I come to bury, not to praise, that ubiquitous prelude to nearly every opening night at almost every theater in South Florida: the pre-curtain speech. Oh, if only I could just wish away the pre-show thank yous, cheerleading, pitches for donations, photo ops and bestowing of plaques.
Sure, I understand the reasons that producers and artistic directors feel compelled to stand where the actors normally do and run through a "please" and "thank you" laundry list. Please give us money, because we're a not-for-profit group and we need it. Thank you for giving us money (or hotel rooms or food for our opening night party). Please unwrap your cellophone-wrapped candy (a futile request) in advance, turn off your cellphone (ditto), let your neighbor know if his/her hearing aid is competing with the performers. And so on.
The producers do this because they can. They recognize a captive audience when they see one. They could E-mail us with their fund-raising pitches, but we might delete those. They could call, but we might hang up. On opening night, what are we going to do -- walk out? GableStage's Joseph Adler (left) is a dedicated pre-show speech giver, welcoming one and all, pointing out local dignitaries in the audience (even the wretches of the press!), sometimes veering into a political aside or two, as a spotlight/bully pulpit is hard to resist. Mosaic Theatre's Richard Jay Simon, a fast talker, does a shorter/more efficient pre-curtain speech. But if he doesn't think the audience has responded enthusiastically enough to his greeting, he'll keep repeating his "hello!" until the crowd sends it right back at him at sufficient volume. Oh, the pressure.
However, the undisputed queen of the opening night speech is Barbara Stein (right), executive director of Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables. Stein is peerless when it comes to getting goods, services and money donated to her theater, and unequalled in giving her donors time in the spotlight's glow. However, this can make for some long opening nights. First, the crowd has to be lured into the theater from the lobby, with its live music and open bars. Then, rarely before 8:30 p.m. or so, Stein ascends to centerstage to thank each and every person/company who had anything to do with sponsorship of a show(cometimes, this feels like each and every person she has ever met). There are commemorative plaques, air kisses, photos snapped. And then she recognizes the politicians and such in the audience, and then brings up artistic director David Arisco, who delivers a rapid-fire summary of the show, plus the candy-unwrapping/cellphone-shutoff spiel (Arisco knows he has a restless cast waiting in the wings).
I guess this is just part of the extra "glamor" of opening night. But instead of paying a higher price for a first-night ticket, as some theatergoers do, maybe they should get a discount, for having to sit through a pre-show commercial.