I will freely admit that I am fascinated with actors. I love them and I am 100% fascinated with them. Sometimes I feel like I'm watching a group of people that are in some ways a completely different species, specifically as they are preparing to perform.
Most of the time I don't get a chance to spend too much time with them in the few minutes right before they go on stage. Usually by that time I have called places and retreated to the safety of my booth for the duration of the first act. This time around, I directed and am now stage managing a show that by my design does not require me to be in the booth at all -- that's right a show with no lighting changes and live sound effects! It also happens that I have the majority of my 18 person cast entering from the lobby of the theater, so in those precious few minutes between the call for places and the start of their staggered entrances, I get a rare glimpse into the behavior of actors in the moments before they enter the stage.
As I sit on the lobby couch and watch I begin to understand what the National Geographic documentary makers must feel like while observing animals in their native habitats. You don't want to move for fear you might disturb them. You don't really want to make eye contact because you don't want to break their concentration. So you sit very still and quiet and observe.
Here is the commentary the runs through my head (I will admit to altering it slightly so it conforms to National Geographic documentary style!)
From our spot on the couch we can see the pack of actors arrive together. As they approach the entrance to the building they grow quieter. The pack is a chivalrous bunch, the males opening the door and allowing the three female members to enter first. Once inside the space the group communicates mainly through short whispered sentences, big hand gestures and eye communication. For a few moments each one seems to be alone, in their own little world, not really noticing the others except to move around them. Many of them seem restless, probably a side effect of the pent up energy waiting to come out once they enter the stage. The pack begins to do an unchoreographed pacing dance. It starts with one of them taking a few steps forward, stopping, turning around, then a few steps backwards. Then another one joins the pacing, they pass each other in the middle without really acknowledging each other. Then a few more join in, this time taking a few steps to the left, then a few steps to the right. The pacing lasts a minute or so and then stops, somewhat simultaneously, but without communication from anyone, as if on some level their brains are already working in sync with each other. At the back of the pack, one of the taller members begins to jump up and down, another one toward the front rolls his shoulders and neck muscles, yet another one wildly shakes his hands. In an interesting twist the females branch off from the pack, one sitting down, the others approaching the mirror for a final hair and make up check. Then as the moment of their entrances approaches the pack collectively stirs, everyone is up, the jumping male in the back jumps a bit more, they move into a line by the entrance. The few who walk in with someone else take a moment to exchange excited looks. The door opens and the first pair enter, the line advances towards the door, each waiting for their turn. As some leave the pack to enter the theater others from the stage come out and join the pack. From our spot on the couch we can see that those who have already been on stage are slightly more relaxed, once out of site from the audience they sit down on the chairs, play with the rock display on the coffee table and wait to re-enter. Soon they are all back inside the theater and the pack is off and running for the night!
National Geographic commentary aside, I truly am fascinated and honored to be able to watch what happens in those final moments before these talented actor enter the stage.