Waiting for rehearsal to begin today as preview week commences; dress rehearsal tonight with photos. Read a great piece on LA Lakers coach Phil Jackson today in the Washington Post—two actually–and, as back once upon a time in the 90s during his run with the Bulls–I found the Zen Master imparting life wisdom in the form of positive visualizing–meditation and calm reflection in the eye of a frenzy–I’m carrying that with me now as I sit in the theater an hour before we begin our work on act one. Visualizing the way things may go right–the way they should go ideally–is kind of standard operating procedure for directors and playwrights, no? Imagining the creative blueprint for a performance. In sports, it’s a little different. There’s no script. There are plays that are drawn up, but you really can’t account for the response of the opponent; how the other team will respond. And so the play is more subject to chance, to improvisation. A shot is taken, but no one knows if it will go in or not; where the rebound will carom. And so players respond in the moment; improvising within a set of guidelines, following their instinct. It may not be so different in the theater, after all. No one knows how a line will land, whether a joke gets laugh; how another actor will respond; where he’ll move; no matter how many times one rehearses, it’s always a little bit different, no?
I think I’m talking about a different kind of uncertainty in the theater. Not how a performance will unfold, but about the fate of a production for a company, about how a show will fare, what the audience will say, will a budget be met, will a cast still adore each other at the end of a run… There is so much to be nervous about–so much unknown, but then isn’t there always, in life, in school, in business, in sports–you don’t know what fate has in store. And here’s where the advice of the Zen Master, Dr. Phil, late of the Knicks and the Bulls and now of the Lakers, comes to the fore–and he simply says, imagine how you wish things to go, and think them through, step by step. What must you do to ensure that things go well? What’s your job? How do you respond when the curve ball comes? When the act runs long? How do you visualize the hastening of success? What’s the best mood for you to be in? What temper(ament) do you wish to exhibit? And so an actor, or an artist, prepares to meet the moment. We sit in the theater and we breathe. We center. We vocalize. We visualize. We imagine the hour ahead. The performance to come.
We don’t visualize reviews. We don’t visualize ads in the Post. We don’t visualize lines at the box office. We do think about eating supper on the steps of the 16th street entrance at sunset in the half hour before a show, greeting people as they walk up the steps to the box office. We think about the pleasure we’ve taken from this process and imagine it sustaining through the course of performances and the take-aways we hope to bestow; what we want for this audience to get, which is something very unusual, original, revealing; a contemporary experiencing of a world removed — Russian characters and a Russian landscape and a Russian author who suddenly feels more like us than we ever imagined.
And now it’s 4 minutes before we begin. Play practice! Followed by shoot-around and free-throws. And wind-sprints. Gotta be ready. For anything.