I was going to use another lyric from the show for the title of this post but that fiddlin’ demon, Larry Dahlke (or is that Dahike?) beat me to it. In any regard, ‘Sho Nuff’ we’re ready to open Cotton Patch Gospel at Wayside Theatre tonight after two wonderful previews yesterday.
Two great houses yielded two great responses both of which we learned from heading into tonight’s opening. The first audience was much older and felt very safe. Consequently the show felt safe and didn’t quite have the edge of danger it needed in performance. The evening show was a younger crowd and they were ready to rock, (bluegrass?) The edge came back. Again both shows were very good shows, but it proves once again that until you add the final character (the audience) to any play, you don’t know what you have.
The cast continues to improve with each outing and we’ve still got some details to iron out in a final hour or so of rehearsal today. And then we open.
Expectations are high here. This show is much beloved and folks are coming to love it again. The theatre needs the show to perform well at the box office, and our community needs another touchstone, like our previous version of Southern Crossroads to help ease the tensions in our lives in these crazy days.
Ray Ficca is dominating the stage like a Colossus, which you have to when you portray Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas and half of the disciples, John the Baptist, about 20 other characters, and of course Jesus, you have to. His performance is an amazing tour-de-force of acting and story telling. Of course the piece is such an amazing piece of story telling that it demands that kind of actor. Ray and I have a pretty locked in and shared focus on what works and what doesn’t. It was a pleasure and delight to see him make adjustments, with no prodding from me, from the afternoon show into the evening show as he sharpens his attack.
My biggest barometers in previews on whether or not we have something good are two things. We have a group of volunteer ushers who always usher for the first preview. They are my first critics. They were having a blast yesterday afternoon. One lady said that her legs hurt from tapping her toes to Harry Chapin’s music so much. Good sign. The other barometer is after the show when I stand at the door, shake hands, and say thank you to those leaving the theatre. When folks look me in the eye with their comments I know we’re on to something. When they don’t I know we’re missing the boat. Lots of eye contact yesterday with heartfelt comments, so I believe we’ve hit the mark.
This show appears simple when produced, directed and performed well. But I have to tell you, it is a complex series of interwoven details that require an exacting and exhausting effort to prepare and intense concentration to perform. What’s amazing is that we’ve hit those marks with one less week of rehearsal than we usually do, due to financial constraints. This is two shows in a row that I have asked a group of very talented and gifted artists to take a journey with less time than we normally have. In both instances they have taken the ride and met the challenge.
I don’t want to do that anymore and not because of the stress, the tension, or the exhaustion. I want to take this incredible mix of actors and designers we have and really give them the room to create. We’ve made magic these last two shows (three actually) and when we can do our work with proper support we’ll be better for it. It is time for this company to really do some amazing things without feeling like there is a gun to their head. I’m not bragging here but one of those “meet eye to eye” comments from yesterday is one we hear after every performance. An audience member says she loves what we do, and is happy to travel all the way from Washington DC to see our shows because they are better than anything she sees in her town. In my heart I know she’s right. I wish I could infuse more hearts here locally with that.
On to opening night tonight.