The View From Previews Week

I’m writing on Friday morning, hours before the final preview performance for Undermain’s production of An Iliad.  The relative scarcity of true previews, coupled with the rise of competing cognates, has led to some confusion among people I speak to about just what a theatrical preview is.  For that reason, I thought it might be helpful and/or interesting to provide a quick tour of where we are just at this moment.

Previews are not the finished product.  That’s the first thing to know. Even that statement demands qualification, because typically ninety percent of the things the audience perceives are pretty much in place before opening, and what is a finished product in theatre anyway? Still: as I work in the office, our TD and a handful of staff members are in the theatre adjusting seating for sightlines.  Our Assistant Director is reading the Stage Manager’s report from last night, which includes a laundry list of adjustments to be made before this evening’s show.  The play is an intermediate state between the near-total malleability of rehearsals and the largely fixed form most of our audiences will see during the run.
Later this afternoon, our stage managers, sound operator, lighting designer, and director will be conducting a technical walkthrough of the show with our two performers.  The goal is to perfect the complex orchestration of blocking, sound, and light cues.  The September 27th report indicates a particular emphasis on the beginning and ending of the play – points that would suffer disproportionately from vague or sloppy technical execution and therefore are shown greater care.
Previews allow us, after weeks cloistered in our own company, to see the show through an audience’s eyes.  New strengths and weaknesses may suddenly be exposed and either accentuated or eliminated by the time of the run.  For spectators, previews generally mean a chance to see a show earlier and more cheaply than they otherwise might.  Some enjoy getting access ahead of their friends or being able to compare the more raw presentation of Week Zero to the polished product in Week Three.  Others, as you may know, just like the chance to see things go wrong (as they did, notably and spectacularly, with Broadway’s Spider-Man).
Those schadenfreude-fueled spectators may be disappointed to learn that things are humming along smoothly for An Iliad. Among the other notes from last night’s preview, one can find these oddities: a small hole in one actor’s pants, a body microphone in need of re-teching, and a question regarding the utility of an additional standing fan in the house, for air circulation.   Important details for us here at Undermain, to be sure, but they hardly stack up to plummeting lights or actors. These points (and more) were raised during a meeting late last night following the performance.  All these concerns will be resolved by the time our next show begins, at 8:15.  And when that show is over…more notes.  More tiny fixes.  Minute adjustments.  Less than 24 hours until opening night.
-Stephen Foglia, Literary Manager