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“Watch your Face”: Opening Night for a Playwright

Lisa pulls me aside and gently says with a twinkle in her eye, “You have to watch your face”. I have stuffed myself into a new dress from the Bay (I’m keep the tags on) to attend the opening of my first operetta, Off Leash. This is intermission and I am checking in on the children’s choir I organized, backstage, gently guiding my daughter into Lisa’s arms to get ready for performance. Photo on 2015-11-03 at 12.30 PM #3

“What is my face doing?” I ask.

Lisa then contorts her lovely mug into a comic series of pained expressions with the odd moment of delight. She says, “This is you, watching your own show.” It doesn’t help that I have been sitting beside my composer, both of us in the front row. He is adorably ram rod stiff in a handsome suit, all his hair standing on end. You’d never know it from the completely blank expression, but he’s giddy. God, I love this guy, Benton, and his wife Kathleen, who is up there conducting. They are so gifted and calm and collaborative. I want to work with them for the rest of my life.12191514_10154678669573521_3183366554948792259_n

I have been too busy trying to make ends meet, hustling for work, to sit in on rehearsals much. Plus, I have been nervy and didn’t want to bring my fidgety energy into the room. I knew the show was in great hands. But I’ve missed Benton. One always imagines they’ll be able to sit and ponder and whisper into each other’s ear, noting observations and perfecting transitions and nuances, having the luxury of time to question.

I know enough to know we are pleased with what we’ve all accomplished with the creative team, given the time line and resources. But it is a nerve wracking thing, having the audience there for the first time. And today I had already done a video promo spot, been on the CBC supper hour and the morning edition with Rick Cluff and spent six hours workshopping my next play at the Arts Club.

On my way back into the theatre for act two (the stronger act) I try to relax my face. Anita finds me and gives me a beaming squeeze and whispers, “It’s SO FUNNY!”, and Donna Lea’s exuberant whisper, “They are LOVING it” and Fellow beams, “Honey, I’m so proud of you. This is smart writing.” Scott Swan envelopes me in his generous swan-like embrace, he loves music. He just loves it, in that big-hearted joyful way that encourages people far and wide to not quit. I am surprised by our other child who gives me that million dollar grin and says, “It’s really good. Really funny.” 12187941_10154678668003521_91179787826717363_n

It’s quickly followed by a couple of colleagues who figure they should be the ones on stage. They offer backhanded compliments, the kind that can only be perfected by years of envy. One of the actor’s relatives clearly struggles to know what to say to me, I try to talk about other things to assure her she needn’t say anything at all. She finally offers a puckered, “It’s…cute.” t see a tall man by concession. I hope he buys something with caffeine. He yawned through the entire first act. I sit back in my seat and am so relieved to see that nobody left at intermission.

This is definitely the weirdest thing I’ve ever written – weird in a good way – one always hopes. Oh, I was so relieved to hear them laugh their heads off and gasp at the moments where, yeah, we really went there. And to hear sniffles and see people wipe their eyes after one of Karen’s moving arias as Carol, a woman trying to rehabilitate an abandoned Pit-bull. But there were the odd lulls where the audience got a bit restless and that’s likely where my face went awry. There were a few jokes that didn’t land and some moments I overplayed my hand. Already thinking of post show rewrites. The performers were giving it their all. Each one of them has a moment to shine. And the direction is always superb with Sarah Rodgers who matched our absurdity with her own.

Act two and I am again distracted by a reviewer sitting opposite me, in the front row with his clipboard and pen, pawing his girlfriend ceaselessly, whispering into her ear while staring down her shirt or rubbing her arm as though he was rubbing in lotion, or smoothing his palm down her modest thigh. Then he’d yawn. Then he’d loll his head back as if to say, “Will this ever end so I can take her home and get my rocks off?” Then they’d both laugh, despite themselves, as though someone had given them a little electrical shock in their bums. He’d write something down on his clipboard that I hoped was kind or at least coherent, considering he wasn’t really paying attention. Honestly. I wanted to throw a bucket of cold water on the horny little humper. But sitting in the same row as them were Meg and Grant. They were leaning forward in their seats, eyes gleaming with kid-like delight, saving my nerves tonight.

Fellow was sitting right behind me with our other child, and I could hear them both chuckle, as they are both chucklers. We had taken Paul and Jane and Emmett, new friends to me, Fellow’s friends. And they genuinely had a great time. They had paid full price for their tickets so you can imagine this gave me great relief. Further away in the seats around me were my besties. Once in a while I’d recognize a laugh. “Ah, there’s Darcy!” 12194511_10154678669613521_3369659410479771794_o

Nora was the first of the little doggie choir to come out during the denouement. She beamed, dancer-like poised, with her little whiskers and ears, singing in a high sweet voice, followed by other children, just as adorable, including Lisa’s boy who also wore white gloves as paws. As the children circled around the actors singing with innocence, excitement, and joy, the audience gasped and cooed.

After the bows I was surprised to receive a big bouquet of flowers from the theatre company presented to me as librettist. I knew they had to pull their Georgia Straight ad when they unexpectedly had to repaint the theatre floor…to think they still allowed for the flower budget touched me.

I went home and had the first good sleep in weeks.

The next day I came back to help with the children’s choir. It was Halloween so they dashed in, last minute, some of them still in costume carrying their trick-or-treat bags. It never ceases to amaze me how much these kids love performing. A few days beforehand, all the children came to tech run and Sarah was so pleased she didn’t need them to stay and do it again for her. When I told them, at nine o’ clock, “We don’t need to do another run-through, Sarah was pleased, you can go home now” none of them budged. Not even five year old Beatrix with her spotty tights and little chubby cheeks. They all stood up tall and very very still, staring at me wide eyed, “Oh, please let me stay!” And I teared up. In all the hurried bustle and the nerves, I had forgotten what a privilege and joy it is to share story. Right. This is super neat. Right! We are going to make people laugh and cry and think! Right! Who cares if it’s perfect or gets great reviews, honestly. We get to put on ears and make new friends and sing!IMG_3167

One boy in the choir is gifted. And so often as it is with extremely gifted kids he has social behavioural problems. He gets really fixated on things, blurts out the “right” answer passionately. Tonight, Halloween, Damon is dressed as Robin Hood. He’s our volunteer and he leads the kids in a warm up. One of the tween girls makes fun of his tights. He soldiers on. Another asks him if he has a girlfriend. He soldiers on. Dear man. Time to sing the song for practice and he doesn’t have a pitch pipe so makes a guess and the children have a faltering start.

The boy who is gifted has perfect pitch. He calls out with fixed flabberghast, “No! That’s not it! You’re all WAY OFF!” The tween girls shift with their long legs, rolling their eyes at him. But then, stretching out his little neck like a gosling, he sings out the perfect note and the perfect first line in a clear beautiful boy soprano voice. He’s right. And it’s wonderful. Damon grabs the moment, the others all immediately join in. And I think, isn’t this what the play is all about? Living in community with our various bits and bobs and boo boos. Together, accomplishing unexpectedly wonderful things.

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