Nice Try, Wanton!

Lots going on over here at the ol’ blog this past weekend, beginning with the opening of Merry Mount on Friday night. Boy, was that rough. An absent prop, a malfunctioning costume piece, a last-minute understudy, and some poor pre-show preparation on my part all conspired to throw opening night off. Things had gone swimmingly at our final rehearsal the night before, so I wasn’t worried about anything. Ah, such brash confidence – how presumptuous of me! I forgot to take into consideration that I’d missed our tech rehearsal (on Wednesday afternoon, while I was at work) and would need to adjust to all the design elements on the fly. Yeesh. Basically, opening night was my tech rehearsal, and I felt like it showed.

To begin with, there was a prop I’d rehearsed with all throughout that I suddenly learned I wouldn’t be getting. A little thing, but it made a big difference. By doing something new in the first scene, my focus was diverted from the matter at hand (my performance) and siphoned into making sure this novel activity looked convincing. A surefire recipe for disaster, as I almost immediately blanked about three lines in and never fully recovered. I felt so sure that the audience had detected my near-miss that, for the rest of the show, I overcompensated by rushing my lines and the overall pace, and watched myself to make sure I didn’t blank again. Which, of course, only led to a couple of more almost-fluffs. Nice.

Then, there was one of my costume pieces – a top coat with a tear in the lining of one of the sleeves so huge that if you didn’t finesse it properly your arm would go straight into the lining instead of the sleeve. This, of course, happened to me onstage, despite having rehearsed with the coat numerous times before curtain that night in anticipation of such an event, and took me right out of the scene. Trying to draw as little attention to the fact that my upstage hand (the one facing away from the audience) was jutting comfortably out of one sleeve while my downstage hand (the one right in everyone’s face) was lost somewhere in the lining of my coat. Kill me now. I couldn’t get offstage fast enough.

Also, one of the lead actors (the one I play opposite the most) was absent Friday night, so our fearless director, Mr. Ian W. Hill, stepped in for one night only and did an admirable job. Despite that, he and I only had the luxury of rehearsing together as scene partners the night before, and it threw me. Like I said, Ian did a great job, but he played the part somewhat differently from my regular co-star, and I did not adjust well to the new stimuli.

So, I was not feeling too good after this performance. But, as we all know, actors are not always the best judges of their own work. Ian, Trav, and my fellow castmates were quite complimentary afterwards, as was my old friend Cathy McNelis (whom I spied in the front row at curtain call), and that was nice. It’s always great to hear good feedback, especially in circumstances like these, where it appears as if I came off looking good regardless of how I felt about it. A lesson every actor should learn.

Needless to say, I didn’t make any of those mistakes the following night. I showed up focused and ready to go, having run the script aloud once or twice on my way to the theater (that’s right, folks: more of the infamous running-my-lines-in-public). I kept all non-show related interactions to a minimum (as in: no small talk about anything), and concentrated on working those opening beats in my head and coming out of the gate strong. I refined my new activity (sans prop) in the first scene, and safety pinned the lining of my coat sleeve so my arm wouldn’t do another disappearing act.

And it all worked. I was much sharper all-around on the second night, and felt much better about my performance. Good thing, too, because there were even more people there to see me: two friends and colleagues – fellow Hawthornucopian Chris Harcum and soon-to-be-published Plays and Playwrights 2008 scribe Carolyn Raship – as well as The Companion herself, who, for all intents and purposes, was seeing me perform for the very first time. Thankfully, she was impressed, so I went home on cloud nine.

Last night’s performance (our third) also went well. I felt like we were finally out of the woods, and could relax and have some fun. I tried a couple of new things, none of which threw me off (thank God!), but none of which were a significant improvement over what I already had. Best to stick to what I’ve got and to just refine it. We’ve got one more show left, on Sunday afternoon, and I want to make sure it’s a good one.

The last several days have been a valuable reminder to never get too comfortable with what I’ve got, performance-wise, until I’ve done it in front of the crowd a couple of times. What plays well in the rehearsal room may turn into something completely different in front of a paying audience. I should never take my level of preparation for granted because it can all easily fall apart (or at least feel like it’s doing so) in a matter of moments. (Can you tell yet how much opening night spooked me?)

By the way: the title of this post is one of my lines from the show – an appropriate heading, I thought, considering the circumstances.

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