First Public Performance

First Public Performance —

For the 1800 people sitting in the house last night a performance in the Delacorte begins with an announcement by Public Theatre Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. His remarks include thanks to our sponsors, a mention of the fact that our performances are free to the public and a very clear statement: “everyone is welcome here”. As his message comes to a close the overture music begins and the story begins.

For the company the proceedings get going an hour earlier when we gather on stage for vocal warmups lead by Julie Congress, our voice and speech consultant. Then we take a moment on the stage, moving, stretching. I like to do a dozen or so slow and very deep pushups. Then the stage is given to the players who will be acting out scenes of violence. This moment is called the “fight call”. Before every show every “fight” is rehearsed in order to insure that all participants are clear on what is to be done. This is very, very important. Staged swordfights, punches, kicks and slaps are exciting and lend to passionate telling of a story, but they are inherently dangerous and can lead to injury if not performed properly. After the fight call, the players retire to the dressing area and at 7:30 PM the production stage manager calls “half-hour”.  it is now 30 minutes to curtain. The entire company should be present and Assistant Stage Managers check the sign in sheet to be sure. During half hour we get into costume, and makeup, have our microphones fitted and taped into place. Some of us are donning wigs. At around 7:45 the PSM calls “house open” and soon we hear the hum and buzz  and bustle of nearly 2 thousand souls as they enter the theatre. At the 10 minute call we all start to focus, especially the beginners, the players in the first scene. By this time we are all prepped and ready to go to work.

When the five minute call comes I go to my first entrance, even though there will be a places call, in  a few minutes, I prefer to be early. It’s just the way I roll. From my first entrance under the seats in the Down Left Vomitorium I can hear and feel the audience. They are excited, chatting and talking, taking pictures, laughing. I close my eyes and take a few long deep breaths. The breathing is not to stave of stage fright or nerves or butterflies in the stomach. Those have not been issues for me for a long time. They serve to remind me to be present in the moment, and to keep my mind on the task at hand. “Places” is called and soon the other players who will be using this entrance arrive. We exchange embraces and offer the traditional “break a leg” wish. In the theatre it’s bad luck to wish another player good luck. Dancers never wish broken legs upon other dancers, not even in an ironic way. Instead they say “Toi, Toi, Toi”. French theatricals don’t use “break a leg” either. They just say “Merde!”

The overture starts and my eyes turn to the cue light. When the light comes on that means, “get ready” when it turns off that means “go!” The little green bulbs go dark and I stride onto the stage for our dumbshow. Most theaters seem smaller once they are filled. The Delacorte is quite the opposite. When I walk onto that enormous stage and see 1800 faces all looking in my direction the Delacorte seems like it has doubled in size. The twilight sky overhead is filled with scattered light, the music is lush, my cast-mates, beautifully costumed and floating this way and that. It is a glorious sight that most civilians will never see, and likely never want to because an audience is a terrifying thing more most people.

The first public performance of Othello last night was a huge success. The audience laughed and gasped and were rapt as the story unfolded. They broke into applause as one of the Delacorte raccoons made an appearance, attempting to upstage our Othello, the amazing Chukwudi Iwuji.

This was the night that we played with all our hearts. We offered the deepest part of ourselves to an audience of strangers and those strangers accepted our hearts, our souls, and our story with grace and gratitude. It was glorious.

First preview complete. The journey continues.

More to come