Opening Night

My show opened last night! I really love this play, love my role, love my cast, loved working with the writer and director.  It was in my artistic home, where I am a member of the artistic ensemble and have direct input into the development of our plays and seasons. My role is just challenging enough to teach me without taxing me beyond what I can handle with a demanding day job. My husband is also in the play so we get to spend our non-working hours together despite a very busy schedule. Several cast and crew members handed out sweet, sentimental notes (reminder: please do this myself one day if only to avoid feeling like a thoughtless jerk), and afterwards we had a lovely little part and got a bit more sentimental. We’ve been rehearsing since the first week of December and had our first preview a week and a half ago. I’m exhausted but ready to embrace a few nights a week back to myself. There are a great many shows backed up on our DVR, and I am super-close to becoming Skyrim’s Master of the Thieves Guild. Also Survivor. Tomorrow. Yay. Priorities.

I want to talk about critical reviews. Not sure where it’s headed, but it’s on my mind. As both an artist invested in the production and an ensemble member invested in the success of the theatre I’m torn on where the press fits into my outlook. As an artist, I am disappointed when someone doesn’t connect with something I and my cohorts have put a lot of time, effort, and passion into, even though I get it. Sometimes you don’t connect, and that has to be okay. I don’t love everything I see and I am still able to appreciate the effort that went into the creation of those things. Its part of our journey as artists to be criticized and to take what we need to get better and leave the rest. I need to school myself in not reading every damn thing that gets published hours before we perform at Opening Night…but obviously, that one’s on me. Also on me? The fact that twenty people can say they loved it, and I’m still keen to give a lot more weight to the one person who doesn’t. The day I get past that nonsense is the day I call myself recovered. 

As a member of the producing theatre, however, I have grown to understand just how much particular reviews can hurt or help the success of a production. Half a star can be the difference between packed houses through an extension, and performing on Thursday for a couple dozen embarrassed folks who are too intimidated by the empty space in the room to laugh or otherwise express whatever they’re getting out of the show. Low attendance affects cast morale which might affects the performances…all on the back of one half a star. It’s a lot more difficult for me to adopt a let-go-or-be-dragged attitude when my company’s financial future is on the line. Suddenly I’m angry, indignant! Tearing apart other reviews of similar star ratings and trying to build the argument that even though it says two-and-a-half stars, it reads more like a three. Or vice versa. Getting super pissed off at the people who actually use these reviews to figure out what they’re doing on Friday night (when in calmer climes, I’m just as likely to propose that Those People don’t actually exist). It seems I cannot accept the simple truth I espouse to friends when they are similarly in crisis: There is no formula.

That being said I do understand there’s nothing I can do about it except retire, and don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind. It’s a HELL of a lot of work and emotion on top of a demanding day job, and I don’t personally think it’s wise to just keep doing it Because. I have to come at my theatre career by choosing to stay engaged every day. For the moment, the friendships I make and build in the theatre, as well as the opportunity to continue developing my craft and contribute to the development of others — when I put that up against the discomfort of one unfriendly (albeit potentially influential) review, the choice to stay in the game is clear. I have always maintained that I do this because I have to, because I can’t not do this, and while I allow for the possibility that I won’t always feel that way, today I do, and today I’m staying. 

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