Sunday, January 20, 2013
Second-night slump is nonsense
The show opened Friday night with a sold-out show and excitement in the air. Rehearsals are over and the ensemble now gathers together an hour or so before the performance to warm up, change into costumes and apply makeup, and take our places when the stage manager tells us it is time.
Actors share close quarters -- usually a small dressing room -- and nervous energy is infectious. Superstitions breed backstage as easily as viruses in an elementary school. So do negative energy, gossip, and imaginary curses. It's so infectious, in fact, that I tend to keep some distance between myself and other performers before a show. The intention is not unfriendly; it is simply better for my own preparation not to be hanging around a lot of actor-chatter before a show.
One of the most popular notions that gets passed around among theatre people is this idea of a "second night slump." It is so insidious. Here is how it works. As people are getting ready, someone -- maybe the stage manager or even the director, if not another actor -- warns everybody about the "second night slump." The idea is that the first performance following the excitement of opening night will not be up to standard; there may be more mistakes or the energy may "slump" in general. At more than one theatre, I've even heard the audience blamed for this, along the lines of, "Second-night audiences are never as good." As if the audience were shirking some imagined responsibility to please us actors!
Anyway, someone brings up the "second night slump" and it is like telling someone not to think of a purple elephant. Some actors believe it, some reject it; but either way, it becomes an object in people's minds. We are now interacting with the idea of the "second night slump."
Many actors have a pernicious habit of judging the quality of the show while it is taking place. This isn't helpful on any night. Just do it. When actors worry about things going smoothly, they tend to trip up, forget lines, miss notes, and make other errors. Or the timing is just slightly off and doesn't feel right.
The second night slump is not a force of nature, and it is not a jinx. It is something actors do to themselves. We are also free not to do it.
What if nobody brought it up in the first place? What if we just warmed up and got ourselves ready like it was opening night again? Understandably, it's hard to feel opening night excitement after several weeks, but on the second night? Come now.
This is one reason I tend to vanish before a show.