Sunday, May 11, 2008

Panic at the Play

Friday was opening night of the New Works Festival of Plays at Mendocino College. I spent most of the day just trying to figure out what to wear (seems like the more nervous I am, the more outfits I try on). Should I dress as the serious writer, complete with black beret, casual writer in jeans and Keen shoes, or whimsical writer in flowy, blue skirt and scarf? Whimsical writer won, and at last it was time to go to the theatre. As my hand grabbed the door knob, I suddenly felt like I didn't want to go. Nope, I think I'll just stay home and hear about it from the director. Way safer! Coward, my Muse declared, and kicked me out the door.

At the theatre, I waited in the auditorium and watched it fill up with people. My brother and nephew were coming, but were unfortunately late. That gave me plenty of time to sit alone and fight the butterflies in my stomach while my palms got sweaty.

My Muse leaned over from the seat behind me and asked, "What are you so worried about?"

"I have no idea. But right now, I really want to leave."

She gripped my shoulder. "You're not going anywhere. Besides, no one came to see you, remember. You're just the play write. They came to see the actors perform the work. No one knows who you are."

"Right." I took a deep breath. Then the director of the festival took the stage and welcomed everyone while the staff closed the theatre doors. Oh just great, I thought. Now my brother can't get in!

The director talked about the festival and the selection of plays, then asked each director and play write to stand as he called our names. What! Ack! Now they'll know who I am. My Muse laughed.

"The writer of Choices, Terena Scott." I slowly stood, holding down my "whimsical" skirt so it wouldn't be lifted by the seat chair flipping up. Then I slowly sat, smoothed my skirt around me, and tried not to pass out.

The house lights dimmed just as my brother and nephew walked in, so they were stuck on the opposite side of the theatre and I was left alone in the dark with my sadistic Muse, surrounded by 100 spectators who I was convinced were all watching me twitch.

After the second play, I got up and dragged my brother and nephew to the seats I'd aggressively saved for them. Now that they were near, I felt a little better. No longer alone. But as soon as the fourth play began, my play, the butterflies in my stomach got so frantic I felt like throwing up. My heart pounded. I clenched my jaw, gripped the arms of the seat, and hyperventilated. I focused on the actors and willed myself not to pass out. I could see the headline in our local paper: Play write collapses at Festival of Plays. Doctor's say it was Stage-Fright.

My play was beautiful. The set was an exterior garden complete with greenery and tivoli lights. The opening music was Time After Time by Cindy Lauper. The actors were strong and their performance riveting. The audience laughed in unexpected spots. I tried to enjoy the moment, but I still had the feeling that they were actually watching me from the invisible eyeballs in the back of their heads. When my play ended, I wanted to cry.

Three more plays followed mine and at last the festival ended. My brother was impressed and even my 15 year old nephew "wasn't too bored." People congratulated my work. Friends gave me hugs and cheered for me.

My Muse asked, "How do you feel now?"

"I want to cry."

I went home and tried to figure out what had happened. I've acted in plays, stage-managed even more, and directed a few, but never have I suffered from such severe stage-fright, and I wasn't even on stage! The one thing all of my prior theatre experience have in common is the barrier of the stage. I was either on it, or behind it. I've never sat in the audience of any production I've been a part of. I could never hear the shuffling, sighing, squeaking of seats, and whispering sounds of an audience so close to me. The lack of the stage barrier was terrifying.

Understanding where my panic came from made the second night better. I was nervous, but not so panicked. Plus, this time my hubby came with me and I didn't spend any time by myself thinking about all those people staring at me. Yes, I know they aren't. As soon as I sat back down people forgot me and turned their attention to the stage. It's much like when I go to an author reading and once I'm introduced they forget I'm the publisher. I realize I like that anonymity.

I hope to write more plays and share them with audiences and actors. One of the directors of a play in the festival asked me if I write full length plays. Why yes, I'm currently revising a full length play now. Good, he said, and encouraged me to submit it to our local theatre company. The only thing I wonder about is how much worse will my vicarious stage fright be when the ENTIRE PRODUCTION is written by ME.

This is another torture my Muse will insist upon!


J.L. Powers said...

Congrats on having a play produced, Terena!

Moira said...

Wonderful!! did they tape it I would love to see it!!

RM Kahn said...

You gave the first breathe to your baby and a good solid foundation and the actors gave her wings to fly!
Congratulations and bravo for taking the big step and allowing your writing to be played with and enjoyed.


Thanks so much for sharing this with us Terena. I'm so surprised it was so nerve-wracking for you! Isn't that weird? Just goes to show that when it's a show that you's really your baby, huh?

I'm so glad it went well, and I'm so sorry to have missed it! Please let us know if there's a DVD version we can see!