Performance Weekend: The Clock Runs on Its Own
Zach Kaufer discusses what it's like for a director when the show opens.
My beautiful ensemble of Much Ado About Nothing. When they took over, it was magic. (Courtesy Zach Kaufer)
At 6pm on Thursday evening, I arrive at the theater. The actors are slowly straggling in from their long day of classes and rushing around. Most of them arrive early to have some time to center themselves before they begin getting ready. Furniture has to be reset, props need to be checked, there are too many things to do. There are numbers that need to be reviewed to incorporate a note from the previous rehearsal. How is it possible that we have only an hour to do all of this?
Tensions run high on opening night. There's an old theater trope that says, "a bad dress rehearsal means a fantastic opening night." This may mean disaster if your dress rehearsal is fantastic which ours was. All of the nervous energy from the cast, crew, and mostly from the production team is flowing through rehearsal as cast members run from room to room making sure that their costumes and accessories are all there and in working order. To an outsider, this seems like mad crazy chaos. Pure anarchy. Again, how is it possible that we have an hour to do all of this?
I have a unique perspective and distance from the action as a member of the production team. My job is, essentially, finished. I have set the wheels in motion and wound up the clock by dictating a set form and adhering to it in rehearsals so that the actors have been well trained in the art of filling the stage with their own business. I have done all I can do and it's time to let the clock run on its own. There's a certain kind of beauty in watching the people I've assembled going through the motions of pre-show prep because it becomes evident that each person working on the show has taken specific stock and ownership of their role in the machine and it's wonderful to watch the anarchy ensue with such grace and mechanism.
The audience begins to file into the theater and I hear whispers about the world we've created. "I've never seen that before!" "I wonder if they'll go up there." "This looks just like that other play."
It's at this point that the anxiety begins to set in and I find myself consumed with doubt. Why didn't we take the time to fix the color of that leaf? Why didn't we talk more about that gel color? Why is the entire show falling apart? Why is my life over?
Overdramatic? Yes, but this is exactly the way I feel when people are watching my work. I have yet to be able to be in the theater during one of my productions because I'm so intensely focused on the audience's reactions and the immediate feedback that they're giving (or not giving) to the actors.
I listen to the rest of the performance from the hallway outside the theater. I busy myself with organizing the box office area, helping with quick changes, or moving set pieces out of the way. Anything to distract myself from what's going on over on the other side of the curtain. I hear a laugh, a sigh, and then some applause. It's over and then I can breathe again.
It's at this point when I can truly appreciate the work we've done over the last however many weeks. Our tireless efforts in the rehearsal room all came together and our trust in the work we've put in allowed the clock to run on its own and the magic to flow. Theater is amazing.