Letters to Holly

Thursday, January 18

Day Twenty-Four: Our First Audience

Even though this show makes 13 I've been in since high school, it's the first in almost two years. And even though I've got my lines and my blocking and I've even prepared lines in case the reverend and doctor blank on stage, I find myself getting nervous in the middle of the day. I start running lines before I leave work. I can't tell if it's eagerness or nerves, but I don't like these jitters, and I want to get the show started, despite opening tonight an hour earlier than we will for the rest of the run.

I could always quell the panic by telling myself that the audience has paid to enter our house and watch us. This makes the theatre a business and us indirectly professionals (I guess we are paid in free snacks backstage), so we have to behave like pros, know our stuff, go out there, and not suck. Responsibility clams me down instead of spooking me.

I already have turned back to my old theatre habits. When I arrive, I set my camera and books and sketchpad at my dressing room area. If the clothes have been laundered, I gather them or confirm they're back at my station. Then I check my props. Gooper has four props: a briefcase, a cake, car keys and a notepad. The pad resides in his suit jacket, the others can be found on a stage-left wing table, and I put the keys in my pocket. I then prowl the theatre, wandering everywhere and greeting the crew. I'm just killing time. We have to be at the theatre an hour before the curtain goes up, and I don't go onstage for an hour after that.

We do a quick set of warm-ups onstage, and after that I start assembling Gooper and talking to the cast as they arrive. Once I get the make-up and costume on (even those damn shoes of +3 Toe Pain), I pace about the green room, talking to folks, or sit at my station to read. I'm not the only person with a bout of energy. Big Daddy is concerned about hitting his notes, and the reverend and doctor go over their lines when they aren't reading at their stations. We assemble in the green room as the director tells us to make the show move and enjoy ourselves. The phrase "break a leg" flies around the room for a while. There's always uncertainty about how someone will behave in front of an audience, and we new people are one more thing for the theatre to worry about. Also, the balcony space is tighter tonight because of the a new column. Those of use who work on that balcony have to move so the entire audience can see us. Just another note to bear in mind when we go onstage.

The stage managers regularly come by with a countdown until we open the house (the audience is allowed past the lobby and into the auditorium) or raise the curtain. If you've seen the Muppet Show, you recognize this as what Scooter does at the start of each show ("Elton John. Mr. Elton John. Five minutes to curtain, Mr. Elton John."), and we, just like the week's celeb, respond with a confirming "thank you." When we're close to starting the show, the managers countdown to "places," and this is where the actors go if they are walk onstage as the play begins. They do this for every act, but once the play starts, the actors are responsible for getting to their places for their entrance or line cues. For those of us who read, backstage, we have a sense of time leading up to our next cues, and the backstage monitors let us hear the actors get nearer to them.

Before the show, we can hear the audience talking in their seats, and that gives us an idea of how many folks are there before we see them from the stage. When they become quiet, we know the lights have gone down and the curtain is opening. The overture tells us that too, but the audience is the new element tonight, and we focus on them. They laugh early as Maggie insults Mae and Gooper's kids. They laugh shortly, suggesting they don't want to miss the dialogue. The boys are wandering backstage, and one of them is the kind who starts a conversation with you even if you don't look up from your book or respond in anything but grunts. The kid's gifted, and gifted kids won't shut up.

I shout out my offstage lines and go over my Act II lines and finally get to walk out there. As the lines come out of me, I feel incrementally more calm and confident, and within five minutes, I'm almost arrogantly comfy. Once onstage, you can see the entire audience clearly. Its a trick to avoid eye contact as you stare at the fourth wall, and this role isn't one for connecting with audience members that way. There's maybe 40 people tonight.

I get a few laughs in Act III, especially with a line that Gooper means to be jovial and comforting but comes across as cruel, and when I get to Gooper's monologue, I feel the audience hanging with me. You can actually feel their focus and attention, and as they invest in you, you hit your notes right and give them more to digest, and a new entity is formed. They're as much a performer as you are, and they control how this moment will be played. This is why I do theatre. The doctor blanks on his first big line in Act III and looks to me to help him. I'm the next speaker, but my lines are dependent on his, and you know, I know how to save this moment and have lines ready to move ahead, but I'm gonna let him dangle a bit. This is still a glorified dress rehearsal, after all. Let him feel this, and maybe it won't happen again. Soon enough, he remembers the second half of his line, and gets it out, and we move on from there.

Show ends, curtain call, nice bit of applause for me as I bow, and as the curtain closes on our cast tableau, we all exhale. We started at 7 p.m., and I'm in my car, un-costumed and Noxema-ed, at 9:50. We're no longer a three-hour show. There it is. There's our show. Now we do that ten more times.

Day One: Reading It Through
Day Two: Act Two
Day Three: Reading Act Two
Day Four: Talking It Through
Day Five: Blocking Act Two
Day Six: Act Two Redux
Day Seven: Reading Act Three
Day Eight: The Da Gooper Code
Day Nine: The Laying On of Hands
Day Ten: Pictures and Pages
Day Eleven: Onstage
Day Twelve: Memory
Day Thirteen: The Quickie
Day Fourteen: The Lines
Day Fifteen: Act III Anxiety
Day Sixteen: Let's Just Get It Right
Day Seventeen: Molding the Gooper
Day Eighteen: Goopercalypse
Day Nineteen: There Is Not A Doctor In The House
Day Twenty: Back to Words
Day Twenty-One: Getting Technical
Day Twenty-Two: We're Ready When You Are
Day Twenty-Three: Socks

Picture of the Day
And here's me as Gooper. You can kinda see the eyeliner.

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