At this point, there’s really only one question left for me to ask: where should I sit on opening night?
I know: shouldn’t I have figured this one out by now? I mean… EVERY playwright seems to have a ritual of some kind. Some prefer to sit in the back row and avoid all eye contact. Some would rather sit in the front row and greet people as they arrive. Still others like to sit in the best seats possible, thinking Hell, I ought to enjoy this. A few I know don’t watch at all: they can’t bear it. Others hover behind the last row listening for laughter so they can duck out into the lobby to cry if the laughter doesn’t come. There are plenty of options.
None of those choices, however, have ever felt right to me. The fact of the matter is: I’m nervous on opening night, but I’m not THAT nervous. I (think I) know, roughly, whether the play we’ve made is any good, so I don’t feel any need to hide. I’m also fairly sociable, so the back row isn’t really my style… but I do realize the experience isn’t only about me, either, so sitting in the front row and making the audience members who know me feel very aware of my presence doesn’t seem smart, either. And I really don’t want to hog the best seats: I want OTHER people to have that experience. So I’m typically left with no clear option.
What do I typically do? I ask my wife where she wants to sit, then sit next to her (of course). And that’s pretty much that. It’s not sexy, it’s not tortured, it’s not all that creative. It’s just what works for me.
What doesn’t ever work for me is actually watching the play. If I had my druthers, I would actually be watching the audience instead. (Perhaps my favorite seat would be on stage, invisible, facing the house.) Not in the expectation of any particular kind of reaction — just to see, in general, what’s happening for people. Are they laughing? At what? Are they bored? By what? Are they moved? Stilled? Quieted? Enraged? Detached? Asleep? It’s a mystery to me, genuinely, what stories do to people.
I sincerely hope that whatever this story does to people is good. (At the end of the day, that’s really what this play’s about, at least in part: how to do good, which isn’t as easy to do — or to define — as we might think.) This is actually rather important to me. I mean… I think we all see ourselves as the (super)heroes in the stories of our lives. To the extent that (like everyone else) I do that, too, I tend to think of my superpower is storytelling. So I *really* want my stories to be a positive force.
At the same time, I understand that sometimes, when a hero fights a villain, a building gets demolished along the way, or a few cars, or a city bus. There’s collateral damage you never expect. So I don’t presume to know exactly what’s going to happen when I introduce my story to the world. I just let it loose, really, and wish for the best.
I don’t do it alone, however. I’m actually part of a tremendous team of superheroes: the cast and crew and staff who’ve made the experience of working on this play genuinely magnificent. To them, tonight, on opening night, I’ll be making a toast that invokes part of the superhero code: Trust Your Teammates. (You’ll have to see the play to learn the whole thing.) They’ve been easy to trust, all of them, and that trust has yielded a great production. I thank you all!