Opening Weekend: Dr. Theater & The Critics
‘Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus.
Our bodies are our gardens to which our wills are gardeners.”
~William Shakespeare, Othello
It’s midnight on the eve of opening night. After our final preview performance I head to FedEx/Kinkos to print out my opening night cards, hit up Target for some last minute groceries for my fiance who is flying in the next day for the show, and head home to collapse in bed and binge watch True Blood. Instead I am up for the next 12 hours dealing with food poisoning or a 24 hour flu, to this day I don’t really know what happened. The result was opening a 4 show weekend with no solid food in my system for 48 hours.
At 2 a.m. I called my cast mate who lives in the apartment above me and he went into full Momma Bear action. He set me up with soda water, made me a bed on the floor, brought me fresh sliced ginger and checked on me every couple of hours. My stage manager and the company manager were on alert in case I wanted to see a doctor and I assured them that I was going to go on for opening night, no way was I missing this! Just before the show my dear friend, Malika Williams sent me this text: “Doctor Theatre will save you 🙂 BREAK A LEG! HAPPY OPENING!!!”
I was reminded of the many times I had performed while “under the weather,” and other cast members shared some of their horror stories of performing while sick. The stage manager shared a time when one of her actresses vomited several times on stage during a show! One time during voice class in my first year of grad school I was amazed at how good I felt after our vocal warm-up because I’d had a severe head cold all day and couldn’t think straight. When I mentioned this to the professor she reminded me that vibration eases tension. All of the vocal exercises had relieved the tension in my head and made me feel better, not permanently but enough for me to notice and take a breath.
Malika was right, I was able to get through the entire show, 4 times this weekend, with out passing out or throwing up. In fact while on stage I completely forgot I was ill. The world of our play took me to another place, filled me with strength and healed me momentarily and the words of our story gave me a chance to vibrate out the tension in my body. I was exhausted for our opening night party, and bummed I couldn’t partake in sipping some burbon to toast our opening, but I was thrilled to have survived my opening nightmare with a little help from Dr. Theater.
Well, I’m not a critic, I’m just a worker. So, I’m always grateful for anything the critics say – good or bad.
I love reading reviews, the good, the bad & the ugly. Trusting the words in the reviews can be dangerous, but for me I am always excited to read what people experienced while watching a play. My least favorite reviews are the ones that just sum up the story, giving everything away and not really focusing on the production. My favorite reviews are those that cause the writer to delve into a deeper topic that the play brings up. This production of Oedipus El Rey is a daring one, there is high risk for both the audience and the actors within the 90 minute world of our story. There is blood, violence, cigarette smoke & full frontal nudity, and the stage is tiny and intimate. I love doing this kind of theater, the in-your-face, someone might get hurt, messy, sweaty and bloody type of theater. It’s thrilling and sharing it with an audience peppered with theatre critics is frightening and exhilarating.
While cruising around the internet, looking for quotes about theatre critics to use in this blog post, I came across some articles. In Kristin Brownstone’s piece, Critical Discourse- The Role of the Theatre Critic, she talks with Bay Area critics to find out how they view their role as theatre critics. Robert Hurwitt shares “I subscribe strongly to the idea that all criticism should be constructive. You’re not in the business of tearing people down. ” Karen D’Souza believes that the critic is the one who let’s us know what’s happening and expresses “Can you imagine what would have happened to the debut of Angels in America at the Eureka if no critics had gone to see it? It makes you wonder how many wonderful shows are out there that are getting missed.” Brownstone really asks some great questions in this piece: How do our local theatre critics view their role, and how do those roles differ based on size of the news organization or coverage area? So when a show really stinks, is it better to say so publicly and steer audiences away or opt to not run the review? How seriously should actors and directors take critique of their work?
Leonard Jacobs shares a list in 50 Thoughts on Theatrical Criticism- Revisited (1-25). My favorite thought is “Critics teach. Critics also learn.” It reminded me of an Oscar Wilde quote I had found just moments before: “The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.” I love ideas that circle around continuous learning. That’s how I feel when I read reviews, I am learning about how one person was able to view our story, their lens is one that I am able to borrow for a moment to look at my work from another point of view. When I encounter a “negative” review it can fester and nag, but often times I try to use it as a challenge, maybe I wasn’t digging deep enough, maybe I could go further with a particular character’s journey. That’s the gift of live theater, especially with a 8 show a week run, we get to learn and grow within our story and work towards the most honest and truthful performance we can give. When I encounter a “positive” review I pat myself on the back, because I know how hard I have worked and I enjoy knowing that someone took pleasure in my performance. (I also get to use quotes about my work on my personal website for marketing purposes!) Truth be told, I am my own worst/best critic. I can walk off the stage feeling horrible about a performace even though the audience was on it’s feet applauding at the curtain call, or I may have a huge smile while taking off my make-up because I found a new way to deliver a line that opened up an insight into to my character but the audience was dead quiet and unresponsive. Regardless, I am sharing a story and participating in an act that traces back to my ancestors, and I do it with pride and an eagerness to find out how it affected others.
Below are links to the reviews of the show that have come in so far:
* Spoiler Alert, for those of you who may be coming to the show and want to experience the piece fully you might not want to read about it 🙂
And here are some great articles and interviews about the production:
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