically on top of you. Many have probably performed in a black box theatre before and if that is the case, then this set-up won’t be at all intimidating. For those of us who haven’t, it’s one more thing to add to the “Things to be Nervous About” list. 

Throughout the day, leading up to opening night there are so many things running through my head. I have to work that day too. Let’s just say my concentration level is very low. Do I have all my costumes? Do I have time to go over my lines, one more time? Why is my stomach in knots? Should I try to eat something before I go?  Do I truly know all the lyrics? I am not going to forget my blocking, am I?  Should I do my make-up before I leave the house? Plus, about 100 more questions, that I will not bore you with right now. 

Work ends after what seems like an endless day and I can make my final preparations before leaving the house. I put my make up on carefully, making sure it looks great. I pack my make-up bag, which also has all kids of emergency items too…safety pins (LOTS of safety pins), medical tape (AKA: mic tape), band aids, bobby pins (again, LOTS of bobby pins) and many other useful items that may be needed throughout the course of the show. I go over my checklist one last time, kiss my other half goodbye, get some well wishes from him and I am off.  

The buzz at the theatre amongst the actors is not like any other night. You can literally feel the excitement and nervous energy in the air.  Everyone else is feeling the same way you are, no words need to be exchanged, all the feelings are understood by everyone. 

The time comes, lights dim and suddenly I can’t remember anything. Then out of nowhere the music starts and it all comes back, muscle memory is an amazing thing.  Suddenly I remember the choreography, blocking, music, lyrics, etc. Then before you know it, it’s over. Just like that in the blink of an eye opening night is over.  The audience was amazing, the standing ovation made you beam, it was all worth it, everything leading up to tonight was worth it.   

As you are going through whatever your opening night routine is, take a moment. Remember why you love doing this, take a moment so you can look back and remember how exciting this night was. Then when you have a tough rehearsal for a future show you can look back on this opening night and remember what all those opening night feels.   

Photo: Malone Opera Theater