How a Theatre Works

October 27, 2011
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It’s the worst feeling in the world, and yet for some reason, those elite few willingly put themselves through the anguish. Your stomach is in knots, you feel like you can barely breathe, and yet somehow a smile is still plastered on your face as you deliver the monologue that you’ve been working on since you first heard about the audition.

If you’re an actor, then you understand. Your emotions are intensified to the millionth degree when you see actor after actor go on stage and deliver the same piece, and you can only hope that you’ve done better than they did. It seems like only a few seconds pass and then suddenly you’re being pushed out the door along with other hopefuls. You all part and wish each other good luck, but all along you wonder if you mean it.

Then comes the waiting. It takes anywhere from a few days to a few months for you to get the news of who’s in and who’s out—and more importantly, who got the starring role. One actress describes it this way: “It’s nerve racking, and every other thought is consumed around [the news]. Until that moment you find out . . . everything revolves around the audition.”

Eventually, you get a call from the director. He asks you if you’ll accept the role he offers you. You get the main role—of course you say yes! You get the ensemble role—you say yes anyway. It’s always worth it, whichever way it turns out.

Rehearsals start immediately. It’s the first day, and everyone is shy and timid, except for that one kid over there, who’s just a little too loud. People are standing in clumps; only talking to the people they know from previous performances. The director suggests that you all play an improv game to warm up—a type of theatre where you act out scenes without preparation or a script. Suddenly, the room lights up and you’ve made a friend. In an instant, the entire atmosphere has changed, and inside jokes are abundant. And every time you come back for the next two months or so, you know that you’re going to have someone to talk to: No more awkward moments in this theatre.

Weeks go by and everyday you feel yourself improve. The director feels as if you’re almost ready for that big performance—and that cues “Tech Week,” where it all begins to get real. This is the week that is commonly referred to as “Torture Week” and “Hell Week,” among other things. The set, lights, sound, costumes, and make-up are added, and the play comes to life. At last, you no longer hear actors shouting “Line!” or, at least, you hope not.

Finally, it’s here. Opening night. You’ve told all your friends, alerted your teachers, seen yourself on the local news, and updated your Facebook status. The time has come, and you’re here to deliver.

Maybe you’re nervous. Maybe you’re not. The situation has been different for me with every performance I’ve ever done. With the wide variety of emotions causing a tropical storm in your stomach, the cast comes together backstage. The ritual is different for every theatre: perhaps you pray, or you chant a word over and over again, getting louder each time. Maybe you do a final improve game, just to boost the spirits of the anxious cast members.

The stage manager calls for places, and your legs feel like jelly as you grab your first prop off the table and walk to your first entrance. For the first time since that fateful day of the first rehearsal, it’s entirely silent. The executive producer of the theatre introduces the play, subsequently followed the lights going down and the immediate hush of the crowd. It’s all slow motion, like swimming through overcooked pudding, as the first line is said and you prepare yourself for your cue.

Then you’re there. It’s as if you belong there, as if you always have and always will. Despite the frequent times you have been told not to, you take a quick peek at the crowd. It’s a full house. You stifle a smile and stay in character.

Suddenly, it’s the curtain call. The play is over. It’s as if it passed by quicker than a blink, and you remember none of it. But it must have been good, because you come back up from your bow and people are on their feet, clapping until their hands hurt, and the joy is evident in their faces. You did it, and got a standing ovation in the process!

The lights go dark, and you hurry off stage, with your post-show jitters getting the best of you. You show your friends your shakes and they laugh, and you lie in response about being nervous. You change out of costume, taking extra care to hang it up carefully, and then run out to the parking lot to meet your adoring fans. Sometimes you get flowers, or hugs, or kisses, or just a kind word. It doesn’t matter—the feeling inside is always the same.

The excitement and nerves wash away, but the joy never does. It doesn’t matter if this was a one time performance, or if you’ll be doing it for weeks to come. You’ve learned so much and you’ve made the best friends imaginable. Those are the best moments of your life.

Until the next audition rolls around, that is.





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