Opening Night


He draws a line along the edge, from the inner corner to the outer edge of his upper eyelid. He does the same on the lower lid beginning in the center, extending to the outer corner and intersecting with the upper lid line. Then with a Q-tip he removes most of it leaving only a fine definition line. He has done this with the application of all his makeup, base, shadow and highlight, first blending then wiping away most of it leaving a "make-upless" look, just enough to absorb the light.

He dresses, pants, undershirt and shirt. He slides his suspenders over his shoulders then slips a purple cord, suspending a gold cross, over his head, the cross resting against his chest at his heart. Each move is isolated and methodical. He sits on a step and slips his sockless feet into a worn pair of brown shoes. One of the laces broke ten days earlier and, although it will likely not be visible to the audience, he chose simply to knot it back together; Shannon, the character, has no money for new laces.

He is not alone in the small dressing room at the Ghent Playhouse. It is at various times occupied by eight or nine actors, all dressing and preparing for opening night. Opening night is the white lane lines and starting blocks for a sprinter, it's a gallery opening for a sculptor or painter, it's the deadline for a writer, or for an opera singer, the night Pavarotti is in the audience. It is a tense, pressured, high stakes night, critics and friends out there all competing for his focus, but the play's the thing and that's where the focus must remain. Opening night is the culmination of many weeks of difficult work. A quick glance at the script reveals the enormity of this role; out of seventy-five pages there are only five where he is off stage or silent.

"The rehearsal process is my favorite part of it all," his voice is low, quiet, relaxed. "Rehearsal is discovery, exploration, experimentation, it's the time of risk taking. An actor must never be afraid of making mistakes, in fact it's imperative he make them, otherwise he never grows or goes anywhere. The theatre is no place for playing it safe, that's what makes theatre an exciting, alive experience, it's real."

"Where does the character come from?" I ask.

"It's in the script, in the words if it's a good writer, we're lucky, Tennessee Williams was arguably America's best playwright; he's kinda' like our Shakespeare."

"Really?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"So, what is the character?"

"It's an onion."

"An onion?"

"Yeah, you know, you cut an onion in half and you see all these layers. A character is like that. You peel back each layer until you get to the tiny center core, then you begin adding a layer at a time until you have a full complete character, not made up or tacked on, but a real, living breathing human being, that's what grows out of an intense rehearsal process."

"How important is the cast?"

"Crucial," he smiles as he checks and sets his props back stage, each move a lesson in deliberate ease. "We are very fortunate with this production of 'The Night of The Iguana' to have a great cast. Someone said, 'there are no small roles, only small actors'. Every actor has an important job and contribution to make to the play as a whole. It takes commitment, determination and vulnerability from each actor. When actors connect on stage the life of the play truly begins to appear, then the director can shape that life into the life of the play." He stretches and begins doing some sort of T'ai Chi moves, part of his warm up preparation I gather. "We've been blessed to have a cast willing to connect completely with their fellow actors. When that happens you stop thinking about words on a page and instead soar in a magical dance."

"What will you do when the play closes?"

"Go back to writing stories and books."

"Five minutes," the stage manager announces to the cast members backstage. He turns away from me now and begins to pace, steady at first then wildly. His fingers move in an odd fan-like exercise, his face contorts and strange gibberish sounds fall from his mouth, occasionally he punches the air. I decide it's time to slip away and leave him to his final private moments before the two and a half hour stage romp.

"Mr. Region, it was nice to chat with you, nice to get to know a little something about you, about what you do. Break a leg."

He turns abruptly to face me but he's someone else now, his eyes are dark, moody, a half grin, half sneer twists his lips, "Yeah, fantastic, nice to meet you too Mr. Region, see ya around."

We'll talk next time, From The Road.

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