Among many things I am thankful for this holiday season, I am very grateful for my family and the friends that are like family; moments of beauty, grace, and inspiration; and the strength to pursue my dreams. This past Thanksgiving was my second away from my family in Miami, so I went to the only other home I know: the theater. I hopped on a bus to the city and saw Annie, Peter and the Starcatcher, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. And the thing I felt most reinforced by these shows was the role of the audience.
Sometimes I forget what it is to be an audience member. The majority of the theater I see is within the context of school and work, so it's rare for me to simply be a theater patron. As of late, everything I've seen has been through the eyes of a student, scene partner, or assistant director. And forget about shaking off that inner critic! Even when I'm not "working," it's nearly impossible for me to sit through any type of performance without analyzing the mechanics of it. And before the show is over, I've already articulated all my thoughts about it. And that's not fair, is it? Shouldn't I be able to just sit and take something in without worrying about how I'm going to answer the obligatory post-show, "What did you think?"
I love theater that leaves me speechless -- the shows that I need time to mull over before I have anything insightful to say beyond "it was great." I sat through Starcatcher with my jaw dropped the entire time. And when it was over all I could say was "That is theater!" I felt like a kid again, experiencing the pure magic of theater for the first time in a very long time. The production is artful, funny, smart, and sentimental. But ultimately it validates who I am and what I do. Theater is a transformative art; we go to be changed. It's the meeting and exchange between artist and audience. And one thing I think Starcatcher does incredibly well is include the audience. Theater is storytelling, and this show is very conscious of that. You're reeled in because this story is being shared with you specifically, and so your attention is practically demanded.
I've been thinking a lot about the audience in the context of the show I'm assistant directing right now, Way of the World. In rehearsal we talk a lot about making the text accessible to our modern audience, and how we can bridge/welcome our own world to the world of the play. And I think it's all about sharing. I'm not saying play to the audience. I'm saying we should just play. Be in the moment. We live vicariously through the characters we watch onstage. And if you're in the moment, the audience is right there with you. At the end of Virginia Woolf I couldn't smile. I was standing and clapping, but I was still with Martha. And when Amy Morton took her bow she was still with Martha, so the curtain call became this private acknowledgement that we just went somewhere together. It made the experience special.
Now I feel obligated to take some time to mention theater etiquette. I realized this weekend after a rather disheartening experience with a teen and her mom sitting next to me at Starcatcher that it is our job to advocate for theater etiquette. I saw the Saturday matinee of Annie, and because it was mostly kids and first time theatergoers I knew I had to be the example. I sat next to a 6 year old and her parents who told me they had never seen a musical before, and I could feel them watching me. The parents turned off their phones when I did and they all clapped when I did. It was a great feeling to know I made a difference for this family. And then later, after watching a dad hand off an iPad to his bored 10 year old DURING the show, I had no problem sharing a few polite words with him during intermission about teaching his son to respect the artists onstage. You know the phrase, "If you see something, say something?" It totally applies.
Be the type of audience member you want watching your show. Be open and receptive. Because being an audience member is an important role, not a passive one. And, as I remembered over break: it's a privilege.
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