Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 26, 2013

The Preview

by Shera Cohen

What is a play preview, and why would you attend a preview instead of the “real thing”?

A preview is usually the entire production of a play, where a few blips, bumps, and forgotten lines are acceptable. The preview is essentially the final dress rehearsal, yet in front of an audience.

My philosophy on theatre is that a play is never complete without the essential element of an audience. Yes, the text is the crucial start. Add an astute director, creative designers, exceptional actors, exquisite sets, perfect costumes and coifs, talented crew, on-their-toes front of house staff, and all of the necessary rehearsals, and this is not quite yet a play. I fall back on the saying, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” I don’t know enough science to answer that question. But, I do know that without people to react to the words and movement on the stage, the play is not complete. The individuals in their seats, hopefully you, are a vital component in the play production business.

That said, a preview is very important as it is the first time an audience can react to the production. The director and actors certainly have their own opinions. Facing the proverbial music, however, means receiving the opinions of the audience. An audience is also never “right” or “wrong” because it changes from day to day.

Why attend? You help make the production better. You experience theatre somewhat at the ground level and learn a little more about the process. You usually pay less for tickets.

Are you seeing a “lesser” theatre production? Having seen many previews in the past 30+ years, I have yet to say that a preview has been in any way mediocre to the real deal.

My recent summer viewing included several previews, oftentimes because some previews fit my schedule and other times because I purposely sought the experience of participating in a preview. Except for some tweaking, Berkshire Theatre Festival’s “Anna Christie” was perfect in its execution and acting. Frankly (and who am I to be so boastful), I would have changed some of Eugene O’Neill’s script. One single word was forgotten by Olympia Dukakis, start of Shakespeare & Company’s “Mother Courage and Her Children.” At age 82, with the onus of this long production on her, one word is certainly forgivable.

Last summer, I enjoyed the preview of the new play “Edith” at Berkshire Theatre so much that I returned to see the final performance three weeks later, particularly to see if any changes had been made in production value and/or actors’ conveyance of characters. The play and actors did not skip a beat – perfect from start to finish. However, if that had not been the case, that’s perfectly fine with me.