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Letter from Lee

A fortnightly letter with love from our Artistic Director.

Lee Lewis BBT Theatre 2020 Stephen Henry 2

Thursday 15 July 2021

I am writing this late on Wednesday night following the first preview of Suzie Miller’s Prima Facie. It’s the latest show in our COVID-bedevilled year, and we are so aware of how lucky we are to be playing to full houses (and so thankful that everyone is willing to wear masks in the theatre to make this possible)!

The theatre for a first preview is filled with people who like to feel the electricity of a play coming to life before an audience for the first time. They are curious people, drawn to the unknown. They are risk-takers. They are brave. It could be terrible. No one ever knows how a first preview is going to go. Lines are often forgotten, entrances missed, rhythms might be all over the place or stage machinery fails — the glue holding things together is often not quite dry. “Why would you go to a show that is not yet ready?” I hear the loyal fourth-week attendees cry. “Aaaah! To be the first. To boldly go where…” You get the drift. No one has told them yet what to think of the show. They make up their own minds. They can be the ones to pick up the phone in the morning to friends with knowledge to share. And sometimes they experience a unique alchemy of an actor landing the play for the first time. It can be truly special.

But for a director, it’s always petrifying. I am useless from about 5.30pm until the lights go down. I will often just hide in the bathroom until the last minute. I barely breathe throughout the whole show, so I end up with terrible pins and needles at the end. I frantically write notes in the dark about all the things that need to be fixed, and then spend the rest of the night trying to decipher my scrawl. I scan the faces of audience members, trying to feel if the story is reaching through the space and catching them. Years’ worth of work is tested on this night.

First preview audiences are my most feared and most favourite people. The work may not be finished yet, but you can feel whether the production will ultimately work or not. The end of the first preview is a moment of truth.

Tonight, the lights came up at the end of Prima Facie for Sheridan Harbridge to take a bow… and people started to applaud, and then stand and applaud, to thank her for what they had seen. It’s going to work —the audience told me. There is still a bit of work to do — some tightening, some relaxing, some rhythm — but when the show opens this Friday it will be built on the generous responses of that brilliant first preview audience.

I want to thank them for taking a leap of faith and seeing the first preview of this new Australian play. I need them. The theatre will always need them. I hope one of them calls you and tells you about the new play at Queensland Theatre that you must see.

I hope to see you in the foyer really soon.

Love, Lee.