What a ride we had tonight.
It was “Friends and Family” night at the ol’ Speakeasy (have I mentioned it?). We were originally told that each of us would be limited to two reservations each, but eventually it turned into a free-for-all that sold out – hell, it oversold to the point where I couldn’t even get a good number of my own family in.
Now, normally on a Wednesday, we’d rehearse (even though we’re open), which means plugging in new material (things are still in flux and being added or altered) or new performers – with 35 actors, there’s always someone coming or going. But tonight, not only were we performing, we were performing for, yes, friends and family, so the energy before the show was only what I describe only as “fraught.” Everyone just seemed on edge and kind of cranky (and believe me, I know cranky). Even I was a little nervous, and I never get that way.
All in all, while I wouldn’t say it was weird, thing were off. For instance, we had another patron lose consciousness. (This time it was a diabetic – well, not “coma;” but a “spell,” I guess. They gave her some juice and candy and she was, at last report, on the road to recovery, or at least, the couch.) But there were odd timing things that never happened, or happened in different places. The most disappointing thing was that my wife, through a series of circumstances I could see coming but do nothing to deter (given the logistics of the show), missed two of my big scenes. It wasn’t a big thing – she was more disturbed about it than I – but it was a microcosm of little things going just a bit off all night.
Now, there’s not a night when one of us doesn’t have someone there – in a cast this large, that’s inevitable – but when everyone there is known to someone, there’s an extra pressure we all have to deal with. Granted, all of us don’t know everyone, but I guess we feel an extra pressure to make sure that everyone’s guests go home fulfilled.
It’s a combination of two things: the understandable urge to do well before those we know – you don’t want them to think you’ve been wasting your time all these weeks and that you can actually do what you claim to – and the desire to be a good host; to make sure everyone has a good time. But, for me at least, there’s a hyperawareness.
It’s like when I direct a show; the first time someone who hasn’t been around rehearsals comes and sees a run-through. I suddenly see the show through their eyes and flaws and things needing fixing that have previously been invisible suddenly leap out and make themselves apparent.
While there’s an old truism in the theatre that “the audience never knows;” that the inevitable little flubs and errors in a performance that are patently obvious to insiders go unnoticed by the first-time viewer. The insider is so close to the material that what’s different becomes the veritable sore thumb. So things like odd light cues or late entrances or missed lines that were all but shouting “look at me!” to those of us who know the show were wearing camouflage for the audience-at-large.
So, for all our worrying and angst, unless the scenery fell down tonight – and, given the space, that would have been extremely unlikely – the audience was going to forgive us anything.
And, given the feedback I got after the performance, apparently they did. Even if we saw the oddities that were patently obvious – to us, anyway.