First Preview Feedback

No one on the Artistic team knew what to expect last night. It’s always difficult when you’ve been so close to a project to see it clearly. We’ve seen all the pieces taken apart and put back together again but what will the audience see. How will this show affect someone who has never heard of Kurt Gerstein? Someone who came into the theater knowing nothing about what they were to witness?

The Artistic team sat in the back of the house. We all had our notebooks and many had laptop computers poised to take notes. There is still work to be done and a couple of days to do it. And sitting between us and the stage was an audience. A number of us commented at the end of the show about how attentive the audience was. You can tell a great deal from how much an audience fidgets, when they shift in their seats and how they are sitting. This audience was still. Many people leaning forward trying to catch every word. This is a good sign.

Following the show Ari held a quick feedback session. He first asked the remaining members of the audience for their first reactions. Their reactions confirmed what we knew: this is not a comedy.

“I feel my guts been torn in two,” “heavy heart,””drained” were words that the audience felt reflected their current emotions. The conversation continued talking about the experience of feeling sympathy for an SS officer, feeling sympathy for someone complicit in the atrocities of the Holocaust. Someone mentioned that they appreciated seeing the story from the point of view of an SS officer with a conscience, it showed the limitations of what one can do. Someone else mentioned that they were thankful to Thomas Keneally for writing this play and Schindler. “It’s very powerful” she said. One audience member “liked the blame for everyone. Everyone becomes corrupt at some point.” “It’s very contemporary,” another member asserted, “It’s happening again.”

Ari shifted the conversation from people’s experiences of the play to specific constructive criticism. Since it’s previews it’s important to know what still needs work, what lands correctly and which pieces of the storytelling are not holding. Some of the comments we received which we will be addressing in rehearsals today and Saturday are:

the opening sequences being busy and unfocused
too much movement in them was confusing
the first act was filled with historical information, maybe a little more than necessary?
the second act was excellent and powerful
beautiful performances
hard to sit through the gas chamber sequences.
scene changes were clear and well done
a couple people commented that they didn’t understand the set, it seemed irrelevant
others said that the Fascist sparseness and power of the set was very effective.
everyone seemed to agree that the use of slides was just right

After the formal discussion ended many people stuck around speaking to Ari or myself. Or standing in the lobby digesting what they saw.  I foresee that this will be a show that people will want to talk about. (luckily we have a great line up of Artistic Director’s Roundtable Discussions)  I’m certain that standing in the lobby following a performance I will hear many stories. The past is still so close to us and the present is filled with many similar horror stories. This play is important. The message of this play is powerful. And luckily, the audience is responsive.

Were you at the preview last night? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment or emailing tellari@theaterj.org.

2 thoughts on “First Preview Feedback

  1. The play was awesome last night. Paul Morella must’ve reheasred for 6 months to get ready for his role. He didn’t make any noticeable mistakes. Seeing that play last night kind of reminds me of the time I took a date to see’The Deer Hunter’. No date for me last night!

  2. Just want to tell you of the witty and gracious response of Thomas Keneally when I told him last night that I had encountered the owner of the Beverly Hills Leather and Handbag Store in 1969 who told me he was waiting to be picked up by NBC for an interview to tell his story. Keneally smiled broadly and nodded, immediately recognizing where I was going with this. The store owner recalled that he and about 100 other surviviors calling themselves the Schindler Jews, had been saved from the gas chambers by non- Jew, Oskar Schindler, and they had raised money to bring Schindler to Houston for heart surgery. The store owner was Poldek, the young man prominent in the film during the Lodz ghetto scene and whom Mr. Keneally wrote about meeting in his store in the book’s preface and from whom he first heard the story in the ’70’s. “Then you could have written Schindler’s List,” he said graciously and a bit mischievously with a twinkle in his eye. “No one but you could have written it,” I responded.

    As a sidebar to the story, there was a beautiful middle-aged blond woman in the store too, who upon hearing the story asked, “Was it something like 600 or 6,000 who were killed?” I was appalled at the time that anyone could be so ignorant, and when she left, I expressed my shock. The owner asked, “Do you know who that was? She’s in from Palm Springs. That’s Frank Sinatra’s, new wife, Barbara.

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