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Opening night(mare)

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.

Joe_adler_onstage_2 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.

Barbara_stein_2 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.


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Here here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


a case of " he does so i will too" the opening night crowds are mostly comprised of sofla theatre elite that want their name mentioned opening night...thats why they go opening night...

CL Jahn

The reason producers do it isn't "because they can;" they do it solely because it really makes a huge difference in fund raising. Those boring curtain speeches can increase donations as much as 20%. That's a lot. I worked at a prominent theater that stopped doing them for a show - and saw donations and support drop alarmingly. It was quickly re-instituted.

That's not to say some producers (Barbara) don't beat the opportunity to a bloody pulp. You're right to complain. You came to see a show, not an awards ceremony.

A curtain speech should be short, sweet and concise. The producer (or whoever is delivering it) needs to know exactly what they are going to say. They need to impart the information in such a manner that no one feels that their time is being wasted. A good speech should not be longer than a minute (opening night will, of course, run a little longer). If you can't do it that quickly, then you shouldn't do one at all; you're doing more harm than good if you alienate the people you're trying to squeeze for support.

The alternative? We could introduce COMMERCIALS into the shows. We could hang banners across the proscenium. I'm sure you'd love to see some lurid day-glo banner promoting a mobile phone plan dangling over Desdemona.

But if you really want to get rid of a curtain speech? Pony up the dough. Make a donation to make up for revenue lost with the cancellation of the curtain speech. "Here's ten grand. Don't thank me. Don't thank ANYBODY!"

And the crowd goes wild...

Christine, aka Drama Queen

C.L., point well taken regarding fundraising. The producer has someone in a seat who has cared enough to buy a ticket, someone who likes theater, so why not ask for a little more? But since my job is to evaluate the show vs. the speeches, it can get a little...tiresome. And if one more person tells me to "sit back and relax," I'm going to lean forward and tense up. Just kidding. Sort of.

CL Jahn

Yeah, they do get tiresome. I won't argue about that. But the Miami-Dade Theatre Poker Game was discussing this last night; after comparing notes, we concluded that the actual marathon man for curtains speeches is actually Avi Hoffman, not Barbara Stein. Surprised me.

There are steps that could be taken to shorten the process: line all the sponsors up backstage and bring them out at once, for example, instead of seating them and bringing them up through the audience. That would knock off a couple of minutes per sponsor.

Pointing out celebrities in the audience always leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I remember stage managing Kim Hunter in a show, we were in the wings waiting to start when we heard the producer introduce the Famous Star who'd come to see the show. Kim exploded (a rare sight!) "How DARE he? The poor man came to see the show and now everyone is going to be harassing him at intermission!! The NERVE!!" She calmed down once I explained that the Famous Star had been asked ahead of time.

Maybe you should start reviewing the curtains speeches, too. "They covered a lot of sponsors, but the dead time as they clambered through the house deflated the dramatic tension!"

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