BWW Blog: Caitlin Abraham of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS - First Preview!
First Preview - first American audience! The excitement was palpable at the Palace Theater on Friday, March 13th, with bright expectant faces both backstage and in the front of house. After weeks of incubation, performing live is a tremendous exchange of energy; a conversation we as a company are so ready to have! Lines that perhaps we've grown accustomed to bloom clever and fresh again when we are stopped by laughter. To hear the audience sigh after a brief pas de deux between a returned soldier and his love, makes us feel connection - it's only the opening ballet, and they're with us! A moment later they gasp at a more graphic portrait of war and collaboration with the enemy - it's still only the opening ballet, and we've established our show's potency. Having achieved their trust, we stand together at the perfect jumping off place for a fine night of theater.
I have to say now, I love New York audiences. They are sharp, active and they pick up on subtleties. They are vocal; there's always at least one guffaw for ironies, the balletophiles know to clap for certain virtuosities and as a group, and New York audiences are bold enough to stop a scene with applause if they are too moved to remain silent.
There were two moments of applause that surprised us during that first preview. One was after S'Wonderful - a charming trio between our three principal men, all singing of the delicious feeling of being in love (unbeknownst to them, they are each singing of the same woman). The trio expands to a group number where everyone is smitten, suspended for a full-hearted moment until we dive into the next scene. The audience couldn't contain themselves; applause resounded before the next dialogue could continue. It's an interesting debate: when to give a classic Broadway button and when to resist, opting instead to keep the tension rolling into the next scene. Both are valid and this is a perfect example of a moment we might play with in previews.
The second moment occurred between Henri and his parents in the second act. Without giving too much away, it is a heartening father/son moment and the audience applauded. We'd never expected that beat to get such a response; we never got applause at that moment while performing in Paris. However, our American audience recognizes this is a heroic choice for Monsieur Baurel; in a conflicted moment, he is a supportive loving father. It is a comment to the acceptance of our times, and how rare this kind of gesture would be from a man of this other generation and culture.
All this is to say that the importance of connection and response with an audience can be energizing and fulfilling. However, if the balance of power gets tipped, the exchange can also be a trap. The actors must always drive the car; through their choices, their timing, they remain the authority. Desire for results is a trap; lusting for laughter or for your character to be loved weakens a performance. As artists, we have a responsibility to create such deep internal resolves that the audience is compelled to enter the world we've created. After our first preview, our director, Christopher Wheeldon, spoke with our cast about these forces that come into play with a public audience. First, he encouraged us to protect our resolve in the face of criticism; that we must always go forward, deeper into the essence of our show despite the variations of public opinion. Just as earnestly, he reminded us to remain humble in an environment of praise. We must continue focusing in on details - the authenticity of moments, the accuracy of movement. We must keep our minds clear and always ask ourselves, how we can make our show better.
We are open to the public. It's time for New York to have her Paris and it's time for our company to share the joy we feel in this work.