Opening Night: A Director's Turmoil and An Actor's Triumph

Lara Williams

  • OnStage Texas Columnist

As of the final dress rehearsal, the show was completely out of my hands. We had rehearsed for 7 weeks and it was time to show the audience what we had learned. So there we were, opening night...and then it happened; a missed cue. But the cast kept going and I don't think the audience noticed. Then a microphone gave some feedback. Uh oh, the audience would definitely notice that. Luckily that character didn't have many lines in that scene and the tech booth was able to make adjustments on the fly. But as we kept going, things kept happening to make me cringe. Someone missed a dance step, someone else came in too early on the chorus, the lights skipped a cue and went to the next scene. And there was absolutely nothing I could do. 

At intermission, my husband and the tech director tried to calm me down by reminding me that these were things I had no control over. But the most important thing they said to talk me down off the ledge was how well the cast was adapting. They were taking it all in stride and persevering. But I was too caught up in what was totally out of my control to enjoy it. In fact I got so frustrated, that I walked out of the auditorium to the lobby half way through the second act because I couldn't bear it anymore. 

In the lobby, the producers reminded me of the same things. The cast was handling it and they would be fine. But I guess it was my maternal instinct kicking in. I don't expect anyone who isn't a parent to understand, but there is this feeling when you see something going wrong for your child and you are powerless to help. That's what was happening with this cast. Some of these performers were still new to theatre. I was afraid that these little glitches were going to get into their heads and make them start doubting themselves and their capabilities. But this cast proved me wrong. They powered through all the slip-ups and technical errors and when the audience came out of the auditorium, I heard a little girl yell, "That was awesome," as she ran by to go get her picture taken with some of the cast members. That's when the spell was broken for me. That's when I realized this cast is ready to do this on their own. 

There is a reason a director's job ends when the show opens. Once there is an audience, the cast have to start problem-solving on their own. How silly would it look for me to stop a scene and fix it with an audience sitting around me? I have to trust that with everything we covered in our rehearsals, they are prepared for whatever comes their way. What started out as my own personal hell, turned out to be a victory for the cast of this show. I know now that all of our hard work over the past month and a half has paid off. They have taken ownership of this show and I could not be prouder.

Photo: Eric Y. Exit

Why You Should Always Be Doing Your Best Work

Lara Williams

  • OnStage Texas Columnist

“If you’re not going to go all the way, why go at all?” - Joe Namath
As an actor and director in community theatre in a small city, it’s hard to not hear all the backstage gossip. One thing that really disappoints me is when I hear someone say that they need to do a really good job in a particular performance because a specific person will be in the audience. Or I’ve heard that a performer wishes they had known that an individual was in the audience before the show because they would have done a better job. What?! That doesn’t make any sense to me. 

I get frustrated watching a performance where the cast was given direction or choreography that didn’t suit the scene because the person telling them what to do was too busy to come up with something better and wasn’t paying enough attention to notice what a poor job they had done.
Or even when a moment in a song or scene could have used a really neat lighting effect, but the lighting designer didn’t pay attention to what was happening on stage and in the script so this exciting moment on stage is punctuated with a period instead of an exclamation point.
You get my drift. And you’ve probably seen the same things and felt the same frustration over these shortcomings. I must tell you, I am baffled as to why they ever happen, in any kind of theatre but especially in community theatre.
You are volunteering your time to perform in community theatre. That is time that you could be at home with your family or friends, picking up another shift at work for extra pay, or countless other things. Instead, you chose to come and spend several hours each week learning blocking, building and painting sets, sewing costumes, gathering props, etc.
Why are you doing this? Because you love it! You love meeting these new people, creating together, and you love to entertain. So why wouldn’t you give it your all? Wouldn’t you like to know that your time was well spent? There are a couple of points to explore in this topic.
One of them is that the cast and crew of a show are a team. Actors, the crew is busting their butts to get that scene change as tight and short as possible, so you owe it to them to be in place and on top of your cue when the lights come up. Also, how about you show them some gratitude once in a while? The crew doesn’t typically get to go on stage for a bow, nor do audience members ask for their autographs or to take pictures with them after the show. A simple ‘thank you’ would be appreciated. 
Sound engineer, the cast has spent unknown hours rehearsing their lines and songs not only in rehearsal, but also at home with their family, in the car while they drive to work, etc. The least you could do is be ready with their mic or sound cue. They’ve done all that work to learn this and make it sound just right; please make sure they are heard.
Directors and choreographers, these actors and dancers are trusting that you are going to make them look good. Please don’t come to rehearsal and make up your blocking or choreography on the spot or use this opportunity as the first time to look over the music before you teach it to them. That is insulting, especially if you are being paid and the actors aren’t. Also, your name is going in that program as the one who taught them what to do on stage. Don’t you want people to think you did a good job?
Another point is that you are all, including the people who do not appear on stage, contributing to a performance for a PAYING audience. They are spending hard-earned money and free time on a night at the theatre to be entertained by you. It’s easy to lose sight of that, so I think we could all use a reminder. Who knows who is in the audience? Should it have any influence on your performance? Yes and no. Should a specific person sitting in the audience dictate how well you perform? No. Does the fact that there is someone, anyone watching your show mean that you should put everything you’ve got into that performance? Yes! It doesn’t matter who they are, it matters that they are there to watch something that you have been working on for at least a month or two. How about you show them that you are proud of your work and that all the time spent on the show was well worth it? You might be inspiring the next Audra McDonald or Aaron Tveit to break out of their shell. There might be a married couple who are going through a rough patch and came to watch your show to forget their troubles for a little while.
There are countless ways that theatre, and art in general, impact us. I, for one, would like to know that what I did on that stage, whether it’s acting in one scene in a two-and-a-half hour show or directing a very moving scene, was good and that I did the best I could.
Don’t ever walk away from a show wishing you had done better. Always do your best.