Opening Night

“Bot 25, stand by.” “Standing by.” “Bot 25, GO.”

I am invisible in the left wing of the stage, watching mesmerized as the bots whir and click before me. I’ve sat through dress rehearsals and watched the robots run through this choreography hundreds of times, but tonight, things feel different. This is the first time I’ve ever been backstage during the show, the first time I’ve dressed in all black and put on a headset and been a part of what goes on behind the scenes. It’s also the first time the show has ever been performed for an audience, because tonight is opening night.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement, even as someone who wasn’t directly involved in the production. Call was an hour and a half before the show, and I shoveled down plates of food alongside the robot operators while anxiously checking the time, going through a mental checklist of things I need to be doing and where I need to be, double and triple checking for extra batteries in my camera case. Nervous excitement permeated the air with each furtive glance around the dinner table. When you sit through as many rehearsals and tech rehearsals as we’d been through over the past two weeks, you can’t help but think about all the possible things that could go wrong. VersaTubes could flicker and die, the network could go down, a robot could lose a wheel.

“I think this has goat cheese in it,” Mike Miller, one of the bot engineers, cuts into my thoughts.
“No, I think you’re wrong.. it doesn’t taste like goat cheese.”
“Oh, good,” grins Bob, the technical coordinator. “We need Miller to be wrong only once today. Now he can be right for the rest of the show.”

Superstitions aside, leaps and bounds have been made in refining the show over the past two weeks, and tonight is the night we see if it all paid off. After dinner I head to the backstage area, where composer Tod Machover is being interviewed in French by FR3, or French National Television, next to Patricia Risley and Hal Cazalet getting their makeup done. Various Miseries are running around shouting, and producers Simone Ovsey and Beth Morrison are discussing seating arrangements. The delegates run through choreography, while Miller is trying his best to tie a bow tie for the first time.

I cut through the chaos and run upstairs, and turning the corner I run right into a black blur. A ninja?? It’s Donald Eng, one of the robot engineers.

“What are you wearing??”
“Bob told me to cover up,” grinned Donald sheepishly.

Donald Eng, hard at work backstage.

Stranger things have happened, I guess. I put on my headset and tune into the bot operators chatting nervously, doing some last minute checks.

“Which bots are on stage left in the far wing?”
“CC and Q.”
“Can you pull Q back two inches?”
“Got it.”
“Hey guys,” Donald interrupts. “I’m going to propose to my girlfriend tonight.”
“After the show, before the gala!”
“Wearing the ninja mask?”

We are waiting for a cue from Assistant Stage Manager Cary Boyd, because protocol in the Salle Garnier says that the show must start the moment His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco sits down in his seat. She knows because there’s a special video feed directly from the prince’s box:

To switch view to the prince's box, press here!

People continue to trickle into the opera houe past 8 PM, until the house is completely full. We wait. And wait, and wait some more until all of a sudden people in the audience are standing, applauding the prince’s box. “Places, everybody.”

So now we’re here: standing in the wings, watching robots come to life as if it’s the first time and not one of hundreds. In pitch black darkness, one robot dares to light up. Then another, then another. “Bot 2, go.” All the robots light up. “Bot 3, go.” Immediately, the bots shoot back from each other, then circle around a core of four robots before exiting the stage. “Bot 4, go.” The four in the center turn towards the outside. “Bot 5, go.” The four shoot towards their places and go dark.

“Units assemble for the ritual..” Jim Maddalena’s booming baritone rumbles from a glowing bot. The show has started.

And unlike most rehearsals before it, it goes off without a hitch. Before I know it the crowd is standing, cheering for a final curtain call of all the singers, Miseries, creative team, bot operators, and even Donald the ninja. My excitement peaks with the thunderous applause, as I watch my friends and coworkers take a bow before the audience. We made it!

(l-r) Princess Caroline, Prince Albert, and Kawther Al-Abood stand and applaud from the Prince's box. Photo credit: Claudia Albuquerque of Futurum.

Now that the show is over, it’s time for the fun to begin! Opening Night, part 2: The Gala coming soon..

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