Letters to Holly

Thursday, December 11

Open Dress Rehearsal

I was nervous all day Thursday, and the giant hot cocoa from Books-A-Million probably didn't help. But as I shopped for Christmas gifts through the book aisles, I mumbled my lines to calm my nerves. It's much easier this show compared to the last shows'. Those took an hour. These lines take about five minutes. Here's my goofy image for you: A peacoated Bob Cratchit mumbling about Tiny Tim while thumbing through Dracula.

It's the usual pre-audience jitters mixed with a giddiness that this week is nearing the end. Opening week is always a slog. It's eight performances in as many days. Except this theatre likes to take a day off before a show opens, a tradition that's lovely if your cast knows its play. Needless to say, that didn't happen this time.

We show up at the warehouse early for our makeup. Marley takes an appropriately long time to get ready. We have yellow stage lights, making heavy makeup for the rest of us unnecessary. White lights wash actors out, which is why they need strong make-up to retain color. We get to the stage and fine the dressing room has no light. We put a lamp there a few days back, but the power is no not working. This doesn't go over well. Some folks scramble to the audience bathroom to dress before our guests arrive. I stay in the dressing room. There's enough ambient light for my carrot-powered eyes. Marley complains these are no accommodations for actors becuase he must complain. Marley trivia: He's a licensed clown. I just found that out. We do get the good news later that the actors have their own bathroom downstairs. Our play is so short that I never had to go during rehearsals, but I have one of two spry bladders in this cast.

We have about 15 people there, including Your Sis. She warned me beforehand that she'd only catch the first act our of exhaustion. The director gives a curtain speech to prepare the audience for potential power outages, the actors huddle on the stage-right wing, and then we take we start the show.

It starts strong and stays strong for about the first 20 pages. The Cratcihit scene goes well, and the nephew scene goes well. Then we move to the fundraiser, and Scrooge goes off the rails. The judge had prepared a full script and made arrangements for the two attorneys. if they're in trouble they are to request a sidebar and hear the judge whisper their lines. Scorrge does this. But it happens again so often that the judge starts whispering the lines as the actors stand near his bench. His Issac Newton wig and real mustache hide the cheating well enough, and this subterfuge saves the play all night long. But this works as long as the actors face the judge. When they turn out to the audience and lose their place, they are sunk. And that happens a lot.

They also skip around the script, regain their balance, and repeat lines to get back on track. That happens a lot. Again, I'm sitting onstage for the entire first act, and it feels much longer than the 60 minutes the act stretches. It probably should run at 45 minutes, but the pauses and line-juggling inflate the running time. We lose the humor almost entirely. There's no timing or sparkling delivery. We have turned a banter script into a melodrama, and you can feel the audience yearn for more. Our tech operator decides to cut the stage lights before the act is over.

We regroup during intermission, and Scrooge, -- the tech chief -- spends the entirety of it working on wiring the camera. Oh, did I mention this is being taped. We didn't know that until we showed up and saw the camera. The camera guy says he needs a wired mic for the second act, and we wonder what if anything he could hear from the first act.

We start the second act. Almost immediately, it goes wrong. The attorneys call for witnesses in teh wrong order, and the judge has to impovise. He makes a sterling decree about following the witness docket (and this is nowhere in the script), and he saves the collective bacon. The leads corkscrew their way through the act and receive lines from the judge. When everyone is onstage for the play's twist revelation, Scrooge loses the lines completely. And this is the situation I feared most: He's trying to cue me without feeding me the proper line. As the Future Ghost, I can mumble an interjection and hope that my translator can follow my gestures and feed Scrooge a line he can follow. I do that, and he does that, but Scrooge doesn't reset. He's still lost. He fumbles for a bit, and eventually, wisely, skips ahead, and we kind of regain balance.

But then the climactic attorney negotiations is utterly shuffled. The bailiff loses his cue, and he is supposed to start the stage exodus. That doesn't happen. The attorneys vamp to try the cue again and eventually get him to say his line. The cast dribbles offstage. Our momentum is gone, and now we're just trying to stop the pain. The show ends with dead silence, and the audience only realizes the show is over when we come out for the bows.

My nerves are utterly gone. I've done my lines in front of a crowd, and my brain finally accepts that I have a smaller role and can feed me less adrenaline to gear up for the show. It's a big relief. My nerves were so amped that I was starving by intermission. The judge and attorneys are allegedly meeting Friday afternoon to run lines. I breeze through mine during my commute.

I talk to Your Sister at home, and her questions about the play are all answered with "he screwed up." Supposedly, a bad final rehearsal portends a strong show. But this was our best rehearsal so far. What is that an omen of? At least we didn't lose power during the practice.

Picture of the Day
Save us, punk Supergirl!

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