Rehearsals and reading/re-reading/studying the script prepare a performer to take the stage, but once onstage the actor has to live and create a character who lives in-the-moment. Each performance takes on its own subtleties and adjustments—the actors sense and adjust to each other, the audience, the moments as they evolve live, and how they are feeling in-character.
About her “quick study” of those moments, Cooper says, “The work that goes into the production prior to opening is ‘the work’ and once the show opens that is ‘the product.’ Every performance is a little different…as it should be. I would be a robot if I said every line exactly the same and landed every mark; where is the fun in that? As with any show that I’ve performed, the further along we go in the run, the more comfortable I become.
“I wouldn’t say that my portrayal of Vanda changed but the pace of the show certainly changed. By Sunday, I had settled into the performance and began slowing it down. The nervous excitement of Opening Night had created a fast-paced, rushed feeling throughout the show. Sunday’s performance felt relaxed, well-paced, and honestly more fun. (I am in the minority within the theatre world because I love Sunday performances…it is the end of the show weekend and a much-needed celebratory dinner and daylight await us after the performance.)
“For Opening Night’s performance, we had a great crowd that we were able to use as a gauge for the rest of our weekend performances. They laughed in mostly all the places where I thought a laugh would land and stayed with us throughout the show. Saturday's audience was also well timed with their laughter, helping us perfect the pacing of the show. As I had suspected, Sunday's audience count was low. A touch of nervousness struck while I was waiting backstage; I peeked out my side-door entrance and there were fewer than ten people awaiting our entrances. I will forever say, I don’t care if there is only one person in the audience: they deserve the same performance as if there were 5,000 people. But comedy is a challenge in general, especially to a small crowd. Laughter is infectious and I always notice that a lot of people seem embarrassed about laughing out loud. Sunday's audience—while light on attendance—was full of laughter, gratefulness, and enjoyment. After opening weekend, I believe that Sunday was our best show: we took our time, we pushed the audience less for laughter and more for thought, and it paid off.”
Now…a week’s delay. Opening weekend has come and gone with three whirlwind performances. The show refined itself each night to what Cooper calls “our best show” on Sunday. But now…a week’s delay! Time to consider and reconsider. Time to evaluate the plans and choices and decisions she’d made last week. Time to enjoy the successes and suffer the failures of her early performances. Cooper balances her confidence in what she’s delivered with her professionalism to deliver it again.
About the week’s hiatus, Cooper says, “I have been studying my lines since I left the theater on Sunday. Five days between shows is a fair amount of time and I do not want to trick myself into thinking that I can take the week away from the script just because we had a great weekend of shows. I can say that I am not ‘working’ on Vanda as a character any longer. Once I took my first step on stage in front of an audience, there was no longer any character work. My choices were her choices and her choices were mine. As an actor, I can choose to beat myself up over missing a line, wonder if I’d said something differently would that have gotten a laugh, or I can trust that the choices I’m making are the ones that the character would make and go with it. No one is perfect, not even our Goddess Vanda.
“The thought of continuing character work after we open—unless something went incredibly south—is inconsistent with what live theatre is to me. Directors do not typically give notes once the show has opened. However, Christen (the director) told us that she had a few notes and we would discuss Friday. Perhaps while I am not refining Vanda through the week, I may be on Friday before the show!”
But the play—and the character—are with her all week long.
Cooper says, “I find myself using lines from the show during my daily conversations. I catch myself every time it happens and I laugh. The play has certainly widened my vocabulary!”