When the morning of the world premiere day finally arrives it comes as a relief, the show is what it is, the time for improvements is suspended, we just have to try and land whatever artistic summersault it is we have agreed to attempt. And of course when I say ‘we’ I mean the actors, the lighting and sound operators, everyone but me – which is why it is a relief, my role is over for a bit. I’m standing at the edge of the crash mat with a concerned look on my face.
I read with envy stories of directors who watch and listen to their audiences to learn about their show. This seems like the right thing to be doing, but it requires nerves of steel I do not possess. I try to avoid looking at the audience. I sit with them and absorb the sense of the room, but I live in horror of spotting someone yawning or sharing a grimace of aesthetic anguish with a neighbour.
Being a performer must be terrifying, but it’s not tremendous fun being the director, sitting in the auditorium with no control, unable to help; carrying the tension of knowing everything could go wrong (which doesn’t stop surprising things going wrong). The director has the anguish of spotting everything that has gone wrong and assuming it is equally obvious to everyone else.
A few things went wrong on 22nd April, the result of unexpected technical challenges late in rehearsals / too little technical time / a touch of over ambition / the power of psychic tension to transmit from human beings to electronics. In such circumstances audiences often say they didn’t notice, the retort is simple “you may not have recognised the thing as going wrong but if it hadn’t have gone wrong you would have thought it was a lot better”.
World Premieres are curious, they are undoubtedly special occasions but they are rarely great shows. They carry a degree of kudos and the dubious honour of hosting them tends to go to a commissioning partner, but the excitement is more about discovering whether the new piece is going to become a great show rather than seeing a great show. There is however often a nervous energy to this premiere that is rarely replicated.
I understand that for big productions there is an elaborate etiquette of previews before premieres and press nights Etc. For A Translation of Shadows there are five performances in the first month of a show’s life and this doesn’t lend itself to such luxuries as previews. Press Night is on the second night and if a national reviewer can only make the first night then… “what the hell, if we don’t get them in now then we never will”.
Ultimately we are happy with the state A Translation of Shadows is in after three performances, it’s looking good, audiences are enjoying it, there are no major problems and there is still more to get from it. We’re grateful to everyone who supported the show at Warwick Arts Centre, and to them for commissioning the show and taking on the mixed blessing of the premiere. Next up… Peninsular Arts in Plymouth before Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton.