About this time every year I send a note to the cast to prepare them for the week ahead.
This year it struck me that some of my advice to performers might be extracted and interpolated as advice to the audience as well. There will be a “show.” That’s obvious. And we all want to make the most of it — no matter on which side of the footlights we might be. While the cast and crew are doing their best to prepare backstage, I wonder what sort of preparation will be going on in the house.
Here’s my note….
We move into the theater tomorrow.
Then we’ll have three fleeting days to take this production from pretty-good-rehearsal mode to Knock-Their-Socks-Off performance mode. After that, we’ll have a scant four opportunities to show ‘em what we’ve got; and to make ’em glad they decided to leave their sofas and spend a few hours of their time with us.
By this time next week it will all be over. The performances will all be done, the set will be struck, we’ll have taken everything back to the warehouse, and folks will be saying their goodbyes at the post-performance cast party.
Basically what I’m saying here is that you should get set to say your goodbyes to “The Grand Duke.” It’s one of several “little” G&S shows that only comes around every fifteen years or so. And we will certainly not ever all see it together again.
So let’s seize the moment!
To my mind, the best way of saying goodbye is with a heartfelt embrace. Let’s love this show while it’s here. Let’s love each other. And let’s love every opportunity we have to make our audiences love our “Grand Duke”.
A lot will happen in the coming days. I know each of you wants to give the absolute best performance you can. And I can promise you that you will surprise, astound, and also disappoint yourself in that endevour. Some of you will overcome what seemed to be unsurmountable hurdles. Some of you will break through to an entirely new realm in your personal performance history. Some of you will make unimaginable mistakes. There will be high notes. There will be flat notes. There will be missed cues. And there will be unforeseen spontaneous rounds of applause. Each of us will find ourselves in the midst of all of these scenarios to some degree. That’s theater. That’s life.
Here’s my advice…..
Breathe. Find a way to take a moment before each rehearsal and performance to relax and to calmly think about the task at hand. Put aside whatever may be stressing you in the outside world and strive to peacefully and competently enter the space; dedicated to joining the ongoing process of perfecting and presenting this production.
Focus. Once you’ve entered the theater, you should be 100% focused on this production and completely dedicated to preparing yourself to perform. If at all possible, don’t bring cellphones, laptops, homework, or any of the other myriad anchors which keep us tethered to the outside world. The theater is a sanctuary. Let’s treat it as such.
Acquiesce. That means to accept without protest. What I’m asking here is that you enter the theater with no carryover emotions from the outside world, nor with a firm agenda. There will undoubtedly be work going on before you arrive. So, while it is good to enter with your own personal goals to move you toward performance mode, please be prepared to go with the flow. We will do our best to establish a collective pre-show routine and to allow each of you the time and space to do what you need to do. But there will be moments of chaos. If we can each enter the space quietly and with a receptive attitude, we’ll have a much better chance of taking on the chaos in our stride.
Know Your Place. Each of you will be assigned a backstage space. It may be only a few square feet, but it’s yours (it’ll most likely be in front of a mirror). Please find your space and try to confine your “stuff” and your personal business to that area. Don’t encroach upon someone else’s space and (gently) don’t allow them to encroach upon yours.
Listen Big. There will be calls throughout your time in the theater letting you know how much time you have before opening curtain and second act curtain. There will be calls summoning you to the stage. There will also be calls requesting your presence at warm-ups and company meetings. Listen to these. Gauge your activities accordingly and be ready to perform/participate when called upon.
Listen Small. We’re about to cram a lot of people into a small space to do a big job. Cast, Crew, Orchestra, Production Staff, Theater Staff, etc. People, each and every one. People have strengths and weaknesses. People have emotions. People have needs. Most of the above advice has been to encourage you to be prepared, to be self-sufficient, and to be strong. But everyone won’t be able to do that at all times. Please be aware of the signals folks around you may be giving. Someone may need space. Someone may need quiet. Someone may need attention. Someone may need help. Try to tune in to those needs. But be careful not to over-react. Often the best thing we can provide to someone in distress is space. Help if you can, otherwise get out of the way.
Start Again. Okay. You’ve gotten yourself into the space. You’ve gotten yourself ready to perform. You’ve dealt with whatever problems/emergencies have come up (or you’ve backed away and allowed others to take care of the problems). You’re standing in the wings and about to make your first entrance. Now it’s time to go through the entire process again…. but this time you’re applying the mantra to your onstage life: Breathe. Focus. Acquiesce. Know Your Place. Listen Big. Listen Small.
And for goodness sake “Sing Out Louise!”
(Dean Kivotidis as Ernest, Stuart Albert as The Grand Duke, Jim Burnette as Ludwig)