8:00 pm, November 9th, 2012. Hurricane Sandy has just battered the US Eastern Seaboard. New Jersey and its neighboring states are still trying to recover from the massive destruction all around. Several thousand households still without power, and gasoline shortages all around causing long lines at the gas stations. Amongst all this pandemonium, lights go up on a small theatre stage in Edison New Jersey. A young man, dressed in US Army fatigue, rise up from a corner and says, “Hi! I’m Ron. Captain Ron Mitra. Talking to you from Bagdad Iraq.” The show starts, because the show must go on.
I arrived at the theater at around 6:00 pm. My cast and crew members were still stuck in rush hour traffic on their way to the theatre. And I felt like the entire world’s population of butterflies were fluttering inside my stomach. I started a pot of coffee and tried to calm down a bit. Why am I worried? The cast is well prepared. Last night’s tech rehearsals went quiet smoothly. Few glitches here and there should be fixed by now. Things should be fine, I tried to console myself. But what about the audience? Will they come? A theatre is incomplete without an audience. If they don’t come, all this effort is futile. I tried to build up some courage and asked our box office manager Chris. “Well, so far we have..” she stopped abruptly and started to count the reservation sheet once again.”We have around seventy five so far. But we need to leave six seats for video recording. So we may have to add the third row….”
“Great! That’s a good problem to have. I can live with it.” I was relieved. Dwaipayan, our light guy was already in his booth. I spent some time with him tweaking the lights. Dawn, our stage manager, was getting the props ready. I went over the props with her one more time just to make sure everything is in place. The actors started showing up in the dressing room. Since I was supposed to be their make up artist, I thought I should get busy now. I grabbed the first actor I met and asked him to sit in front of the mirror. Staying busy is the best way to reduce stress, I figured.
As the play progressed, I stood near the rear entrance nervously watching the actors on stage. In the dark theater I also watched the audience and tried to feel how they react to the moments on stage. Do they like it? Is the play working? Only when the lights faded out at the end of the first scene and the audience broke into a loud applause, I started to feel at ease. Well, the show must be going well, I thought.
At the end of the play, when the theater doors opened, I saw the faces of the audience members. They walked out almost in a trance. Some still had tears in their eyes. I guess they were still trying to recover from the cathartic experience they have been through. The producers of the show arranged for a wine and cheese reception for the opening night audience. And in that informal setting the audience started to open up their hearts in praise. Some told me that they’ll come back again with their sons and daughters. I couldn’t have asked for more. It was indeed an opening night I’ll remember for quite some time.
P.S. Few days later Bill Seeselberg, our producer, sends me this email he received from one of the opening night audience members.