Wednesday, February 20, 2013


The first Preview Performance of The Book Club Play was a success.  The laughs came, and came. The build was there. The audience got the premise of a documentary in the making, and laughed at the gorilla. Most of all, the audience connection with the six characters was palpable in the laughter, the shocked reactions, the in-held breath at a pivotal moment, and the standing ovation. I have seen so much of what goes into getting this play to this point, but after watching the show last night, the best explanation I have for its success is that it was magic. I have no better explanation than that. Magic.

I met up with the crew at a pizza party after the show. The actors felt the night was a success too, and were visibly relieved. Several of them mentioned their nervousness beforehand. It’s sweet to know that even professional actors have pre-performance jitters , like actors everywhere  from kids in high school  musicals to long-time community theatre bards. Performance is performance, and anxiety over doing it well is universal. Although a play is the product of so many people, it is the actors who are in the forefront, delivering the show to us. It is their faces we will remember, and their skill that’s talked about as the audience leaves the theatre. The party was a celebration but the actors were quick to remind me that this was “just the Preview.”

I did not completely understand the significance of Preview Performances. I had thought of Previews essentially as Dress Rehearsals with an audience paying for cheaper seats, but that is only partially true. Changes are actually made throughout this week. Depending on how the show is received and what the director sees, the cast will add, discard and finetune parts of the play during the afternoon rehearsals before each Preview performance.  In this play, they are still tweaking the opening scene. They are changing some of Alex’s action when he first arrives, to give greater depth to his character. These tweakings are especially significant because the playwright is in town this week and participating in the work. A rare treat for the actors and director. A rare treat for the playwright as well.

“As playwright, I am the architect and the director is the contractor. I provide the drawings and he picks the materials and labor. A different contractor would do my script differently.” Karen Zacarias spoke at Prologue before the show last night and offered up this insightful metaphor of the genre. I know of no other type of writer who would say, or would want to say this about their writing. In my experience, writers are possessive and somewhat insecure about their work. Some more so, some less, and editors far prefer dealing with the ones who can loosen their grip or take suggestion. In Karen’s view, the playwright, by the very nature of the genre, has to anticipate and open herself up to others participating in the creation of the work if it is to be fully realized.  The script is Karen’s words, but the play is more than Karen’s words. I know she is particular about what she has put on paper, working and reworking this script over the past 5 years with regional theatres across the country. She does have a clear vision of what the play is, but she also sees her script as a beginning, as an invitation to collaborate. The “construction team,” from director to designers to actors, are expected to add their talents to fully form the show and make it ready for the stage.

I have been fortunate to observe this theatrical collaborative, and I’m sure there are other plays with other directors, playwrights, designers, actors and at other theatres where there is more hierarchy, more conflict, more control, and more certainty throughout the rehearsal process.  And a good play is likely to be produced in the end, and the audience who sees it is likely to enjoy it. But this version of collaboration that I have been privy to watch, this play with this director, playwright, designers and actors at this theatre, has been remarkably embracing of creativity and risk-taking, respect and playfulness. The result is something greater than its parts, something magical.

The playwright’s ideas and words constructed the frame, and then with authentic and comedic sounds, sights, gestures, stares, pratfalls and hugs, a three-dimensional world is delivered to us. We are immersed in the virtual reality of Ana and Rob’s living room, and thrown headlong into the histories and futures of these six people. We quickly forget we are watching a production. We don’t notice things like lights or the sound effects or the costumes or the rehearsed lines. We forget we are watching, and we simply go on the ride. We laugh, and we care. At the end, we feel as gleeful as Jen.
Can I join Book Club?

No comments:

Post a Comment