There wasn’t much time before people came to watch.

The actors and technical crew did a first full run-through of “How I Got That Story” on Tuesday afternoon. Then on Tuesday night, they did the second.

And the next night, people came to watch.

An invited audience came Wednesday for a dress rehearsal of the play, put on by Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company. Last night, Thursday, was the first performance for a paying audience — the first preview of the show.

Last night went “really, really well,” director Seema Sueko told me this afternoon. The audience laughed in the right places and stuck with the vibe in the serious moments, she said. “I think we all felt really great.”

Not so 24 hours earlier.

“The night before, we had our invited dress rehearsal. I think we all left feeling, like, ‘Ugh,’” she said.

The perfect balance of acting, movement, lights, sets and sound was elusive Wednesday.

“What I told the actors is I think the thing is the show should feel like a wild rollercoaster,” Sueko said. “Right now it’s feeling like a merry go-round.”

But that rollercoaster isn’t a bad description for what preview week is like. Tickets are cheaper and the play can still change and be tweaked. The actors still rehearse in the afternoons before the shows. A host of different kinds of people — some who love sneak peeks, some who like cheap seats — show up, giving the actors a taste of the range of audience reactions.

And last night, it worked. “What a difference a day can make,” Sueko said. After Wednesday, the team made some tweaks. They changed the lighting in some scenes so that the actors’ faces wouldn’t feature as many harsh shadows. They upped the volume on sound effects because once people were in the seats, the sound seemed “wimpy” and not helpful in propelling the story forward.

We’ve been following the behind-the-scenes work at Mo’olelo to prepare for “How I Got That Story.” As part of our Arts: Embedded series, we’re watching how the raw, unfinished pieces of making art come together before the curtain officially rises.

Now that preview week has begun, the date looming large on everyone’s mental calendar is next Friday, March 2. That’s the formal opening night when critics come to review the play and the actors and crew mingle for an Opening Night party.

But until then, four more previews happen.

“You happen to be catching me on a day when I feel really good,” Sueko said.

“I’m bracing myself for tonight not being as good,” she’d said earlier.

She’s not expecting smooth sailing the whole way. Every transition complicates the effort. Moving from the rehearsal room to the stage. Adding costumes. Performing under lights. Running through the play with an audience.

“Then at the same time, it’s amazing how much everybody in the process learns by going through it, what tweaks need to be made,” she said.

Sueko laughed. “Ideally we’re making them connected to the same vision!” she said.

To catch up on our Arts: Embedded look at this play:

Check out our account with photographs from when combat veterans came to rehearsal to help actors portray war more authentically. And read about our first conversation with Sueko, where she illuminated why she opens rehearsals to potential clashes of fiction and reality.

I talked more about the play and that collaboration in this interview yesterday on NBC 7 San Diego:

View more videos at:

How I Got That Story” began preview performances on Thursday and runs through March 18. Stay tuned for our coming dispatches.

I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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