Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What I’ve Learned: The Benefits of the Open Dress

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week, Rebecca Comtois.


I truly believe that tech-week in the Off-Off-Broadway world is a special kind of hell that we inflict on ourselves again and again and then move on only to do it all again.  Like an abusive boyfriend who we argue deep down really loves us, we return to the theater with our black eye and broken nose, telling the war stories as humorous anecdotes and saying to ourselves that “this time it’s going to be different.”  As a result some of the lessons learned get lost in the pandemonium that is mounting a show.  Having just last week opened The Little One, Nosedive Productions' 10th Annual flag ship production (shameless plug) I am going to take this opportunity to let you all in on what I have finally learned after years working in the Off-Off world.  Yes, this has taken me far too long to figure out, but I will argue that the open dress is essential for those of us working under such serious time constraints within the space.
We all know in the world of Broadway they have weeks of previews before the shows are what they consider “Open.” Meanwhile in the Off-Off world, we’re lucky if we get 4 days in the space before opening.  And that’s with exclusive rentals. Often you get only a handful of hours here and there to re-block the play for the space, focus lights, bring all of the technical elements together and cue the show. All the while praying that a legitimate run without holds can be made before the opening night. Sure it can run smoothly sometimes- but there are those times where that terrifying race against the clock begins to look like one you’re gonna lose.  
I’ll tell you the story of one such time.The night of our final dress was in fact just part 2 of the longest cue to cue in the history of man.  The result being that there was no full run before opening.  The terror backstage was palpable as we prepared for our first audience, but there was a glimmer of hope.  We all believed we knew what we had to do, and that we could get through this. Yes, one of the vignettes had been cut from the show that morning, and yes we re-blocked one of the pieces immediately before the run, but these were things we felt we could overcome.  As the opening music swelled, and the lights came up – the adrenalin took over and off we went- head first into the biggest shit storm of a performance I have ever been a party to. 

Right out of the gates the pyrotechnics weren’t working. I am standing center stage, holding a “baby” (read: flash pot in swaddling clothes) talking about the flames and vamping while absolutely nothing happened.  Not the best- but not the end of the world either.  The second piece comes up. A clean slate and things seem to be back on track when, from backstage we hear a loud crash.  We come to find that the headlights to our car set piece fell off and shattered onstage during the scene.  We then go through the rest of the show and, quite literally, break every single piece of glass in the entire show.  Meanwhile- our poor beleaguered ASM is up in the booth without having had a chance to redo his call sheet since the piece was cut and so 90 percent of the cues are off- and during some scenes- the lights were just off.  As the final scene comes around another actress and I have 15 seconds backstage during a quick change to re-block our final fight.  Since at this point the stage is COVERED in broken glass both of us think dragging her across the floor isn’t the wisest course of action. By the end of it all the audience looked confused and the cast looked... well the cast looked like shell shocked refugees surveying the wreckage of what was once their home. They all had that sort of shattered-soul glassy-eyed stare about them.  
We didn’t quite go this route last week for the opening of The Little One.  Not only did we have a legitimate run of the show on Tuesday, but we were able to have an open dress as well.  I can’t sing the praises of the open dress highly enough.  It’s great to have a small friendly audience, who knows that you aren’t fully open, that their may be holds, and who will bear with you.  It forces everyone to get it together before the honest to god opening night, and gives you something to push for.  It also has a great way of forcing you to be honest with yourself about your limitations as an Off-Off-Broadway producer.  And for the actors I would say that it may seem a bit terrifying at the time, but no more so than having that first real run of the show be one with press.  


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