Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Openings, closings and the daily commute

by Bruce Miller
Company Manager

July 6, 2011

For many, the mention of an Opening Night conjures up excitement and a party.  For the cast of a play, that’s not what first comes to mind.  After three short weeks of rehearsal and only four preview performances, the director and cast must now present their “finished” product to an expectant audience comprised of subscribers, critics, theatre colleagues, friends and family.  
There’s a little more tension than usual backstage.  Some cast members sit quietly in their dressing rooms, running their lines in their mind or getting their heads in the right “place.”   Others may stand in the shower stall and do vocal exercises.  Or you may see an actor stretching, pacing, hopping or doing a specific set of movements that help them relax and focus.  The stage manager’s voice is heard in the hallways calling “Half-hour,” “Fifteen minutes,” and, finally “Places, please.”  Shortly thereafter the curtain goes up; preparation and talent merge, and the audience is carried along by the story.
After the final curtain comes down and the ovations and bows are done, it’s time to relax.  There’s laughter and chatter as the cast comes down to the dressing rooms.  A few friends have already made their way to the stage door and wait with flowers and gifts.  Anxious to let their hair down, cast members change into party clothes, greet their guests, and head off to the festivities in the garden.  Accolades from audience members and sponsors combined with wine and cheese under the stars make a great end to a long day.
The cast rolls in fairly early Sunday afternoon to prepare for the 3:00pm matinee.  Most of them are exhausted from the week and look forward to a van ride home before the sun even sets.  And so the commute begins.  For the next two weeks, cast and stage managers will join the crowd on Metro North, arriving in Westport an hour or two before curtain.  The stage manager may have a note or two for a cast member who missed a cue or dropped a line. Some actors will grab a light snack instead of dinner (though The Circle cast often downed an entire pie before curtain).  They warm up, perform before a new audience, and take their bows.  On Saturdays I’ll have our caterer, Marianne Wilson, fix a hot meal for them between shows.  Very often it’s barely 90 minutes between the matinee’s final curtain and the stage manager’s “Places” call for the evening show.  On the last Thursday of the run, they will stay even later for Talk Back, an opportunity for the audience to comment on the play and ask questions of the cast.  At the end of the evening they may grab a soda or small glass of wine to help them unwind before climbing in the van and heading back to Manhattan. 
Parks Drivers’ Peter Lowerson loading The Circle
cast member Gretchen Hall’s luggage into the van.
When I pass out paychecks on Thursdays, it is clear that actors are on stage for their love of the art.  After years of training and enduring hundreds of auditions, they will push themselves to master a new role and perform it eight shows a week, all for less than $100 a performance.  Twenty-one performances and it’s all over.  Mark Lamos and Michael Ross will offer a congratulatory toast in the Greenroom.  The cast will pack up their makeup and the last of their goodies from Trader Joe’s and make the final trip in the van.  As the crew begins a “strike” of props and electrics on stage, Steph and I begin cleaning the dressing rooms.  The next cast is only days away – here we go again.

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