How many people does it take to play an audience?

This past weekend something strange and awesome happened here in the Twin Cities called sunshine and “unseasonably” warm temperatures.

I know – ugh, weather. Hear me out.

Sunday was a glorious day! Typically we do not see 65-degree temps and sun in early March. Consequently, no one wanted to be inside a theater. That’s, however, where I was.

And what I experienced wasn’t as strange as it was saddening.

On stage was a group of very talented actors who are well-liked and well-respected and often in-demand. They were doing a staged reading of a new play, a script that could best be described as a work in progress. Nevertheless, they had poured everything they had into it to make it work and bring it across the room to the audience. And that’s where the problem was.

The audience. There was me, who had directed this staged reading and its previous workshops; there was the playwright, and there were two SO’s of two cast members. Two people. Two. I guess if we were to count the stage manager in the booth and the producer who stood in the back, we would actually outnumber the cast!

I wasn’t a producer on this project. I had no significant knowledge of what had or hadn’t been done to get the word out. The previous couple evenings had small audiences, but this….this was…

This feels like failure. The producer didn’t want to be convinced to simply cancel, even though everyone was certain that the two audience members wouldn’t have minded. Generally if the audience is outnumbered by the cast everyone usually feels that it’s better to just call it a day. No matter how good or wonderful or interesting anything might be that should happen in the performance or reading the fact is that the only thing that each and every person in the room is thinking is along the lines of “There are two people in the audience….

That’s what I was thinking. And I was the director – it was some of my work they were watching. It felt a bit…disappointing.

Every laugh, every giggle, every sigh, every shift in one’s seat, is expanded exponentially in opposite proportion to the house population.

The vast amount of talent on stage felt to me like it was being wasted. Yet each one of them did their work to the fullest. Not a single person “phoned in” a single moment. I give them kudos for going out there and playing for those two boyfriends the way they would have for dozens of strangers.

At least it was a gorgeous, sunny Spring day when we all emerged.

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