Friday, October 20, 2006

LCT blog updated

At last. They've just set up a comments function as well.

First Night Jitters
Posted October 18, 2006

An actress friend of mine once told me that she threw up before every performance, a statement I took as exaggerated until I walked in on her once just before curtain. It turned out she wasn't kidding. I have no idea whether any cast members of The Coast of Utopia engage in a similar practice, and of course I wouldn't, even in a backstage blog, broadcast that fact even if I did know. I mention my friend simply to indicate that actors must find ways to deal with their nerves, and that, in my experience, the better the actor the more likely that nerves play a part in the performance.

Last night, at the first preview of Voyage, there was plenty of nervousness, and at a cast and crew supper at O'Neals restaurant after the curtain rang down, David Manis, who plays the senior serf Semyon, asked me if I'd noticed it. I have to confess that, except from an occasional hand tremor on the part of one to-be-kept-nameless actor during a party scene, I hadn't. This is a demonstration of what I said just a minute ago: good actors - and this company is loaded with them - find a way to use their adrenalin. Were I a director, I'd worry much less about the presence of nerves than about their absence. And, to be honest, it would be barking mad to think the first performance could have come off without a lot of nervousness in the house. Even in previews, where things will be constantly adjusted, one can't help secretly fretting about a thousand things: What if the latest tech cues don't come off? What if the musical underscoring for a certain scene is too muted? What if an actress trips on her skirt? And, the biggest unknown when you're emerging from the rehearsal room, what if the audience never ever laughs? Even in a play about Hegel, you don't want people to sit on their hands! (For some reason, I always think about Hegel whenever I hear the old joke that goes, "What's the shortest book ever written?" "The Anthology of German Humor.") Luckily, the play is about Russians, who, unlike Hegel, tend to have an acute sense of irony. Judging from the laughter in the house, the first-preview audience did, too.

I suspect that the play's Alexander Herzen, BrĂ­an F. O'Byrne, has the sanest solution for nerves, at least this week: instead of fearing he'll forget his lines, he's worrying whether the Mets will win. Even if they don't, I have to confess how relieved I am that he's rooting for the guys who play at Shea. Herzen spent his life battling tyranny. The idea that the actor playing him could root for an Evil Empire based in the Bronx simply wouldn't be…real.

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