" Gaynor Rising" - First night nerves!

So it's the night before the first night, Saturday, Maralin Vanrenen, my director, and Janice Honeyman had gone out to dinner and I was not allowed to join them. I was staying with Maralin in Johannesburg. I had to go over notes and script, I was told. I promptly sat and cried. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I had bitten off more than I could chew in Gaynor Rising, I thought. Yes, I had succeeded 10 yrs ago but that was only because I had done the unthinkable - gone back onstage! I didn't have that protection now. I couldn't even go through a rehearsal without stuttering or stumbling over some line. And my moves were pathetic. I couldn't get them into my head. I wept myself dry that night. And, no, I didn't go over my script. I looked over my notes then I put them to one side and read a book on Maralin's bed, in front of the TV with Maralin's 2 Labradors to keep me company.

Have you ever been to Theatre on the Square? It is quite beautiful. As far as I'm concerned it is the best Theatre in Johannesburg, to my way of thinking!

Maralin and I arrived at Theatre on the Square at 10am on Sunday. I had insisted on a rehearsal and Maralin was glad to oblige. So Daphne, the owner of the theatre and a divine woman, was there to open the theatre for us. I had a great rehearsal. I honestly think that the tears the night before had something to do with it. Got rid of a whole lot of unwanted stress that had been building. Maralin was pleased with my rehearsal and at 1.30 I got sent home. She remained at the theatre to set my stage. I had strict instructions that YES I was to have a glass of wine with my lunch. Just one then Maralin hoped I'd sleep. I didn't. I was too keyed up but I did shut my eyes for an hour. I arrived back at the theatre at 4.45. Maralin wanted me to move through all my positions one more time. That was a nightmare time for me. I couldn't remember any of my lines. What baffled me was that this didn't put Maralin into a panic. If anything she became more tender to me. Fiona Ramsay, an acting friend, told me later that that exact thing is known to happen to performers so it is no wonder that Maralin evidenced no panic.

It was then a case of off to the dressing room to do makeup and get dressed. I had had this wonderfully sensuous dress made for me in Durban for the night and I must admit I looked sensational! T'was an off the shoulder dress with sleeves to my elbow and was made out of this delightful, clingy blue material. When I was made up two separate people said that I looked like a young Liz Taylor. That was garbage, of course, but I could see what they meant by my colouring. Mum, Dad and Libs came and saw me in the dressing room. Mum to give me my 3 antique silk roses. As she said: "I forgot them once and that will be the last time those roses are ever forgotten!" She had forgotten them for Camelot and has never forgiven herself!

They all disappeared and it was just Maralin and I left in the dressing room. We didn't talk. Maralin changed and then did her make up. I was glad of the quiet. 5 mins before curtain up I asked Maralin if she could leave me alone in the dressing room for a few minutes. "God and I need to have a private chat."

Please, Lord, let me give a performance that delights Mum and Dad. May I not disappoint Maralin in any way. And, please let me bring glory to You. Thanks, Father.

Before heading for the wings I asked Maralin: "What happens if the light come up on me and I get an applause?"

"Just hold your position, don't smile, hold it, wait for the applause to die down and the begin," I was told.

Right. Fine. No problem.

The stage went dark, I quickly moved onto it and took up my position and the lights came back on. With the lights came this enormous applause that never seemed to diminish. I seemed to stand there looking towards the wings for ages. Eventually I turned took steps towards the front of the stage, took in the applauding audience and acknowledged their applause with a nod of my head. Still no smile. The audience seemed satisfied and quieted itself. I waited a few moments…..and then began:

“Noone will ever know how I felt that night…..”

About 2 minutes into my show I take on this Russian accent and say: “Gaynor Younk is drunk! Too much Vodka! So…no show. Go home!”

The audience collapsed and I began to enjoy myself! Mum said that was one of the captivating things of my show – the fact that I was quite obviously having a ball. They say that a good performance is made up of 50% audience reaction and 50% the performer. I felt right from the word go that the audience was with me all the way. It was an exhilarating experience.

I have also learnt that when a performer is performing as himself you cannot bullshit an audience. I was nervous for talking about myself and marriage, for that particular reason. At 42 going on 50 marriage is still an incredibly sensitive issue with me. I knew that I couldn’t simply gloss over it. I had to allow what pain there was to show. And so I did.

At another point I read out to the audience the poem that I read my Dad on his 70th birthday. It was great because Dad was sitting in the front row right in front of me. I knew the last 4 lines of the poem by heart so I simply put the paper to one side, looked directly at Dad and spoke the lines to him. My glorious Father sat there with tears pouring down his cheeks.

I finish by saying that I love life because of it’s ups and downs – I fell 18 metres down an unguarded lift shaft, I had my book published, I was depressed because I could no longer enjoy theatre, I had a full house at my show Gaynor Rising…..That is what makes life exciting.  I thanked the audience for sharing with me in that love of life that evening. What I am feeling towards you at the moment, I said, Yeats puts far more eloquently:


           Had I the Heavens embroidered cloths

Enwrought with golden and silver light

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half light

I would spread these cloths under your feet

But I being poor have only my dreams

I have spread my dreams under your feet

Tread softly for you tread upon my dreams


I got a standing ovation and had to return to the stage four times.  I felt like I was Queen for that evening! What a night!