This week is preview week. Edinburgh is less than a week away and the final preparations are in full swing, but everyone is mildly distracted by the inevitable previews. While our second round of previews are at a London theatre akin to our space in Edinburgh, the first lot are at a small Fringe festival, where tech is at an absolute minimum. The space we are performing in has no stage, no projector (and nowhere to rig the projector which is integral to the show) and just eight lights – although there are skylights so no need to worry about it being too dark. With a constant stream of obstacles to overcome, at points during the get-in day I did start to wonder why we were bothering.
But ultimately we all go to the effort of previewing to get our shows seen by an audience before we hit Edinburgh. Adding the extra dimension of an audience has an impact on any production and driving back to London after a rather fraught day, I started to wonder if we should have just stayed in the rehearsal room or, are previews worth the effort?
As a director, the effect that an audience has on the actors’ performances is palpable. The energy, while not necessarily higher, is always different, and they are forced to be ever-present in a way that is not the case in rehearsals. Of course, the audience are more of a feature in some productions than others. Their role can range from silent observer to an accomplice who is engaged and interacted with, and therefore their impact on the show differs for individual shows. Yet the fact that they have an impact is undeniable and they cannot be ignored.
The reason we preview a show is usually in order to fine-tune it before it is reviewed. There are previews incorporated into the Edinburgh festival itself, but with such a high volume of shows and early reviews so sought after, often press will appear during previews. Hence why we preview before we get up there. Yet without being in the venue you will be in in Edinburgh, the final destination, we cannot precisely rehearse the technical aspects of the production or the details of staging in the space. It is all about putting it in front of an audience, and what that might change about the show and about the performances. If it doesn’t work for an audience, it arguably doesn’t work at all because, at the end of the day, it is a performance and while we want to stay true to the piece, we cannot forget or deny its theatricality.
As we journey back to the venue (I would be reluctant to call it a theatre…) for our second preview, the benefits of going to the effort are clear. A production can only reach a certain point in rehearsal without being put in front of an audience. Previews, however time consuming, afford the cast and director an opportunity to respond to the effect of the audience before reaching the final product. While the prospect of staying within the safe four walls of the rehearsal room is rather appealing at the time when previews hit, at some point the show put in front of an audience. So rip off the plaster and let the audience play their part.