The Emotional Rollercoaster of Theater

Erin Fossa

  • OnStage North Carolina Columnist 

When you accept a role in a production, you’re committing to more than just the role. From auditions to opening night, no one is only half invested in a show’s production. You dive in whole-heartedly setting everything else aside in order to be committed to the success of this production. It’s a commitment much like a serious relationship.

And it is a tumultuous relationship. Ee gads.

Falling In Love

You’ve been on an anticipatory high since you got the call! You show up early on day one, pencil ready, script in hand (all highlighted of course). You’re excited, energetic, ready to work! The director speaks of vision and story arc, pumping you up even more. You start getting to know your castmates, and you’re sure you are going to be lifelong friends.

Blocking begins and you take detailed notes, making a point to be as agreeable as possible. “Okay!… Yes sir!… Yes ma’am!… Sounds great!” There is laughter, joking, and playfulness, because after all, you have time.

Settling In

As time goes on, it becomes clear which cast members are going to remember their blocking and which ones aren’t. Some will quickly drop their scripts and others will continue to read every word. But that’s okay! We all progress at different speeds. And besides, there is still plenty of time.

Props start trickling in, adding to the magic. The set becomes more detailed as pieces are added and walls are painted. You can only imagine how amazing it will look when it’s finished! You’re telling friends and family the show dates, sharing info on Facebook and Twitter - basically telling everyone you know to buy tickets now! This show is going to be the best show ever!

You’re still fumbling through blocking and line memorization, but you know that’s all part of the process. You run scene one to death at rehearsal, and then set it aside and get ready to work scene two tomorrow. You think, I hope I remember everything we worked on yesterdayThats okay, Ill review it before we do it again. After all, I still have time.

Taking Things to the Next Level

One day, out of the blue, your director drops a bomb. It’s time to take things to the next level.

“Look at the calendar,” he or she says. “We open in a week, it’s time to start putting this all together. Let’s run Act 1…Off book.”

Wait, what? A week? Today is only… Friday. And we open… next Friday. Yikes, she’s right. We open a week from today. That sounds scary. But you reassure yourself, a lot can happen in a week! And I have all… or most of my lines down. I’ll be fine.

So you dive in with confidence and start running the first act. But you don’t get very far. You call for line. Then your brain draws a complete blank. You call for line again and hope the director isn’t mad at you. Someone drops a cue line and you’re lost. No one can figure out where to go from here, and the scene falls apart. The director calls hold and your heart sinks.

Reality check. I thought we knew this! I guess we’d better go back and review.

The following day you run Act 2… and the same exact thing happens. Oh no, you think. Were not ready for the next level at all! We still have so much work to do! But you try not to panic. There is still time!

“Today we’re running the whole show, off book!” your director says. You want to throw up. You worked on your lines last night and reviewed all your blocking, but will that be enough? Can you really do all of this without a script in your hand? This is overwhelming.

The fear of commitment sets in.

Tech Week - We Might Need to Break Up

They don’t call it “hell week” for nothing. Rehearsals are long and mind-numbing. You start counting yawns to keep yourself awake. Putting on full costumes is exciting, but you’re not sure about these shoes… am I going to be able to walk in these without tripping?

You go into dress rehearsals with high hopes, but they are quickly dashed. Lines are dropped, awkward pauses seem to be everywhere. Props don’t work right, wardrobes malfunction, you make lists of things to do differently next time. This doesnt feel like I thought it would, you think. Im not excited for opening night, Im terrified! I cant do this. Im going to look ridiculous in front of everyone! And there is NO TIME to fix it!

Then you turn on each other. Why can’t so-and-so get her lines right? Does she even work on this outside of rehearsal?! This is all her fault!

Then you turn on yourself. And why am I still missing that cue every time?? Why does my mind go completely blank whenever we get to scene 3? I’m not cut out for this… I’m never auditioning for another play again. I’m tired, I’m stressed, I’m breaking up with theater!

Opening Night - I’m All Yours

Then something magical happens.

Opening night arrives and the audience floods the house. Their anticipation is palpable. You peek out into the audience and are instantly filled with every emotion possible. After a good night’s rest and one final review, things suddenly feel possible.

The play begins and the rest is history. The audience reminds you why you committed to this process in the first place. The fear is gone, you’re done being angry with yourself and everyone else. You’re just a group of artists, trusting your work, bringing a character to life, and telling a story that needs to be told.

For the first time in days, you relax.

You’re not breaking up with theater, what were you thinking? You love this too much! You’ll do another production in a few months, and you’ll ride the same emotional roller coaster again. Because now you remember… it’s worth it.