Actor’s Diary: Coping With the Opening
By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T
From offstage, I watch as the Act Two banquet scene of “Macbeth” unfolds. Of all the unnatural things in this play, Fran Gercke’s Ghost of Banquo might be the most alarming, which is saying a lot coming from a witch. I clutch my cauldron to my chest as I watch.
It is our last run-through before we have an audience, and I am trying not to think about what comes next.
Actors have many personal traditions when it comes to opening a show. Some like to arrive at the theater early and walk through all of their movements on stage. Some like to write special notes to cast members and crew. Some keep to themselves, meditating on their character’s motivations so that they are fully present when the lights go up.
For me, I typically find that vomiting is the main constituent of my opening-night routine.
Welcome to what I like to call the “Freak Out Moment,” which is a very technical term for that moment of recognition in the rehearsal process when actors realize that they are actually about to perform a play. On stage. In front of people.
Of course, if you ask us, it is that moment when we suddenly become nervous about baring our open hearts and impassioned souls to the world to shed light on the nature of humanity.
This may seem odd. After all, it would make sense that an actor would be fully aware of the circumstances that he or she was getting into. Yet, there is always that one moment when it all seems to be just a little too much and — bam! — nonsensical arguments about where to exit or how impossible that costume quick-change is seem to manifest out of nowhere during the last moments of rehearsal. Simple things, under pressure, become intricately complex.
If memory serves, during grad school, I had a 15-minute argument with my director about how to properly cover my face onstage during the transition into a Shakespearean death scene:
“I am going to whisk the shroud over my head and then bring it down over my face.”
“I don’t think you should whisk the shroud.”
“I want to whisk it. It will look cleaner and more choreographed.”
“You’re dead. There is no expectation of choreography.”
It seemed very important at the time.
But now I see it for what it really was: my night-before-opening, I’m-gonna-die, Freak Out Moment. It was not about the shroud. It was about the misconception that if I could just get the details of the scene planned perfectly, then that whole vulnerable acting thing would just magically fall into place.
I often wonder what level of OCD I would qualify for if I input these symptoms into WebMD.
Sean Yael-Cox, who plays the title role in our production, confided in me that his Freak Out Moment typically happens about three weeks before each show. Like clockwork, at this time, he earnestly asks his wife, director Christy Yael-Cox, to consider recasting him. Christy smiles when she hears this, offering that her own Freak Out Moment typically happens a week before the show opens, specifically, the night before technical rehearsals begin.
Offstage, I take a deep breath and stare down at my cauldron. Fran exits, and I step into the vom, a term for an entrance to the stage, to prepare for my scene. The fact that “vom” is short for “vomitorium” is not lost on me. Rumor has it that ancient Romans used these passageways to purge their full bellies during great feasts so they could continue dining. Although sources have since dispelled this theory, it still feels quite appropriate to me as I watch the onstage banquet scene come to a close and feel my belly do a somersault.
I look up and see Savvy Scopelleti and Erin Petersen across from me in the wings, holding their own cauldrons. We make eye contact.
Just like the march of Great Birnam Wood, I think to myself, opening night will come, no matter how freaked out about it I am. But at least I’m not alone.
Erin cries out, Savvy nods to me and we enter the stage together.
The U-T San Diego has invited our blog writer, Tiffany Tang, to contribute her Macbeth “Actor’s Diary” installments in the Sunday Arts Section of the paper, starting January 26 and continuing through February 16. She will be documenting a behind-the-scenes perspective on Intrepid’s 13th production and Season Four finale. This blog was originally published in the U-T San Diego on February 2, 2014. Tickets for Macbeth can be purchased here.