I’m on a train on my way into the city. I’m leaving behind my daughter who is five months old and has a respiratory virus. My wife will be alone tonight to take care of her. What is about to happen will never happen again, so I leave them behind because I have little choice. It’s snowing and things outside are moving slower than usual. Curtain is at 7:30; I’ll probably get there by 7:15. The lobby will be packed. Many will be there to see my work but many more are there to see HAMILTON, the hit musical that will soon transfer to Broadway. In fact, the Clintons will be there to see the musical.
It’s closing night of my play, PING PONG, at the Public. This is a necessary part of the process in developing and writing a play. It’s not the best part of the process but it’s certainly one of the more unique parts of the journey. Theater is unlike film in that the work gets done every night. Every night the actors have to start from scratch. Every night it’s different. Friday night audiences are usually a little more tired and less vocal than say the Saturday night crowd. The mix of audience, time, location and actors make for a unique experience…one that can’t be repeated the next night. If you weren’t there that particular night you will never be able to catch it the next time around. There is no next time. This is even more true of closing night. There really is no next time. You hear that laugh that just happened? It will never happen again…not in this form.
I peek into the house. It’s half empty. On paper we’re sold out but with five minutes to curtain half the seats are empty. The snow is working against us. The play has a great deal of comedy in it but with only half the seats taken we’re in for a long night. Then the strangest thing happens. They start showing up. I’m always early at the theater, so I assume others are like me. But this crowd is young and they don’t want to waste time waiting. They’re there on time but not a minute earlier. There is the pre curtain speech reminding the audience that this is a work in progress and what they will see tonight is more a suggestion than a finished production. And with that the lights go down and it begins.
There is little I have control over once the lights go down. Little? There is nothing I have control over once the lights go down, so the first thing I do at intermission is check the running time with the stage manager. Are they too slow? Too fast? This cast is incredibly consistent. They’re never more than a minute slower or faster than the night before. In fact, sometimes it’s just seconds. Tonight is no different. I ask my stage manager for the time: 53.23. A week earlier the running time for act one had been 53.01. It’s closing night but they’re not holding on to moments…they’re not slowing down to try and stop the inevitable. They’re doing the work.
AFTER THE SHOW
When it’s closing night usually at least half the audience knows it, so when the lights come up on the curtain call they tend to be even more generous with their applause. They’re not applauding one show as much as they’re applauding the end of something. This audience is no exception. But I do notice that during this particular curtain call the actors leave the stage a little quicker than usual. Do they have a place to get to that I haven’t been told about? Are they glad it’s over? Or is it something else? Is it the fact that it’s over and they don’t want to wait for the applause to start to slow down. They want to leave the audience wanting more. They want it to end on their own terms.
Backstage there is a Champagne toast but all that’s on my mind is what’s always on my mind, If I had another week of rehearsals I would have….Wether you rehearse a play two weeks or a year, there are those of us who always wish for one more week to “get it right.” But this is not the only thing on my mind. In order for a play to work there needs to be a great deal of trust between all involved. This trust soon evolves into friendships. It’s over but people are leaving with new friends…new promises to get together and have coffee.
AFTER AFTER THE SHOW
I walk out of the theater. It’s no longer powder outside. It’s a mess really with puddles everywhere. It’s not a pretty picture. I walk a little up 4th Avenue. It actually feels warm. Just a few hours ago it had been freezing. Or maybe it’s the same temperature but I’m not thinking about it as much as I’m thinking about what’s just ended. My feeling is that New York reflects what it is you feel inside. When you’re in a hurry and feel anxious, New York becomes that. When you feel reflective and alone, well that’s what New York becomes. There is not a single soul outside.