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“I Think An Empty Theatre is Exciting”

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Broadway stars such as Carol Burnett, Robert Morse, Robert Redford and Elaine Stritch reminisce about what it was like to arrive to the theatre before their audiences in Rick McKay’s “Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age.”

TRANSCRIPT

I would walk out on the stage and just look.

Often and I would walk down to the wings of the stage, and there's nobody about, and it's quiet.

Standing center stage and just breathing in.

I think an empty theater is exciting. Just to be in a theater.

A womb. It's like a warm, safe, wonderful place.

And it's quiet.

And you're in the dark and there's a light.

Up there.

There's just one ghostlight and everything is just so eerie.

I would arrive and everything would be set up ready for the evening. And.

Your clothes are pressed, and your suit is made and the shirt fits.

My hairdresser.

And my dresser are just there to make sure that I get out there in time and looking my best. And you are sitting down at your dressing table and there's, you know, things that you have to do. Some people have.

A routine from which they don't deviate.

Uh, I come in, I, uh, I go over the play and.

That's when you get to start preparing, you get to start warming up your voice.

My romance, doesn't need a cerebral in the sky. . In the beginning, when I first started, I used to get to the theater late.

I would come to the theater in 110 and the shade, minutes before half hour, like I'm talking five minutes before and I'd race in.

I'd just come straight from a cocktail party and walk on stage. Don't.

You have to get into --no I don't have to get into it. I'm in it.

You can be in the middle of a dirty joke backstage, you walk on and make the audience cry. Come back and finish the joke.

Sometimes before the play, I would go and mingle with the audience as they were coming in to the theater and get that sense with them of excitement. And.

Backstage, you can hear the audience filtering in because they have it on the speakers.

'What are we going to see? What's the play going to be?'. If they've heard: 'This is a great show.' They come in expecting it.

And pajama game was such a big hit. It was standing room only every show, people couldn't wait to get in the theater.

So there was that anticipatory sound in their voice and then your heart -- my heart always started beating fast. And, I'd say, wouldn't you think I'd get used to this?

I've been in this thing for a year and three months.

Wouldn't you think I'd get used to this by now? Never.

I literally sometimes would just sit there going, oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

You can hear the audience going [cheering sound]. And you go, oh my, someone important came in to the house and they said, 'Yes, Prince Abi Khan, or Grace Kelly or Montgomery Cliff, or Fred Astaire is there tonight.' [He gasps]. I'm up to the more blasé strain. I don't like to get dressed for instance, until five minutes. 'Five minutes!' Don't you tell.

Me any more. I don't want to know. I'll be too nervous.

I'd be playing Scrabble or playing cards up until the last minute while I'm putting on my makeup. And then all of a sudden, when the.

Crowd gets really big and gets closer to the beginning of the show, they become one sound.

And then it would grow and grow and grow. And.

That one sound is the beginning of associating with them as an audience.

You're in your dressing room, you can feel them and know they're out there.

You know that they're like, they're ready.

The audience is what electrifies the performance. When the audience.

Is there, the plug goes in.

And there's all this hustle and bustle backstage and 'Get your [inaudible]!'. And down you'd go. You'd go get into place.

You want me to tell you the scariest word in, in the world is?

'Places.' Places, places I gotta be ready. My, my, my, my, my makeup, my hair, my thing. Am I all right? Blah, blah, blah. Oh my God. I forgot to, oh, all that stuff is.

Going on. You have to take a deep breath like that. And it's like, sometimes you can't have enough air. This is it! The poor.

Stage manager, would be just pacing and praying that John would get there on time.

But.

I would show up right before the curtain went up. And John would.

Fly in. So you just had to slide that top on, full on the pants and run out on stage.

But I fixed one night, I sewed the pants leg shut.

He came in and he's hoping around trying to get his pants on [she laughs]. And when that conductor goes [she taps]. [Imitating the orchestra] And that orchestra begins to play the overture.

I mean, there's nothing more exciting. Nothing.

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