The act of opening something is inherently dramatic. Thumbing the perforations of an unexpected parcel, considering an unfamiliar silhouette behind the front door, raising a palm in the middle of the road – all of these openings will lead to something new, to consequences unknown. We too had our own opening this month, that of Good with People, at the Traverse during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
But openings in the world of theatre are a-changing. Whereas we could once talk of things being ‘alright on the night’, it would be most probably followed up with ‘but, do you mean press, previews, industry or first night’? In the messy world of British theatre ‘openings’, instead of just tearing open the letter and being done with it, instead we’re asked whether we want to steam it first and use a palette knife afterwards, before fetching our bifocals for a considered read – after a cup of coffee, of course.
And there are certainly fewer fireworks and ageing celebrities involved than at other events opening round a similar time to us . . .
The Traverse made things slightly easier on this front, if we’re to look at it this way. One preview, one press night, one opening night. One, two, three. With very little time between each one we did not have the luxury of a week of previews, and had officially ‘opened’ the show by Monday 6th August.
Our week leading up to the only Saturday preview was spent in Leith playing on the space itself. Housed in the spacious Traverse rehearsal rooms, no one who will refute that rehearsing on the set, rather than on a floor plan marked out with red LX tape, was vital for Good with People. Not only were the actors allowed to experiment, but stage management practiced the illusions to perfection, and all other creatives were allowed to consider their own decisions in context.
What is actually rehearsed during that final week has to be judged on the production itself. Again, it also depends on your ‘opening’. In the case of Good with People it was a process of open but informed collective decision making, remembering detail but pushing the piece into the realm of performance. As well as re-engaging with the precise words on the page, we worked on the physical commitment demanded by our set, as well as honing in on the more abstract notions that had been present in the rehearsal room from day one, and making them performable.
David himself came back into the room, not having visited since the first week of rehearsals. We would be fibbing if we were to say that the presence and opinion of the writer did not put us on edge slightly. A leap in a very different direction had been made since the first production, and this would be the first time David had seen it made plastic.
Luckily, his approval gave the cast and creatives a sense of confidence going into the weekend of openings. By Thursday we had a good idea of the overall shape and feel of the piece, having revisited each scene in detail and running the entire thing every day at four o’clock. This left us one more day of rehearsal, another short tech rehearsal and a preview before the press arrived on the Sunday.
And arrive they did, in their hoards. After a strong preview performance, both Blythe and Richard were reminded of the comedy throughout, as well as having adapted to being lit and underscored in Traverse 1, our home for August. With a few notes on pace and practicalities, we were all ready for the Sunday scribblers. Their verdict can be read here.
So now onto the month long run. The best way for you to judge is to come and see the show before it finishes in the next couple of weeks. Book too, as it is selling well. Although at the time it was felt that a longer opening period would have been preferable, it is useful to remember that this is Edinburgh and that circumstances will always be far more manic than is desirable.
Turns out there is no one way to open a letter, then. It depends on personal preference and the tools and influence you have.
Same with theatre, come to think of it.