Enter the final cast member: Previews and Opening Night Performance

It’s often said that the play is not complete until the house is ‘in.’ Saturday night – Preview 1 of 4, and the first audience arrives to test our waters. We are very ready for them – craving them; comedy especially needs the feedback of laughter to assist the tempo and attack of playing. The very ‘liveness’ of stage work is one of the reasons actors love and fear it so much – acting without a safety net will test, but its rewards thrill as no other.

Our first audience give us what we need; their presence which infuses our actions and helps time our reactions. They listen and we are alert to them, to their laughter and silences – as powerful as any sound. This first audience brings a spontaneity to our work – something that must happen every time from now on if the play is is to work for a particular audience at a particular time and place. We understand very well that every audience is different for every play.

There are three more previews after that to tune the show with the audience experience now part of the equation. There are trims, cuts, further consideration of timing and ‘moments.’ Is it working? Is it ambiguous? Does it feel ‘right?’ Everything is questioned, honed, and rehearsed again. This is where the creative team led by the director is of paramount importance. Their external eyes that we actors can’t share scrutinise every beat of the action, every moment; our own instinctive reaction responds to their probing. We meld and work it – back to the stage to rehearse between performances. The week speeds by and suddenly it’s Friday – opening night.

I wake early; I doubt any of us can sleep in. As the day goes on, I can feel my anticipation growing. Mercifully, I don’t suffer from performance anxiety, or the nerves of ‘stage fright.’ I just get excited to perform – always have. Bring it on! I have a brief voice-over session at a local recording studio to take my mind off the evening to come, and I follow up with a little pamper session – a mid afternoon mani-pedi. A nap is out of the question – with adrenaline racing and lines playing over and over in the head that’s a fond hope. Then it’s home, pack the glad rags for the after-party reception, and head to the Playhouse.

The rituals of cards and gifts, flowers and of genuine celebration are all part of the ‘event’ that making theatre entails. There’s much to celebrate. We delight in the support, genuine affection and, of course, love of colleagues, friends and family at times like this.  I arrive to find my dressing room filled with cards and flowers, and wishes from near and far. My agent sends a gorgeous Venetian carnivale mask. Chocolates and marmalade (a particular reference to the play) also figure prominently. I’m feeling the love.

I go to the stage for a warmup around 6pm. The house is empty; I can see every seat in the house, the downstairs stalls and balcony. I tune my voice and my energies to the vibe of the big room. It feels comfortable now, something I didn’t feel a week or so ago. Hello room; I own you! Back to the dressing room. Hair, makeup, dress – a blur of readying now in a particular order. The precision matters – it’s reassuring.

At 7.10pm we hear the house buzz as the audience enters. Beginners’ follows at 7.25 and we are off. I’m not a beginner, so I watch the first scene on the monitor from my dressing-room. Then, it’s my call to the stage – I’m in the wings, my fingers tingle – and here we go. The rest of the night runs like clockwork. The occasion, this new audience, help us find our rhythm and we play, we play …

Image: Finale QUARTET Queensland Theatre Company. Trevor Smith, Kate Wilson, Andrew McFarlane, Christine Amor.