Note: This was written by myself the last day of dress rehearsal for my previous show Alice in Wonderland. These were my thoughts before opening night.
I guess it may be a funny thing to begin at the end. If you know anything about theatre, you know that dress rehearsal week is usually right before the performances. But really dress rehearsal week is where the fun begins.
Dress rehearsals might as well be called stress rehearsals.
So far this week I can say I’ve only cried once and wanted to pull out my hair a few times, but then again, my stress tolerance has gotten higher since becoming a children’s theatre director.
Dress rehearsals are the most stressful week in the life of a show. Not only does the show need to be up finished and running steadily, you have to add costumes, makeup, lights, and sound cues to the mix. Then there is the added element that I’m working with children, (who are always learning) which means that many of the students still need coaching, guidance, and a lot of line feeding. (Let it be said I’m not complaining, because its just part of the trade with my job.)
Okay so for this particular show, let me add on to the pile that at Spotlight, this week we were also building the stage to our new theater. The last minute the codes department of the city told us that every inch of the stage needed to be double coated with flame retardant paint. We also had about ten 600 pound pews that were donated to us and broken during the trip to the theater that had to be cleared out. Curtains had to be made and hung after that. The students have only had one night to perform with their set pieces. A majority of this work has gotten done in the last two days, with midnight painting parties and a lot of caffeine.
When I say I have only cried once this week, now you can see why this is a feat.
These feelings of pressure, panic, and exhaustion have always made me wonder, ‘Why the heck do I do this to myself?’ At this point it is easy to imagine how my life would be if I didn’t. After a day of student teaching I could go home, put on some tea, turn on Netflix and crochet in my rocking chair like a normal person. Instead I’m making costumes until 11:00 at night or splattering paint all over myself versus having dinner. I’m waking up at three o’clock in the morning, from a nightmare that my whole cast didn’t show up to the performance. I feel sick to the stomach, I drink copious amounts of coffee, and if I have to say, “Sing louder!” one more time then I think I will just have that break down.
Usually by the end of the last dress rehearsal I have no idea what opening night is going to be like, and this time I am worrying about the codes department coming in and shutting the whole thing down. Lights were hung DURING the last part of the last dress rehearsal so I guess tomorrow the lighting cues will be improvised. ‘Will it ever come together?’ I often wonder. Then something happens.
It does come together. Opening nights arrives and the kids are all on point. They’re early, they’re organized, and they do the things I have been lecturing them all week to do. They smile, they remember the moves, they sing loud, and the audience leaves crooning. All of the frustration the kids and I have felt, all of the stress, evaporates. It’s magic. The success just blocks out the beating my nerves have taken for the week. Maybe after opening night my body just can’t handle any more negativity. Maybe I am just relieved that there is actually a show.
In reality, though, what makes the whole experience worth it is the looks on the kids’ faces when they come backstage after the final bows. Their look of excitement and, ‘Oh my gosh I just accomplished the impossible’ is worth every tear. They are adored by their friends and family in the audience, they go out to get ice-cream afterwards, and then they go home and fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow. Earlier in the week, they might have thought they would never do another play again. After opening night, they usually can’t wait for the next auditions.
I love my students always, but one of the best parts is being with them backstage during the performance. Then my job is over and the weight of the performance rests on their shoulders. It is then I will put makeup up on them, help with costume changes, and carry on the set pieces. It is then I get to see their minds work, as they figure out how to fix the mistakes (because there will always be mistakes), how to be preparing behind the curtains, and how they whisper to each other what just happened on the stage. It is then I can see the love and passion of the performance in their eyes. That was once me, standing backstage with my own theatre teacher.
That is why dress rehearsals are worth it. That is why next week I’m going to have another set of auditions for another show and do this all over again. My job can be stressful, but then what job isn’t? I’m just lucky I can say that I have the best job ever.