Playwright in Tech
D +4 Day
Towards the end of tech week there was just no time and no computer access for me to continue journalizing it, so with your indulgence I thought I’d just jot out a capsulation of the last 5 days.
D -1 Day
Dress rehearsal kicked a good deal of ass. If we can have a show even close to this good on the acting side of things tomorrow night, we might-- might-- have a hit. (Knock on wood, spit and turn around three times and any other superstitious bullshit you can think of.) This is possibly the most consistently talented and able cast I’ve ever worked with. I’ve had some good ones in the past, but there was always someone who wasn’t quite on board, either openly or subconsciously deflating the effort. But these guys, they’re pros, taking difficult notes late in the game and making them reality. They’re attacking the challenge of opening a brand new show with an earnestness that’s almost heartbreaking. I’ve long ago given up caring as much about theatre as they do. Maybe they know something I don’t.
Busy, busy day. I stay one last night at the The director’s apartment, almost out of some masochistic superstition. But it’s good, ‘cuz we get a chance to have breakfast. I give him some small last minute notes based on last night’s dress rehearsal, and then we mostly chat about how it’s always this hard and chaotic doing theatre, but that up till now, he’s been shielded from it, having only acted in earlier productions, as opposed to directing and producing this one. Towards the end of the meal, he gets a panicked call from his co-producer telling him that she misread the theatre’s schedule, and it won’t be available to us until noon and then we lose it again from 4 to 6. This is insanity. The set designer is gonna go ballistic. It’s absolutely unheard of not having the theatre all day before opening to make the inevitable last minute touch ups. I have to shrug this set-back off. It’s not my business as a playwright, and besides, I have to drive across town, check into a motel, then drive down to the airport to pick up my wife, nine-month old boy and my sister-in-law. At this point, I’m officially done with tech, and heading into Opening Night mode. Playwright’s privilege: begging off the bothersome bullshit.
I manage to get a shower at the motel before having to head back out to the airport. My good travel karma for this trip holds, and I get to LAX in time to see my wife, boy and sister-in-law walking up to the baggage carousel just as I do. My boy giggles when he sees me, and then continues to giggle for a full five minutes. My heart is soupy Jell-O. Why did I ever leave him for so long? For theatre? Jesus Christ, am I insane? My wife got a new haircut and looks even sexier than usual. The worst is over, and I could honestly give a fuck if the play works or doesn’t tonight.
LA traffic is murder back to the hotel, but we’ve got a little bit of time to relax before heading back out to the theatre. I put on a suit and tie, something I always do for opening. Just my way of saying to the actors that what they’re doing is special, a once-in-a-lifetime thing: no one will every say these words for the first time again.
On to the show. It’s sold out tonight, which is a good thing obviously, though not too terribly impressive, given that the house is only just shy of seventy seats. We have seven press members confirmed though, which is more than I get for the entire run of most of my world premieres. My producer claims that someone from NPR is here, but if it’s true, it doesn’t mean much to me. I have trouble believing they’d wind up doing a story on something so small as this.
We start late. Openings always start late. This time it’s partly because the set designer is still working on the set, ten minutes before the house opens. When I say hello to him and ask if there’s anything I can do, he simply snaps: “No time.” I’ve seen him like this before, though maybe not quite so bad. It’s best just to walk away.
The show goes well, though it lacks some of last night’s shimmer. I’m not surpised. It’s kind of par for the course, a full house for the first time almost always tends to throw actors slightly out of their game. They’re constantly being surprised by reactions and laughs in strange places. The audience themselves, however, has no idea of the lacking shimmer, and they seem to be genuinely enjoying it. You really can’t ask for more.
My wife and I stay after and party with the cast, crew and other assorted guests till two in the morning. We’re all more relieved than ecstatic that it came off so well.
D +1 Day
Call it what you want: the sophomore blues, the second night curse: tonight’s show is technical disaster after technical disaster. First, one of the actors gets the bright idea to turn on the air-conditioner in the theatre prior to the show (breaking the hard fast theatre rule that actors should touch nothing in a theatre, except for their own props, and even then, only when they need them). This seemingly innocuous act turns ugly for the simple fact that he neglects to tell anyone on the crew or house staff, and thus the beastly machine runs through the entire first act muffling most of the dialogue to just barely audible. The very top light cue was utterly blown: first an ungainly pause in utter darkness, then a general wash comes up instead of the specific progression of tight spots that’s supposed to follow each actor through a series of monologues. Then the board op painfully cycles through cue after cue to catch up with the actors, who, as good professionals, can’t just stand and wait for the booth to get their shit together. Granted, these are the kind of things that someone who doesn’t know the show barely understands or even notices, but it’s often enough to utterly throw a cast out of the game. They hold it together competently, but not only is there no shimmer, there’s often no connection to the heart of the play at all.
I’m hoping intermission and the subsequent second act brings some respite from the carnage, but this hope turns out to be baseless. A sound cue meant to run only during intermission (a recording of talk radio call-in’s just after 9/11) is allowed to run during the first ten minutes of the act. Everyone in the audience can hear it, but not the booth. Finally, in a quiet dramatic scene, they figure it out and cut it off abruptly. Tragedy turns to comedy when one of the actors moves a desk off stage in a blackout. There’s a loud bang as he crashes it into the back wall of the theatre, then we distinctly hear him mutter: “Shit!” The entire audience, including myself, laughs, with the exception of my friend, the director, who goes stiff with horror. He’s not used to watching the war from the commander’s perch. He’ll get over it somehow.
Afterwards, I find out that both The Los Angeles Times and the LA Weekly were in the house tonight: the two most important papers when it comes to attracting an audience for a show. One hopes they’ll forgive us the glitches. Critics often do; but you’d also have to be a fool to bank on their good graces. They are as capricious and idiotic as Olympian deities. The only good thing about them you can say is, in L.A., they have very little power to hurt or help a show. Only The New York Times can coronate a new playwright worthy of the big regional theatres’ attention, and they haven’t seen fit to do so for me yet, nor do I have hopes they ever will.
D +3 Day
Back to being a full time stay-at-home dad. Frankly, I’d rather wipe my son’s butt than kiss anyone else’s.
I got a voice mail from the director that the cast and crew had their absolutely best show on Sunday. He sounds relieved and surprised, but I’m neither. It’s pretty much how it always works once a play settles into the run. He’s disappointed that I wasn’t there to see it, but I’m not. Though I’m not really sure who I write these things for, I know for damned sure it ain’t me. I’m just happy a few folks maybe didn’t utterly waste a sunny Sunday afternoon by coming to see my play.
A so that’s it. This playwright in tech, is done for now, and for the forseeable future.