First Nights And How To Cope (1976)This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the programme for the world premiere of Just Between Ourselves at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1976.
As far as an author is concerned, the only certain thing about First Nights is that they don't get any better. All that happens, assuming of course that he's fortunate enough to have more than one in his career, is that he develops little tricks and conditioned reflexes to see him safely through this most awful of ordeals. He can drink to excess and miss the whole thing, persuade the management to cancel, or emigrate and start a new life. Failing anything quite so drastic, here are a few essential Do's and Don'ts for new dramatists facing their first First Night:
Never look to the Actors for reassurance. Remember they are front line troops about to go over the top and are already telling themselves that their instincts were right and they shouldn't have taken this job in the first place. In a word, they have enough Inner Doubts of their own without listening to yours.
Don't expect words of reassurance from the Director. He is faintly optimistic that he may just about have saved the evening through his dextrous ingenuity but it's no thanks to the play. He is on the actors' side.
Don't stand about at the front of the theatre smiling at Critics as they arrive - or worse, attempt to greet them cheerfully. They mistrust cheery dramatists and besides they are as shy as High Court Judges of mixing socially with those upon whom they intend to pass sentence.
Never sit in the auditorium whilst a first night is in progress. If you must watch the play, stand. If you're incapable of standing, sit on the end of a row near the door. But beware of leaving and returning too frequently. This may, to those sitting in front; give the impression of a mass walk out as the door bangs to and fro. Better still keep well away from the theatre altogether. But keep an eye on the time. It is embarrassing to return and find the place is locked up for the night.
Don't smile at Critics as they leave. Their minds are made up.
Never eavesdrop on departing audiences, hoping to hear nice things said about your play. You never will. Those who enjoyed it will be glowing with silent, inner contentment.
Don't wait up for reviews. They all look better in the morning.
Don't plan in advance any celebrations. Better go home and write another.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.