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why the show MUST go on

May 3, 2011

Art imitates life. If you have never experienced an “opening night” in the theatre you should.

I don’t mean experience it as an audience member but as a member of the production.

Actors performing 'Post-its: Notes on a marriage"

Two lives told in post-it notes

My first serious steps onto the stage were made one summer in the early 90’s when I managed to secure the role of a teddy bear (complete with full bear suit, face paint and an outrageous French accent).

Before then I was a theatre boyfriend who sat in the lighting box.

Since then I have had experience as a volunteer in all parts of the life of a local hundred seat theatre – on stage as an actor, back stage constructing sets and also as Stage Manager, in the sound and lighting box, programme designer, audience member, member of the Management Committee and Director of a couple of one-act plays and a full length show.

I couldn’t tell you the number of times over the years that I have heard (or used) the phrase “The show must go on!” I do know that in all those years I never asked “Why?”

A couple of recent blog posts have got me thinking about it though.

Rachel Hill’s recent post in Musings of an Inappropriate Woman alerted me to a new book out from Tina Fey (of Saturday Night Live fame) called Bossypants. The subheading is this:

The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30

On the same day Kelly Diels posted Not ready but willing in which these first words grabbed me by the front of the shirt and shook me:

We’re never really ready.

I’m  not ready to apologize. I’m not ready for a relationship. I’m not ready for marriage. We’re not ready to have kids. I’m not ready to apply to that program/school/job/life. I’m not ready to face the truth. I’m not ready for cancer. I’m not ready to leave.

I’m not ready for this.

Looking back over my years in the theatre I realised that there was not a single occasion where I felt that a production was ready to go on. We always managed to get things to the point where it could go on, where we (hopefully) wouldn’t be too embarrassed presenting the work to a paying public.

But it never really felt “ready”.

But when the clock ticks around towards 7:30 pm on opening night the show must go on … and so it did.

Some nights despite our lack of feeling ready the magic was there and people laughed or cried or both because of the work we did. Some nights towards the end of a run when we felt like we were ready – we fell flat.

Closing night comes around all too soon. The night you know will be your last opportunity to do this thing, to do it right or at least to do it well. It is almost always one of the best because we always give our best.

But then you discover you are not ready … for it to finish.

In ‘real life’ we are trying to help our youngest daughter to understand that it doesn’t have to be perfect. That you can make mistakes. That it is OK to fail. That it is more than just OK to be wrong.

While I am helping her I need to follow my own advice and remember what I learnt in the theatre.

You can’t spend your life waiting until you are ready.

The show goes on because the show MUST go on – ready or not.  Life goes on –  because life goes on whether we are ready or we are not.

You never really feel ready and if you aren’t feeling a certain amount of terror while you are waiting for the curtain to open then I believe you are not going to bring your best. (Steven Pressfield reminds us in his new book Do the Work, that at age 75 Henry Fonda still threw-up before just about every stage performance!)

Actors, Stage Manager and Crew, Lighting and Sound, Front of House they all have mortgages to pay, sick kids, sick parents, bosses who don’t understand them, subordinates who don’t listen to them, a car that needs repair and telemarketers to deal with – just the same as you do.

It doesn’t stop them from doing their thing. It shouldn’t stop you.

Saying to yourself “I am  not ready to do that!” might be the truth. But that still doesn’t explain why most of us actively choose not to do anything about it.

You never know when your closing night is going to be so don’t wait until you feel ready. The show must go on. Now.

Remember, life imitates art … the one thing I can guarantee you will not be ready for, is for it to finish.


Photography by Kayleen Gibson, Kaymar Kreations. Used with permission. If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sandie permalink
    May 5, 2011 7:00 am

    Love it! Should do a tshirt for this one “The show must go on!”

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