Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Opening Night Fever

another missive from Miss Louisa D - "like butter" -

On Friday we opened Magic Flute. There's a special excitement in the air on opening nights. The audience members sip champagne and greet their friends in the lobby before the show starts, the women in gowns with freshly blown out hair and newly manicured nails, the men in tuxes and polished silver cufflinks. The ushers chime the scale that means the curtain will go up soon, and there's a surge toward the doors of the theatre. As the house lights dim, programs are closed,conversations become hushed, and cell phones are surreptitiously silenced. The laughter is more immediate on opening night, the applause more prolonged. The men who manage to yell "Brava!" at exactly the right moment in the silence between the last note of the soprano's aria and the beginning of the applause are always in attendance on opening night. It's magical to feel the energy in the house.

At least, I assume it's magical. I don't really know for sure, because I don't sit in the audience on opening nights of the shows I work on.There's a special place for the assistant director to sit during the show. It's right behind the audience in the orchestra section, and it's called the viewing booth, but I affectionately refer to it as "my cave." I'm usually running around until right before the curtain goes up, checking in with the chorus and all the principals, answering questions, and giving a few last-minute notes from the final dress rehearsal. One last sweep past the stage manager backstage, and I'm off to my cave.

The viewing booth is soundproof, which is great on the one hand (if something goes wrong, you can shout as loud as you want about it and no one in the audience is any the wiser), but somewhat frustrating on the other, because I don't hear the music like the audience does. Everything is piped in through a speaker into the booth, so it's more like listening to a recording. I don't experience the audience response in a real way, either, so I don't know whether a joke has gotten the right reaction unless people are roaring with laughter. I'm on headset, but the headset in the booth is so uncomfortable (besides the fact that it ruins my opening night hair) that I turn the volume all the way up so that I don't have to actually wear it (a practice no one backstage appreciates when I have to say something and I forget to turn the volume down again). On the bright side, I can eat Cheez-its in there.

During the show, I take a few notes on technical issues that haven't been completely worked out, singers who aren't standing in the right spot to be in their light, etc. I have what's known as a "crisis list," (although some people find that too alarmist and call it the"critical chorus list") which lists all the supers and chorus members who have a specific job to do, and who will do that job in the event of someone having to miss a performance. This happens pretty rarely at HGO, but it's good to be prepared just in case. On a good day, I don't have a lot to do in the course of a performance; I'm there as insurance for the days that aren't so good.

I watch through about the middle of the bows to make sure that everything is running smoothly, and then I gather up my belongings and go backstage. I see the end of the bows from the wings, and as soon as the curtain goes down everyone on stage erupts in hugs and applause and the stage is flooded with well-wishers like myself and other staff members. After a flurry of embraces, the singers escape to their dressing rooms to get ready for the opening night party, where they will be toasted and celebrated, along with everyone else who worked to produce such a fabulous opening night.

And in those moments, as I stand on that enormous stage, being hugged, thanked, and congratulated by some of the very best talent in the world of opera today, I certainly don't feel like I'm missing out on anything. So when the next opening night rolls around, you won't see me complaining. I'll be in my cave, happily watching the show and munching on Cheez-its.

No comments: