What’s a preview?

Our 2017-18 season opening production of The Flick took place in a movie theater. Avid movie buffs are very familiar with sneak previews and special midnight showings of films in advance of their “official” opening. Studios like these to start drumming up excitement about the film and to get that word of mouth machine going in advance of a film’s opening weekend (yanno, because opening week box office is sort of a big deal).

With live theater previews are not quite the same thing, but in a way they sort of are.

Live theater isn’t like a movie in the respect that a movie doesn’t change if someone is watching it or not. All the “work” has been done by the time it shows up at your local AMC or Muvico. Live theater is much different because live theater is a dynamic, emergent thing that truly only comes to life once the show’s last piece is in place — and that’s you, the audience.

An audience dictates more than you might think. There are reasons we crave the energy of a full house, or when it’s not full why we prefer to have the front of the theater full and not everyone sitting in the back, or why it drives us nuts to see people on their phones the whole time or carrying on a conversation — an audience is PART OF the live theater experience for everyone, including the actors and others watching the show. The timing of a joke or a moment of suspense can only be perfected in front of real people. When a light or sound cue might occur because of a reaction in the house can similarly also only be made just right by having real-time reactions. How an actor plays this moment or that hangs on the reciprocal energy provided by their scene partners, and that includes the audience. We do not truly know what we have in a show until we have who we’re doing it for.  We might think a moment is super effective, but of course we do if we’ve been staring at it for a month and know what it was supposed to do. An audience might walk in and not get it at all, or not find this thing funny at all, or be moved by another moment in any way. For a show like Hedwig and the Angry Inch there is an even bigger reason live bodies matter, sound. The sound in a space like the Shimberg changes depending on the number of bodies in a room. It’s basically a concrete box, not exactly an acoustically-perfect space like Morsani Hall. We need the theater to be full a few times before we can perfect the mix. Don’t get us wrong, our people are pros, but it’s always theoretical until it is actual.

We take in all of the lessons learned during previews. The actors, designers, and technicians all stay after a preview performance to talk about it. We make adjustments. And then we do it again. These previews are still rehearsals for us, but with an audience. This is also why we don’t invite the local critics or the Theatre Tampa Bay judges to previews. We’re still working!

Now, most of the time these changes are just tweaks, Making a good thing better. Sometimes they are a bit more drastic. Sometimes we are also still in the process of putting the finishing touches on things. Perhaps there is still a bit more detail paint or set dressing to go up that a preview audience won’t see. Maybe a costume is lacking a final bit of embellishment. Perhaps a sound cue or a sound level changes between preview and opening night.

And, of course, there is the opportunity for the whole cast and crew to treat it as an opportunity to get the nerves out. Not because we’re actually scared, it’s just that we don’t know what we have until other people see and react to it. That’s always kinda exciting AND terrifying.

Where it is like the movie sneak preview is that we, too, hope that audiences walk away talking the show up in advance of our opening weekend and help get that word of mouth machine clicking.

All of our previews are priced at just $18, quite a discount off from tickets that otherwise start at $29.50. You’re in a way doing us a favor and we’re giving you a huge break on tickets for being our “test audience.”

If you’re a fan of the bargain we offer on the previews, we’ve also started selling a pass to them that makes them only $13 each with no extra charges, but it comes with some restrictions not placed on our regular season pass. Take a look.

 

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Get in touch with Artistic Director David M. Jenkins for all business and production related questions and touring information.

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