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Overcoming the "Friday Night Let-Down"

Timothy Thompson opines on achieving consistency in rehearsal and performances.

The cast of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ production of August: Osage County
(© David Palmer)
The word is out, the reviews are in, and the buzz is good. You have just finished bowing before your audience, and you're on top of the world! Yes, those moments after a show opening can be the most exhilarating, the most rewarding, the most ecstatic moments an actor can experience, and I challenge anyone to find a high that is even comparable to the sensations felt after the applause of a curtain call.

Perhaps it's always been so emotional for me because I realize in those moments that everyone's hard work has led up to this—the sweet and savory pay-off after many weeks of rehearsal, sacrifice, sleep-deprivation (bloodshed?). Congratulations galore! Pats on the back! Maybe even a brief get-together with the cast to bask in your much-deserved glory follows this. Then, there's a night to sleep off your victory. Before you know it, you're off to the theatre to do it again the next night. The memories of last night still swim in your head, and you even try to use it. You've got this, you tell yourself. Then…something unexpected happens: a cue is dropped, the audience doesn't seem to laugh as much or in completely different places, you're suddenly more aware of who's sitting in the house.

When I was in high school plays, this was called, "The Friday Night Let-Down." It's that awful scenario when the second performance doesn't have the triumphant feeling the first performance had. Now I know that it is, quite simply, the failed attempt to recreate a successful performance. Still, there is no worse feeling than the "Friday Night Let-Down."

Since continuing actor training in college, I've tried hard to achieve consistency in rehearsal and performances—working with the goal to deepen discoveries I've made in rehearsals and to strengthen the choices that work for the character. Consistency has been one of the greatest challenges for me. Now that I'm about to enter the profession, I realize that it is a necessity for an actor to remain consistent in performance and rehearsal: "Friday Night Let-Down" is a nonexistent term in the business. Actors in hit shows on Broadway are demanded to produce the same results eight times a week. Actors in films must hit the same marks take after take. The cold, hard penalty of a "Friday Night Let-Down" in the professional world results in replacement, unemployment, embarrassment.

After a much-needed dark day, we, the ensemble of UNCSA's production of August: Osage County, embark on our second and last week of performances. That first weekend will forever live in my memory as a truly wonderful experience. Working with this cast, performing these words with my class every night to a very receptive audience have been so incredible. I'm even convinced that this is the best acting work I've ever done. So much personal time and commitment have been invested by my fellow actors, the designers and technicians. Despite all of these wonderful things, I find myself worrying every once in a while how I will keep up the momentum of the first week. So far, every performance seems to be getting stronger, but I can't shake off my "Friday Night Let-Down" fear.

My director, Matt Bulluck, echoes my troubles. I have heard him say after a particularly great rehearsal or run that, "Success is the thing that keeps me up at night. I fear it even more than failure." There is an ironic truth to this statement! At least after a failure, I can say to myself, "Okay, I will never do that again." Failures, though unpleasant, tend to keep me on my guard. A success, however, can lull me into a state of complacency, and it makes me less alert or focused than I'd like to be. Before every run, the whole cast convenes outside the theater on the loading docks with Matt. He emphasizes the need for commitment and concentration, saying, "Yesterday is done, and we must do this again." We will never have yesterday again.

There will never be an identical performance experience. The thrill of acting is not knowing what will happen next. If I'm trying hard to duplicate yesterday, my concentration is on myself and not on my fellow acting partners, the scene, the play (where it needs to be!). Approaching this second week with the idea that the work never finishes is helping me overcome my worry. There's always room to grow, develop, delve deeper, and it's exciting to wonder how much this show will evolve in its second week, what new discoveries await.


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