Opening Night

Black Tie Guide

Tonight is opening night.

Not for me. For my little brother, who is running the lighting board at Penn State’s production of Guys and Dolls. And for my beautiful friend Rachel, who is starring as Miss Adelaide.

I miss opening night. The butterflies that used to flit around my stomach in a frenzy all day long. The chaotic two hours before the house opened, when the crew was desperately trying to finish painting the scenery and the cast members were trying (usually in vain) not to get pizza sauce on their costumes. There was a kind of energy backstage that I never saw or felt anywhere else, an energy that manifested itself in the excited chatter of the chorus members and the frantic yelling of the stage manager. We were all experiencing the same deliriously happy anxiety that meant the curtain was about to open on a brand new show.

In high school, I went through sixteen amazing opening nights. I was lucky enough to perform alongside extremely talented, hardworking actors and take direction from creative professionals I consider myself fortunate to have known. Every performance of every show is different, but there’s something about opening night that’s different-er than the rest. It’s pure, unadulterated magic.

As someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, I don’t often think of anxiety as a positive emotion. And yet I miss that particular anxiety more than I can say. Even writing about it, I’m feeling its shadows, and yearning to be engulfed by it again. The quickening heart, the twisting stomach, the bursts of energy that make my blood feel warm and my ears buzz…it’s a high unlike any other.

It makes me smile to think about Rachel tonight, backstage with her close friends, ready for my brother to shine light on her as she belts her songs and dances her heart out. Two people I love, and they have chosen that life. The life of a thousand opening nights. They will get to feel the deliciousness of those nights for as long as they live.

I don’t regret leaving the theater behind. I learned early in my career as a performer that I wasn’t meant to travel that road forever; for me it was merely a leg of the journey. Others stay. I move on.

Tonight is opening night. So for tonight, I remember what I once loved. Tomorrow I let it go.

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22 comments

  1. Beautifully written. It’s so apparent that you really, really loved the theater…being in it..a part of that tapestry…and yet it isn’t a sad post because you’ve embraced your decision to walk a different path!

  2. This was so lovely to read – you’ve got an amazing writing style, and this brought so many of my own memories up again… (There was one particular performance that was very memorable because the stage manager was still (softly) yelling and looking for the actors during the actual performance. We didn’t put on the most professional shows, that’s for sure!) xD
    This was a joy to read. 🙂

    1. I’m glad you liked it! Oh, I have plenty of those stories, too. And stories of the time my microphone was on backstage (whoops). Lots of disasters, but always so fun!

  3. Hi, a very well written post! And I can empathize with anxiety issues (I have complex PTSD) but I also understand how anxiety can be an adrenaline boost in a good way, when the circumstances are ripe for it and then there’s all the bad that comes from an anxiety disorder. I think your post shows a young woman who is learning to grow in a healthy manner. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad you liked it. Anxiety issues can be really intense, but life just wouldn’t be the same without those feelings. I’ve had to work hard to accept the bad alongside the good, as I’m sure you have too. Too bad it can’t be easier.

    1. That was pretty much my whole life for years. It’s so weird not to have it as an outlet anymore. Have you ever thought about doing community theater or something? I’m too chicken, but it sounds like fun.

  4. You’re really great at getting to the heart of the matter in your writing, without wasting too many words on it.

    I used to do a lot of theatre during my school years, so I know this anxiety very well. I, too, miss it.

  5. You captured that nervousness so perfectly. My heart got a little racy just reading it! “Break a leg” to your brother and your friend. Very exciting for them both! Beautiful post, Gwen

  6. I’m married to the theatre, as my wife is the high school drama teacher. We share students, so I understand that anxiety as they attempt to get out of my class (and work on their lines, stage, etc.). Of course I promote her plays, but also I make jokes about overly dramatic thespians. Partially I make these jokes to alleviate their anxiety, and partially because I’m jealous of a lifestyle that I missed out on.

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