I guess everybody has anxiety dreams. There are the classics, like dreaming of being in school and not being ready for a test, or not even knowing what the subject is. There's the dream of realizing you have no clothes on. Ha! These are for amateurs! I have compared notes with other performers, and we seem to have our own particular brand of panic inducing gifts from Queen Mab.
I find myself onstage, stuck in the middle of a scene that is vaguely familiar, but totally unrehearsed. There is an audience, of course, so I can't just leave. I'm not sure if others around me know what they're supposed to be doing, but I do my uncomfortable best to fake it. Now, even at my most awake, I'm not very good at ad-libbing. I have friends who can make up lyrics on the spot - rhyming, no less - and never miss a beat. Not me. I wish I could. No, I need a script, a specific plan. Once that plan is in place, I can adjust and adapt, but in these dreams there is no plan. All I am really aware of is the need to entertain and the inability to gracefully get off the stage. I know no lines, I have no blocking, I am stuck. And I am quite sure the audience isn't buying a moment of it.
I have a show opening next week. Six days. I am confident it will go well. The cast is strong, the support crew experienced and reliable. Nevertheless, I rarely make it through an opening without a crazy dream or two reminding me that things can go terribly wrong if there is a lack of preparation.
Tonight we do a costume check. In a couple of days we move into the performance venue, bring in the set and set the lights. We’ll check out the sound system, work with the mics, adjust our blocking as needed. I’ll position myself in the orchestra pit, hoping the choral members can actually see me from the stage. I’ll send six skirts off to be hemmed by a much appreciated volunteer and get the eight borrowed hooped petticoats out of my back seat. Details, just details, but all important ones – all things that someone needs to attend to so the audience can sit back and enjoy the performance.
Lorne Michaels, of Saturday Night Live fame, was loosely quoted as saying, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s eleven-thirty.” That could be the mantra for all live theater, not just live television. The lights go down, the curtain goes up, and there you are, ready or not. It’s enough to give you nightmares, but it is also the stuff of dreams.