Theatre Is Hard: My Observations From BENT Opening Night
Last night around 7:30 pm I stood pacing on the stage in Cathedral of Hope’s Interfaith Peace Chapel. The lobby was filling with people, the lights were set, my costume was on, and it was almost time to open the doors and let the audience into, what until now, was our our own little world. It was time to share our hard work with paying patrons, and in that moment I realized how vulnerable I felt. Not only was I preparing to make my ‘off-book’ acting debut, but tonight would mark my first outing as a theatrical lighting designer.
For the last 2 1/2 months I and the cast of BENT have labored away in closed door rehearsals, pouring over costume, lighting, and stage designs, working with our talented musician, and trying to bring a harrowing story of love, prejudice, loss, and heartbreak to life. In that time, we have fallen deep into our own portrayals of these fictional, yet all too familiar historical figures, and have committed ourselves to being the best we can be.
Now here we are, minutes from showing the world our work, and for that moment, I was terrified. Not of screwing up my lines, or hitting the wrong light cue, but of our vulnerability, pain, and passion no longer being exclusively ours. It was as if, for a fleeting moment, I changed my mind, and I didn’t want to share this with anyone. What if the audience doesn’t like our production? What if the jokes don’t land right? What if something goes wrong? What if the poignant moments fall flat? Then, the moment came. Our director Daniel Scott Cates called, “Clear the house, doors are opening!” I had my first light cue on, subtle lighting on the set for the time between doors and the first act. Everything was prepared, Bring on the people! The doors to the space were pushed open, and we were on.
I was alarmed when the doors open and I quickly realized that we were going to pack the place for our opening night performance. Within a few minutes of doors opening I received word from our ticket table that this was indeed a bonafide sell out! Now the pressure was really ratcheted up! A few minutes later, the doors were closed, the stage manager called places, and approached me for his light cue. He made his impassioned curtain speech about the importance of the work, walked off stage, and I faded the lights up for Act 1: Scene 1…and we were off!
I ran lights through most of Act 1, and the audience laughed when they were supposed to, and cried when they were supposed to, and everything was perfect. Then, it was my turn to step away from the light board, and prepare for my role as an evil Nazi officer. I got my cue, and stepped out onto the stage for my intense moment in the spotlight. In a flash, my scene was over, and in what felt like another quick moment, the show was also over.
We did it. We survived opening night. We received a standing ovation, took our bows, and the lights fell on our first ever performance of BENT. As I stood with my fellow “Nazis” in the lobby receiving line, people were gracious and complementary. I was even told I am terrifying in this show. I don’t like being scary, but when it’s my role…it’s nice to know that I don’t suck.
As I sit here recovering from opening night…and the crazy cast party…I realize that this may be the most challenging thing I have ever tackled, and while it wasn’t perfect, it was good work. I am exhausted, and am so excited to do it again tonight and Sunday night! Theatre is hard, theatre that matters is even harder, but it is so worth it.
I hope you’ll come share in our experience this weekend. Two more shows tonight and tomorrow night at 8PM. You’ll find us in the Interfaith Peace Chapel on the campus of Cathedral of Hope. Join the Facebook event, and read my blog with the press release. Tickets are only $10 and are available at the door while supplies last. We sold out on opening night, we expect to repeat that for the remainder of the run, so arrive early.