For a director, opening nights are exciting, rewarding, invigorating… and absolutely terrifying. Will the audience laugh or clap when they are supposed to? Will everything that went wrong during the dress rehearsal yesterday really be ‘alright on the night’? A director has poured their heart, soul, and time (that they really should have been spending asleep), into a production that, once the show opens, is suddenly completely out of their control.
So how do you cope? When the audience starts to filter into the auditorium, the lights dim and you are hurled into watching your own production, surely all you can think about is a multitude of things that could go wrong, and wonder whether anybody is actually enjoying themselves? Well, here are my top five suggestions for how you, as a director, can cope with opening night. This includes some things that I have myself found really useful, and some ideas that I have heard from other directors.
Think carefully about who, if anyone, you want to sit with
For me, having my family and friends sat next to me on opening night would be awful. I want to be able to zone into the show and not have to think about socialising. As much as anything else, I am just not going to be concentrating on the people I’m sat with.
Personally, I think it’s best to sit with people who have been involved in creating either the production you’ve directed, or previous shows. That way, all you either are (or have been) in the same boat; you can chat about the current show, previous shows – there is lots of empathy, and very little pressure. Perfect! Just ask your friends to come on a different night.
Simply don’t watch the show
This would not work for me at all, but I do know somebody who often directs shows within our local theatre group, and really hates watching the end result. So, she often avoids opening nights altogether, by simply not attending them.
Alcohol is not the answer
That said… it seems to be that every director has a drink of choice (usually something quite strong) to have before the opening night of one of their shows. Personally, before the first night of my own very small production earlier this year, I wanted to be ready for any eventuality, so having a drink would definitely not have helped.
Don’t sit too near the stage
This is one for the cast as much as anything else. Even in some really nice theatres, the front couple of rows of seats in an auditorium are often completely visible to the cast on stage. Usually, this isn’t a massive issue but, if an actor suddenly catches the eye of their stressed-out director, it could completely throw them. It’s usually best to just sit quietly at the back, without telling anybody in the cast where you’ll be.
Embrace the inevitable roller-coaster of emotions
Yes, opening nights are terrifying. But they can also leave you on the best high. Even if not everything goes perfectly, it is likely that you’ll be seeing your production at what is (so far) its absolute best. So, whilst you do definitely want to have your apprehensions under control, you also don’t want to be immune to the highly-strung but ultimately the elating experience of watching your show open. As much as is possible, try to enjoy it!
Have you found any other strategies for coping with opening night? Get in touch as let us know!
Harriet has been immersed in the theatre life from a multitude of angles: from writing, to working backstage, to performing, to directing. She spends most of her spare time in the West End or regional theatres and fills the rest with talking about the wonderful world of theatre through regular blogs.