Theater producer André Bishop

Theater producer André Bishop

A weeklong electronic journal.
Oct. 24 1997 3:30 AM

Theater producer André Bishop

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

       My horoscope in the New York Post today said that my moon or my sun or something had shifted and that I would have a wonderful month, starting now. That bit of news, along with a good sense of how Ivanov was progressing, got me through the day with some equanimity. I wasted a lot of time walking about the halls; chatting on the phone; hanging pictures with my new assistant, Bob Gasper; and generally doing nothing until 6:15, when I could begin downing my barrel of first-performance martinis.
       All day long (this happens with every show), I had strange vibrations of how I thought the first performance would go. Every hour I thought something different based on ... God knows what. Nothing. Nerves.
       As it turned out, I only had two martinis. I came back to the theater, brushed my teeth as usual, went to the dressing rooms as usual, wished everyone well as usual. The actors were calm. I then hit the lobby. We've been doing a lot of renovations to the building, and we have a new lobby linking the Beaumont and Newhouse theaters. Lots of new neon. New racks for our theater magazine. The lobby was filling up quickly with a wonderfully mixed audience. All ages, thank God. There was a sense of excitement, of occasion. I greeted one of our donors and one of our board members. It was 7:57 p.m. Peter and I sat down in the back row with the production staff and the director. The houselights went to half. The audience settled down. The haunting music, which Bob Waldman has so artfully arranged from a Tchaikovsky melody, started to play. The stage lights came up on Kevin Kline reading at a table. Long applause--the play began.
       I'm pleased, relieved, and thrilled to say that the performance went unbelievably well. The actors were focused. The show ran smoothly. The audience loved it! Our biggest fear--that the audience wouldn't be able to switch gears from comedy to tragedy as quickly as the play does--proved to be unfounded. People laughed, often uproariously, when they were supposed to, and were absolutely silent when they were supposed to be. The second-act set got applause. Max Wright, as the most humane and befuddled of fathers, got exit applause. The famous husband-wife confrontation was riveting. When Ivanov called his wife a "dirty Jew," the whole audience gasped. The audience went on applauding after the curtain call was over and the house lights came up. A great first preview.
       I thought, after it was over, how interesting that this somewhat crude early play of Chekhov's should be greeted so enthusiastically. I realized that for most of the audience it was like seeing a new play, as few people know Ivanov. And Gerry's production is not in the "stuffy old classic" vein, but vital and committed. I don't know of any other American director who is as versatile and fearless as he is. The Beaumont's vast stage doesn't scare him.
       Everyone was very happy and excited. The next few weeks before the opening night will be spent on adding richness and variety, sharpening moments--building on a solid base.
       I went to bed feeling proud of our work. Ivanov is a difficult piece to pull off on such a large scale. One of the actors said that only Lincoln Center Theater would have and could have done such a production, and I think that's true. Of course, because I'm half Russian and completely identify with Ivanov and his perpetual gloom, I expect to wake up tomorrow morning and discover that it was all a dream, that the first preview never happened. Or I fear that the second preview will be a disaster and that tonight was just a fluke. But right now, as I write my final diary entry, I know that we did good work and that Chekhov's much-maligned first play will live again in a new and glorious light.
       I go to bed happy.

André Bishop is the artistic director of the Lincoln Center Theater in New York City.