Monday, February 13, 2012

Closing Night is Bittersweet

~Stepping up to the stage door on closing night, you take a deep breath in and shake off the nagging thought reminding you that tonight will be the last time you perform on this stage with these actors.

You have rehearsed with them for countless hours in a room, you've run lines with them over coffee, you've gone out for beer or martinis together to reward yourselves for a good rehearsal/night or show.

~Heading backstage to ensure all your props are in their proper place (like you should be doing every performance night) you find, this time, it's different. Each item you pick up and put in it's place seems to speak out to you and say "don't put me down; don't let go of me."

You have rehearsed with various swords, guns or props but you've been assigned certain ones that only YOU touch and only YOU keep with you when you go onstage. These props have not just been part of your costume, they've been a part of the person you have created and shared onstage.

~Entering the Green Room, you make sure the coffee is on and grab something to nibble on before heading to the change room. In the changeroom, you put on your costume piece by piece, little by little to savour this last time you will put these items on.

A costume represents different things to different people. To some it is just an outfit you put on to look like someone (or something) else. To others it is part of a system which enables you, the actor to forget about being "you" and focus on creating, becoming and maintaining a portrayal of someone else. You have been this person for months and on closing night, it may very well be the last time you portray that person.

~Act One begins and you are either onstage, in the wings or in a changeroom listening to the action over a speaker. Rather than talking with your fellow actors backstage and joking around (as much as you usually do), you find yourself listening to and hanging on every word that is being spoken. You are paying attention to the words and also the actor delivering them. You take this opportunity to appreciate their work one final time.

Closing night is often filled with cards being passed around for people to sign, pictures being taken, hugs being shared and some tears. Sometimes closing night also means "closing night pranks" (which I will get more into in a future post). Pranks should never change what the audience has seen onstage, it should never be done to an actor who you do not feel could "handle it" and it should be fun AND respectful to the actor being played. These pranks, I like to think, are more like last night fun. A little something for the actors to share in, laugh about and to become part of the story and journey of that production.

~Act Two finishes and you wait in the wings for your time to step onstage for your final bow. You want to savour the applause and cheers and also that moment when you share the stage with your entire cast. It is a strange feeling on closing night when that curtain closes.

Usually, once the curtain closes, all the actors quickly run offstage to the changeroom to get out of their costume and back into their own clothes so they can go out to the lobby and see their fans who came to support them. On closing night however, the curtain closes and none of the actors move. They all stand still in their place facing the curtain. Slowly they turn to each other to congratulate their fellow actors on a job well done before finally leaving the stage.

~After taking your final bow, you leave the stage and place your props back in their final 'resting places'. As you place the various items down, you hold them for a moment to appreciate them and the journey you've shared together. You take off your costume and place it in a pile or bag with everyone else's costume to get washed and, although it's "just a costume" you say Goodnight or Goodbye to that character it represented - forever loved; never to be forgotten.

Once the stage and theatre have been cleared, the actors usually go to one of the actors' homes for the cast party where their is much food and booze. It is a fun time when all are together, sharing jokes, telling stories of things that happened both onstage and off. Fun awards might be handed out to acknowledge each actor and crew member for their hard work. Some people leave early, some people leave a little later, and some people get so smashed that they don't remember their names, where they are or how they got there and end up staying the night :)

In the morning however, no matter how hungover (or still drunk) the actors are, they come together one last time for the sometimes dreaded "strike". This means everyone involved in the production comes back to the theatre to take down the entire set and clean up the mess. Depending on how large the production was, it can take an entire afternoon.

~The set has been taken down, the garbage is put out, stage is painted and the green room is sparkling. Now the actors say goodbye.

It's bittersweet to think that your body will have a break and you'll be able to go to bed at a decent hour but, in exchange, you will no longer be coming to that stage door and sharing a stage with people you have come to trust, admire and love.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

A Special Note to ALL Directors Out There

In a previous post of mine, [click here to view] regarding an experience I had working with a certain director, I mentioned how important it is for a director to be part of the group, get excited with the actors and inspire them to be the best they can be in order to get the best performance out of them. In that post, I also pointed out how devastating it can be for an actor when their director is not involved.

I can now say from experience what affect an emotionally involved, caring, considerate and understanding director has on a cast of actors.

To all Directors out there who wish to inspire their actors, THIS is how it's done:

During the auditions, express your passion for the script, your outlook and expectations for the production.

During rehearsals, allow room for input from the actors. Ask them for their opinion and ideas. Prepare your own ideas and things you want to try at rehearsals ahead of time so that when it comes to start time - you can give the actors a clear picture of all you want to accomplish.

During the cue-to-cue, thank the actors for their time and keep them busy. Actors who are passionate are eager and willing to work and help. Actors love to be put to work as long as their assistance is acknowledged.

During the tech run, be as prepared as possible and keep record of all technical cues. Levels and cues can be set prior to bringing the actors in. Doing all the "technical stuff" at a time without the actors shows them respect. Actors do not help with "technical stuff" in a production. Doing all you can before bringing them in tells the actors that you value their time and do not wish to waste any of it.

Opening night, prior to opening the house and the handing over of the keys to the stage manager, write a speech. WHY NOT?! You have worked with your actors for months, told them what to do and where to go when. You have been watching over them during hours of rehearsals and cared for them by giving them direction. You have done all you can to ensure each actor gives the best performance they are able to. Before you hand the show over, take that opportunity to speak directly to your cast and crew. Give them words of encouragement, remind them of things they have gone through and things that have happend along the way. Remind the actors where they started, and where they have got to; all they have acheived.

In a recent allocution by the director to the actors of Treasure Island at the Palace on opening night, a sword was gifted to the fight captain, tears of joy were shed and a song was sung. Below is the song which the director sang to their actors:

"Is there more I should have said?
Back when you were pictures in my head...
I'm very glad you came to play
Cause you folks gave me laughter every day.
Remember when the stage caved in, cause you were rockin' out?
I rather think your lunacy will be hard to live without.
I'd like to go back to the start
See, you all have a place inside my heart.
And please don't take this as a dare....
But, there's nothing you can break, Mark can't repair.
It's great when we're together and you share your favourite quotes
And though they are unbearable, well, I still love Dean's jokes.
Though I'm looking forward to my bed,
When thinking of the end, I feel some dread.
I hope we do this all again
And you can make me laugh like you did then
I know you'll do your best for Joe
As he takes the reigns to run this show.
So now it's yours to take instead
Thanks for being pictures in my head."

[this Director was inspired by Kermit the Frog to inspire us all]

As I stated in my previous post, Directors have the power to break an actor's heart or fill it with love for them to share with others for years to come.

Don't ABUSE or NEGLECT this power. USE it!