Opening Awaits

Tonight’s the last opening night of our roller-coaster season. We’ve retired the shortfall. (Shall I say that again? “We retired the shortfall!” In other words, we raised a heck of a lot of money from some amazingly supportive people who believe in our work.) We’re having an incredibly strong series of preview performances for PANGS OF THE MESSIAH with 75% of the audience staying after every night to talk about this electric play. So why can’t I stop worrying? I can answer that question:

Ticket sales. Cognitive dissonance. Not trusting what you know. I’m not the only one who’s nervous on an opening night. Once again, let me learn something from our actors. How do actors deal with butterflies?

They breathe. They focus on their characters’ needs; their tasks; their objectives as they ready themselves to pursue those objectives with intensity, resolve, just as they’ve rehearsed over and over. That’s the kind of discipline an artistic director needs too. One can look at box office reports and grow depressed that there’s such a small advance. Or one can cleave to the adage, “Build It and They Will Come, (if it’s good, that is).” If it’s urgent art that needs to be seen, word will travel. keep reading
There’s been no advance press on this show. Michael Toscano of The Washington Post had called at the end of May to do a story for the Post Weekend section and wanted an inside angle. We provided him with opportunities to meet the Israeli director, the Israeli design team. Michael never returned our calls. The story must have gotten killed.

Wait. I’m being overly glum (typical). Of course there’s been some advance press coverage! Washington Theatre Review has PANGS OF THE MESSIAH listed as its Top Pick for the summer! In fact, in an unprecedented move, WTR’s Top Ten List puts four of our “Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival” offerings in the top 6 slots (including PANGS OF THE MESSIAH, ARIEL SHARON HOVERS BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH AND DREAMS OF THEODOR HERZL, VIA DOLOROSA, and FROM TEL AVIV TO RAMALLAH: A BEATBOX JOURNEY) together with CATF’s 1001 and MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE. That’s a pretty nice designation
(and some controversial company). WTR editor Manny Strauss made a point of attending a number of our Tea @ 2 Friday readings this past season and heard first hand the tremendous potential of Motti Lerner’s and David Zellnik’s plays. So his advance scouting gave him a scoop on our festival and us a nice little platform of visibility.

But then the question: Why–with this nice advance plug and all the gorgeous festival brochures that have been mailed out and distributed fairly widely–why is the advance so puny? Is it really just “summer?” Or are audiences just scared of new serious work? Serious work that’s critical of Israel? Or more specifically, work that’s critical of Israel’s Settler Movement and its refusal to root out the militant strains within its community? Did we so exhaust our audience’s appetite for new work that they’re staying away en masse until Peter Marks tells them it’s safe to return?

Ah, how I spiral. Better to breathe. And focus. And build (as Rabbi Shmuel Berger says in the play). “Build day and night” (and good things will happen). Of course, it doesn’t turn out so great for Rabbi Berger in the play, in spite of his constructivist ideology. But I think it turns out quite well for our theater-appreciating audience member. Last night’s discussion was really quite sublime in places, and Motti Lerner would have been pleased to hear how many audience members spoke of the ending of his play being “devastatingly perfect; Chekhovian; a classic tragedy.” Indeed, on this opening night morning, one must be impressed by the lonely integrity of this play and its faith in a Theater of Purpose; a Theater of Serious Intention. Motti has built a very well-made family play and it sends us on a harrowing, entertaining, illuminating, heart-rending, and ultimately, I think, inspiring ride, as it pushes us to actively change our consciousness, our passitivty, our disengagement and distance from a place and an issue that’s too important to ignore.

Next time I blog, I’ll be starting to pack for my trip to Australia. I’ll soon be seeing kangaroos and Tom Keneally in his hunting vest and surfing on line to see how we fared in the press. Wishing us all a good opening. Break a leg!