Nothing beats the unbounded, raw emotion of an opening night. However many were in the crowd and whether they were good, bad or otherwise, you cannot beat the enormity of the feelings that come from the fact that you and some people that you just met a few months ago have made something together. The time, the effort, the sacrifices, the laughs and the tears, the late nights and bleary eyes from the pints after rehearsals… it all came together to make THIS.
Putting an audience in front of your creation makes everything suddenly all worth it, as it is only with an audience that your creative work becomes a show. Before then, it was just a possibility, a dream- or a nightmare! But then, the seats are filled, and you have a purpose. Your collective experience as a cast is defined, by being separate from the congregation of the audience. They are the many, and you are the few, and that binds you together in a way that spending hours in rehearsal rooms, scrunitising each other and being scrutinised yourself, cannot. You go out on that stage as though heading into battle, with your friends around you, united behind your common goal, you’re an unstoppable force. You know the moves and you know each step of the action before they do. It’s a powerful kind of unity, a bond I cannot liken to anything else.
Of course, as with any live form entertainment, plenty can still happen to wrong foot you! Although you may not hear the laughs and the gasps in the rehearsal room, you feel like you have a handle on where they will be – but the audience will always seemingly be out to wrong foot you. My moment came in my very first scene, on delivering a particularly emotionally charged line, I paused to ponder and… a laugh! But whatever for? Mystified, I continued with my speech and did not hear another. The director was out in the audience, watching her work unfold. I contemplated whether to approach her in the dressing rooms when she came through at the interval, but there were two more scenes to get through before that. Once again, the audience laughed in the ‘right’ places and I was satisfied with my performance until right before the interval, in a whirlwind of emotion, I stormed off stage somewhere between shouting and crying, one of the most emotional moments in the play and… there it was again! Concerned, I turned to Michael, the stage manager and had a hushed conversation in the wings:
“That was brilliant! Best you’ve ever done it!”, he told me, earnestly.
“But… but… what? Why?”
“Just keep it doing it like that, the pictures shook! They love it darling!”
“But… I don’t understand why? Why are they laughing?”
“Because it’s funny!”
This to me seemed like it’s stating the obvious, except that honestly it isn’t immediately obvious why what to me is a heavily emotional scene, is amusing to the audience. Is nobody symphathising with Queenie? Have I turned her into a caricature?
“Enjoy your ‘grape juice’ Michael”
I departed, whilst with a cheeky wink, he took another gulp from the brimming wine glass he was holding.
The third and final moment that was funny for all the wrong reasons was yet again another poignant scene. As Queenie leaves home under the cover of darkness, skulking stealthily across the stage by ‘moonlight’ with a letter and small suitcase under her arm, a voice rang out in the plush darkness of the auditorium…
“I can’t see anything! Someone turn on the lights!”
I had to do everything within my power not to turn the tables and let out an innapropriate laugh myself. Well played, audience. Well played.