The theatre has always been an important part of my life. Note the spelling: theatRE, not theater. My Dad used to tell me: the latter is a place you see movies; the former, ah, now that is something truly special! Over the years, I’ve heard lots of fancy definitions for “The Theatre,” but my Dad’s always seems to ring true: Collaborative Art, where the audience plays an active role.
The theatre is the only art form where the audience plays an active role. As a kid, I didn’t understand that. Then, in high school, I began to play a more active role in productions. When I was a little kid, I just worked on sets and stuff during the day; staying up late to work on a show was impossible. All through high school, there were many shows: The Odd Couple, Roberta, Cabaret, Pirates of Penzance and so on. With some, I just ran the lights; got to sit up in the light booth and watch a lot of great shows! With a couple others, I actually got to be onstage. No major roles, mind you: drunken Nazi in Cabaret was one, pirate and policeman in Penzance, and a citizen of River City in Music Man.
Music Man was the critical role. That was the one that truly taught me just how interactive theatre is. One night, there was quite the severe thunderstorm. All through the show, we could hear the rain pound the ceiling and the thunder rattle the rafters. As I was a minor player in the show, I had a lot of time to just sit or stand and watch things going on.
It was the audience that caught my attention.
Because of the storm, the house was rather minimal. Yet, they were just about the loudest audience I’d ever heard! They were a very boisterous bunch. Despite their low numbers, they more than made up for that with their enthusiasm for the show and I could see its effect on the actors. Now sure, every performance of the show was good, but tonight was turning into something special. When the rain started and we suspected our audience would be small, the actors were kind of down in the dumps; their energy levels were low. The opening number was kind of flat.
Then we heard the audience react, and react in a major way. The actors perked up. I could see the leads suddenly standing up straight and tall. Professor Hill had a bit more spring in his step. Marian the Librarian smiled, Zaneeta Shinn’s cry of “Yee gods!” was louder and stronger, and the school board members had perfect harmony. Thus was set the pattern for the rest of the evening. Every actor was “bigger” than ever before, and the audience loved it and reacted. The more they did so, the better we were; it was a magnificent feedback loop.
Finally, the finale, and the curtain call. Just before we went out for it, the director told us to take our cue from Professor Hill; he and the director had come up with something special. Normally, as the band played, we all marched up the aisles and out to the lobby. Not this night. Once we’d all taken our bows, the professor waved to the orchestra to stop playing. He then told the audience that we, the actors, wished to express our appreciation for them coming to see the show under such trying conditions. He then led us in applauding the audience.
Yeah, a special night and it taught me just how special the theatre is.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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