As the stage manager for the past two HRG&SP shows, I have seen my fair share of opening nights. From my post at the lightboard, I watch the beaming smiles of the actors as they proudly present their work to an audience for the first time. I listen as the Agassiz Theater rings with applause from the crowd, letting the cast members know that their efforts are seen and appreciated. I think of my peers, both onstage and offstage, who have brought their commitment, expertise, and passion to the project over the many months of preparatory work leading up to opening night. All of the time, energy, and love coalesces and is condensed into those two short hours. I am always grateful for the relative privacy of my position at the back of the balcony level, because it is often quite an emotional experience for me.

I love opening night not only for what it is, but what it represents. As a stage manager, I have the privilege of witnessing the life cycle of a production. From the first note sung in the rehearsal room to the first peal of applause on opening night, I watch the show grow and develop into the production that we ultimately present to our audience. Until the last stock flat is returned to the scenic shop after our closing performance, I am locating actors, sweeping stages, and calling cues. As I believe many do, I feel a sense of parental responsibility to and pride in the show. Opening night is the first chance to share with others what I have seen all along: the extraordinary work of my friends and colleagues in bringing Gilbert and Sullivan’s timeless operettas to life. The evening is a testament to the strength of our community and the talent of its members.

This semester, I was excited to experience opening night as an audience member. I thought that last Friday, I would be sitting in the familiar red velvet seats of the Ag, adding my own cheers to the thunderous applause after the final chord. As a prospective viewer, I am disappointed not to see what I am sure would have been a tremendous production. As a frequent member of HRG&SP production staffs, I am heartbroken. I feel tremendous sympathy for the cast, staff, and orchestra members who will never see their opening night. The weight of the cancellation of Kiss Me, Kate! is felt by the entire community. I find myself thinking often of the production’s wonderful stage manager, who will miss the experience of sitting in the back of the theater, overwhelmed by the force of her gratitude towards the show’s team and her pride in the product that they have created.

During the past few weeks, however, I have witnessed something as powerful as the opening night experience, if not more so. Current students and alumni alike join weekly social events over Zoom, sharing updates from their homes around the world through the videoconferencing platform. Staff members busily recruit for Ruddigore; or, the Witch’s Curse and make all necessary arrangements to hit the ground running in the fall. The Board looks to the future, preparing our group for the many opening nights that lie ahead. Despite frightening and disruptive global circumstances, the strength of the HRG&SP community has not wavered; rather, I find myself in awe of the resilience of this organization and its members. Since returning home, I have drawn comfort and support from my HRG&SP connections more than ever before.

In my recently gained free time, I have been reflecting on why I am always so deeply affected by the first performance of a show. For me, opening night is not special primarily because of the date or the venue. I treasure those moments because they encapsulate the passion and effort of people that I love. While we have lost one of the best opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate our organization and the work of its members, the HRG&SP community stands strong. That knowledge gives me more joy than all of the opening nights combined.

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