by Ali Yalgin
After a set of exhausting tech and dress rehearsals we finally arrived at the opening night. The first time to share the outcome of our hard work with an audience (not counting the few who came during dress rehearsals). Since we have been such an intimate cast, it was quite different to act in front of the other people. Before the opening night performance started, I had questions in my mind such as whether the audience would receive the message we deliver, whether they would laugh here or there or stay still and sink into the complex plot of the play, whether they would leave confused or with a clear mind, whether they would be bored or entertained, what they would think of our costumes and make-up, etc.
The good news is that the talk back on Saturday night has proved that the audience was on the same page with us. Thanks to the intense dramaturgical and the physical work we have done, we were able to interpret and deliver Ibsen’s piece in a clear way. The audience laughed at a few parts unexpectedly, but also seemed to center with us during serious scenes.
The bad news is that it became challenging to keep the energy level up, since we had been rehearsing for a while and also had a lot of things going on in our lives. Following our Friday night performance where our energy level peaked, we felt it more difficult to concentrate on Saturday night. The mechanics of our work was there, but the energy was different.
Every night has a different level of energy, a different mood, a different audience. It is in the nature of theater to experience each performance differently. Knowing this fact, we as the actors have to acknowledge the new conditions surrounding us, and adjust ourselves to them. This is not to say that we should change the entire blocking each night, and pick up a new character storyline and play with it. That is also a viable option in some productions, but not here and now. The audience is attending to see our performances to see the result of our work, and therefore destroying it completely in order to reconstruct a new play would be slightly unfair (although not absolutely unjustifiable). A better option is to keep the firm base which we have built together, and to make minor adjustments each night. Such would be an example to incorporate a cough to my character when I was almost choked by those coconut macaroons. Or to perhaps pace up a little if the energy of the previous scene was dropping. Most importantly, to keep on working as a collective, and hence to be responsive to the needs of the other actors.
Our pre-show warm-ups have been providing us with a great opportunity to check in with our cast mates to see how they are doing, and to review our physical work, to literally warm our bodies and minds up in order to regenerate the world we have created together many times. We have four more performances, and two days of break before them. We might have another low-energy night, but we can avoid it to be a major energy-slump by keeping ourselves together and continuing to churn in the inside, while holding on to the main mechanism of the play on the outside.
It’s been very interesting to drop in and out of dress rehearsals and performances. I saw the first dress/tech last Monday (!) with the introduction of the live music and full costumes. Then I saw the last dress/tech on Wednesday before opening and was astonished at how much had been tightened and integrated in just one day. I also saw opening night and then Saturday night; so four out of 7 performances, and I have been so impressed by how attentive you all have been to each other and the audiences.
I agree with your reading that the groups I’ve watched with seem to be following all the intricacies of plot and character, laughing and gasping at moments when they see characters headed for disaster or express sentiments that will come back to haunt them later, as well as leaning forward in anticipation when characters finally come together or blow apart.
Saturday night’s audience was particularly electrified by a host of moments throughout the performance. I noticed people nodding and connected to the little details of Nora’s unraveling and the growing threat posed by Krogstad and then the redemption of Krogstad and Mrs. Linde, not to mention Torvald’s fury and ultimate rebuke. You mention that Saturday might have been a low-energy night (and goodness knows you all have to be feeling the effects of a very long week) but the ensemble is so tight and your knowledge of the text and your characters is so well honed and commited, that the ebb and flow of energy won’t knock you all off your game.
Get some well-deserved rest these next couple of days!