The director’s nightmare

Image: worradmu /
Image: worradmu /
Image: worradmu /

I came upon this photo while boogie boarding on the interweb. It’s a simple, nondescript photo of empty theater seats, as viewed from what is clearly the stage area. Keep that in mind for later.

The playwright Christopher Durang has a fantastically funny and  surrealistic play called “The Actor’s Nightmare” (if you aren’t familiar with it, please check it out) in which a man stumbles on a stage and is forced to perform scenes from various classic plays without knowing his lines. It plays upon the actor’s greatest fear – forgetting, or not knowing, his lines while toe to toe with an audience. On stage, 30 seconds of silence feels like the equivalent of standing naked in Times Square for an hour.

I always have a similar nightmare before opening night (about the stage, not the naked Times Square thing). It doesn’t matter the size of the audience, the venue, the material, or the “formality” of the show, I can always count on this dream to haunt my slumber the night before we face an audience.

Here it is: I’m backstage, it’s opening night, and I haven’t looked out into the house. I get my actors ready. I get my crew ready. I get myself ready. Then, just before the curtain goes up, I peek my head out to look into the crowd and – nothing. Not a soul. Or, in some other incarnations of the dream, 1 or 2 souls. I always say that an audience is an audience; if they want to see the show, you have an obligation to give them the best show you can do. But there’s a good chance these two people are my ushers, who have seen the show, and are there to work. So that is not my audience. And I probably need to keep a better eye on my ushers.

So this is the director’s nightmare – the empty house on opening night.

I think the lesson here is promote, promote, promote! A little shameless promotion doesn’t hurt. Use social media to your advantage. Post a snippet of your show on You Tube. Post exclusive photos on Twitter. Interact with the community on Facebook.  After all, if you don’t want to tell people about your work, what message does that send?