Monday, January 26, 2009

Opening Night

Originally posted on Thursday, September 06, 2007.

Okay, so Family Acts is officially on sale. But August 28th, which I'd been sort of thinking of as the opening night, has come and gone. And that started me thinking about the difference between a theatrical opening night and a publication date.
Here's what the day goes like when your book hits the shelves. Your editor will call you to congratulate you and thank you again for all your hard work—at least, mine does, but then I am incredibly lucky. Your publicist will call to congratulate you and reiterate how much she loved the book and tell you that she's booked all of your flights for your book tour out of your local airport so you won't have the hassle of getting to JFK. She doesn't want you to be stressed. After that, the launch is pretty much over. In the next few weeks you'll hear from your near and dear ones who will tell you how much liked your book—after all, only a total jerk would make a special call to tell you they didn't like it –and that's about it.
Contrast this with being an actor facing an opening night – at least if the actor is me. You jolt awake at four in the morning convinced that you're going to die. You don't know why you feel that way—you're still three quarters asleep—you just know you're doomed. After a few minutes you remember that, God help you, you're opening in a show tonight. At eight o'clock this evening, you and your life's work will undergo two hours of the kind of judgment most people associate with the end of the world. Then you will sit in a restaurant somewhere at the opening night party – an exercise in torture if there ever was one-- and you will try not to throw up while you and the rest of your equally terrified colleagues wait for the make-or-break reviews which will determine if you will be employed and able to pay for your apartment, or if you're going to be bunking in with relatives while you beg your old boss to take you back at that gig in food services.
But it's not just about the money and the job—if you're an actor you're used to being broke and desperate -- this is about the animal fear that can be best described as Tonight I Am Going to Stink In Front Of People Who Are So Successful They Rate An Opening Night Ticket. This is when your basic actor paranoia sets in. Now you are convinced that the play in which you are appearing-- the one you thought was so witty and charming -- is actually the theatrical equivalent of toxic waste. It also hits you that the director into whose hands you have so foolishly put your trust and your career, is actually a sadist who has sabotaged you by encouraging you to give a performance so rotten it will make Kelsey Grammar's turn as MacBeth look like something produced by the Old Vic. At this point you're probably awake enough to brush your teeth but you can't because they are chattering too hard. Your day will go downhill from here.
At some point during the afternoon the paranoia will vanish and be replaced by guilt and self-loathing. It's not the fault of your director or the playwright, you realize, it is you and your lack of anything resembling talent that has gotten you into this mess. You start making plans to revamp your life's goals. Maybe you'll work with the deserving poor. Or nurse the terminally ill. If God will just please let you get through this night, you will become a better person, you promise.
By the time you're sitting in your dressing room in front of your makeup mirror you have dumped all bargains with God. You stare blankly at the tiny stuffed animals and snow globes theater people insist on giving each other as opening night presents and you swear if you survive this night you are going to hunt down your last therapist and sue for malpractice. Meanwhile, you try frantically to remember your opening line. Or the title of the play. Or your name. That's the day of an opening night.
I'm not saying this writing career of mine is a walk in the park. It's a lot of hard work and there can be disappointments and rejections and all the usual stuff –good and bad-- that happens to everyone. But you don't have to go through an opening night!

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